by Aven Cook
This summer I was able to read a young adult novel written by Angie Thomas titled The Hate U Give. I discovered it last school year when one of my freshman did a book talk on it as her independent reading project. My young student chatted animatedly to her classmates about the book her mother had selected for her. For the first time, instead of struggling for words to hit the three-minute requirement, this student overflowed with words; she had so much to say. I was intrigued and jumped at the chance to read it. My student did not oversell the text.
The title is taken from one of the author’s favorite sources of inspiration, Tupac Shakur, and his infamous “Thug Life” tattoo. For those who don’t know what his tattoo stood for, you can hear Thomas talk about it a little bit here. Ultimately, The Hate U Give is about the inherent hate of our world, how it is cyclical in nature, passed from generation to generation, and how it wrecks even those with the most innocence and potential in our world, children. In furthering my own education and encouraging the education of others on issues of cultural competency, I’ve experienced some hate recently.
This isn’t a shock to me. As summer wears on, and teachers begin preparing for the school year, I have attended more professional development sessions closer and closer to home. It’s bound to happen. I very intentionally titled my first blog post, “My School is Racist.” However, I would encourage anyone still uncomfortable with this series to ask themselves why that discomfort exists at all. Press on that point. Hone in and evaluate your why. In my last blog post, I talked about the whys, this time I want to talk about how. Rather than pass on the hate I’ve been given, I want to reshape it into something of value for all of us.
Here are my Top 5 Tips for Becoming a Champion for Change to begin your quest.
#1: Identify your own biases. Bias and stereotyping go hand-in-hand. Humans naturally use schema to filter out useless information on a day-to-day basis. It helps us interact with one another and go about our lives with ease. Stereotyping develops when we refuse to account for those that are outliers in a given schema; the effect is inherently negative. Bias then is the developed predisposition against a person or a group. If you have lived surrounded only by what you know, it’s probable that you have developed biases you have yet to uncover. Check your assumptions before getting to know students.
#2: Listen, listen, then listen some more. This is more difficult than it seems. Especially when you are used to your voice being heard and respected in most, if not all, situations. To be a good ally, you must accept that in situations regarding race, voices of color will always take precedent over others. It will be necessary for you to check the urges deep within you screaming for you to defend yourself. This is not to say that a person of color can speak for the entire race, nor does it mean that allies should not take part in key conversations. However, voices of allies are not needed for the most important conversations to happen. Support is needed. Moreover, you will not be capable of learning anything without this skill.
#3: Explore your own privileges. First, realize privileges are based on social constructions. Second, realize that many of these privileges are harder for people of color to attain. As a black, female in our society, I rank low on most privilege surveys. (Haven’t taken one? Start here.) However, when discussing this topic with my students, I point out that I am college educated and own my own home. These things afford me privileges in our society. As educators, we have to be aware of the effect of our privileges and how our students’ play out in the classroom.
#4: Get comfortable with discomfort. Really, you are going to need to embrace it. There is no easy way to begin this work or to continue it. Your best hope of growing is to step outside of the world as you know it and begin experiencing it through a different lens. Much of the hate I have received stems from other people’s discomfort. The truth is hard to swallow, I know. It has been a task to remove myself from the weight of their fear. Yet, we have to to get anywhere worthwhile with the work we are doing.
#5: Don’t villainize the truth. There is an odd assumption in our society that talking about race perpetuates racism. There is only one thing of note to say about this idea. It is not true. We, as educators, do a disservice to our children and ourselves when we perpetuate the idea that discussing race contributes to racism in any way. We need to shift our thinking.
This school year, I challenge you to slay dragons. You know the why and now you know the how. All that’s left is to simply do it. Please, do us all a favor, instead of giving hate, try giving something purer and more valuable. For their sake.