Teaching for Anti-Racism

Can you read, love, or friend your way into fully understanding the lived experiences of another person or cultural group? If not, does this mean you should stop reading, loving, or practicing friendship? In fact, it is just the opposite. Teaching for anti-racism requires that we seek a greater understanding of cultural groups, as well as the conditions, systems, and structures that contribute to racism. Further, it acknowledges that we understand there are things we will never fully understand. Teaching for anti-racism requires us to center the voices of people of color in our curriculum, classrooms, and conversations; to celebrate, affirm, value, and learn from those who show us how to show up and be better. For this reason, in this historical moment, this document only points to resources authored by Black scholars, reporters, producers, poets, and authors. 

There are many excellent classroom book-lists about race and racism circulating the interwebs right now. We are thrilled to see these and link to several in the last section of this document. As a school community, we also wanted us to share our own list of resources that have personally mattered to us in our own work around anti-racism.

We wrote to this prompt: “Share resources that matter to YOU, have expanded your worldview, enhanced your teaching, etc. This isn’t a list of resources you’ve heard are great. It’s a list of resources you have already read, wrestled with, and left changed by.”

Key Concepts

As with any teaching resource, we want to start by defining some key terms. 

  • Race – refers to culture. This is a term used to define groups of people with similar physical and cultural characteristics. Race is a social construct that is defined differently across cultures.
  • Racism – refers to power and privilege. Racism is a system that unfairly gives certain groups power, access, and privilege over other groups. 
  • Anti-Racism the active and intentional process of identifying, resisting, and dismantling racism by changing systems, policies, practices, and attitudes so that communities are safe, people are affirmed and valued, and power is distributed equitably. (See especially Ibram X. Kendi’s work.) 
  • Education – “The most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela

Resources for Teachers

Note from Kathryn (School Principal): Teachers often talk about “their children” or “their kids…” Do these references include all students? What subtle (or not so subtle) messages do teachers send about which children in their classes are “other people’s?” I read this book as a brand new teacher and my developing teaching practice is better for having studied Delpit’s work. In particular, it helped me foster an ongoing reflective practice about inclusion, othering, culture, the power dynamics of school, and the role my students and I can play in creating new realities together.

Note from Jill (Lead Teacher): My continual thought as I read this book is that every white person should read it. Austin Channing Brown writes with frank, unapologetic candor about the poison of racial injustice and how white people, sometimes even unknowingly, perpetuate that injustice. She challenges her readers to face their own biases and to do the hard work to help bring about healing and change.

Note from Stephanie (Assistant Principal): A fellow educator recommended this to me as eye-opening, essential reading. This book gives context to and helps frame our discussion of race, racism, and anti-racism. It’s a great place to start to build knowledge and to diversify your library. This book also has been adapted for younger readers: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.
Note from Kathryn (School Principal): I read this book as an undergraduate. This was when I was majoring in Sociology. This was before I knew I was destined to be a teacher, before I knew school cafeterias and teaching for antiracism would be part of my life. This was definitely before I knew I would become the mother of Black son and watch as he (and I) navigated the politics of race, racism, and identity in schools.

Note from Jill (Lead Teacher): I was deeply inspired when I read (actually listened) to this book. I have looked up to Michelle Obama for years, but that level of respect deepened as I listened and learned her own story about her educational experience, the education initiatives she helped lead while she was First Lady, and her continued passion and work for all children, but specifically for students in the Black community.

Note from Kathryn (School Principal): I have a group of student leaders to thank for teaching me the power of using podcasts in the classroom. I’ve been listening ever since. Code Switch speaks important truths with powerful and purposeful closeness. Here is a trailer to the podcast.
Note: This podcast sometimes includes strong language and violence.
Note from Lisa (Elementary Coordinator): This podcast has a wealth of episodes to teach history from the point of view of People of Color growing up and living in the United States. 
Teaching Bonus: The Seeing White website also features a study guide if teachers plan to listen to episodes with their high school students.
Note from Jill Clingan (Lead Teacher): We often hear the saying, “This country was built on the backs of slavery and racism,” but before listening to this podcast I did not understand the depth of truth in that statement. The podcast 1619 was a painfully eye-opening education for me in understanding how, even before our country was born, the narrative of slavery was defining the narrative of our country. I now evaluate history, read literature, listen to other podcasts, and view current events through the lens of this narrative.

Resources for High School Learners

Note from Kathryn (School Principal): As soon as I read this book, I knew I wanted to teach it. Justyce’s voice leads readers to rich and powerful text-to-text, text-to-world, and text-to-self connections. Since first reading this book a few years ago, I have read it with teacher candidates and high school students. Nic Stone’s work has contributed to important conversations about race, racism, and justice. I recently shared this book with my college-aged son who has since recommended it to his friends. 
Note: this book includes some strong language and violence.
Note from Sherry (Lead Teacher): I discovered this book when Ruth McBride and her children were interviewed on a television show. James McBride authored the book so that the world to know about his mother, a remarkable woman who raised twelve children.
Note from Stephanie (Assistant Principal): I read this years ago in a book club, and this is one of those books that won’t leave me. It’s the story of two black men — one a lawyer and one accused of murder. As the author’s eyes are opened to how deep and evil the roots of racism grow, so were mine. It’s had a profound impact on the way I evaluate information and my understanding of a million small things combine and build to create huge injustice.
Note from Kathryn (School Principal): This powerful fictional story provides a springboard for exploring youth activism, police brutality, racism, change movements, and protests. The story follows Starr’s coming-of-voice journey to speak out against injustice. Thus far, every student I know who has read this book has read it positively gripped to see what comes next. The book has been adapted into an acclaimed motion picture. 
Note: this book includes strong language, drug references, and violence. 

Bonus Teaching Note: The film adaptation is now available for free streaming.

Note from: Lou Jobst (Lead Teacher): I have taught this novel many times to the delight–and horror–of my students. It truly engages readers and makes them think and reevaluate. It is poetic; it is thoughtful; it is powerful. As the last line of the book speaks so eloquently, “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”

Note from Kathryn (School Principal):  The trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans. I say, the trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans. I considered starting this resource with that quote from Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea.” That particular poem is also one of my favorites to teach. I’ve found Giovanni’s poems powerful for all students, and particularly for students who don’t think they like poetry. In college, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Nikki Giovanni, hear her lecture, and perform her poems. 

Teaching Bonus: Nikki Giovanni also has poetry collections that are perfect for younger readers, including Ego-Tripping (Middle School) and The Sun is So Quiet (Elementary)

Note from Lisa (Teacher): In 11th Grade, I knew to come to English class prepared, as the teacher would throw chalk at any student not ready for the class discussion. I made sure to do all the reading, It was this class (and teacher) that introduced me to the writing of Maya Angelou. Never before had I heard about or read a perspective of an African-American woman growing up with so much pain and sorrow, and yet always rising because of her spirit. This book and this English class was my first childhood memory of reflecting upon what it meant to be a girl, and I am grateful to Maya Angelou for igniting that spark within me. 
Note from Jill Clingan (Lead Teacher): This book, which won the Newbery and Coretta Scott King awards, is an engaging, powerful story that addresses racial and adolescent identity issues, police brutality, fitting in, standing out, and finding one’s voice. I appreciated this novel’s honest picture of Jade’s life as a high schooler and how she learned to celebrate and own both her struggles and her strengths. This book would likely be enjoyed by middle school readers, as well.
Note from Kathryn (School Principal): I listened to this segment alone on a run the other day. While listening, I was sad not to be listening to it with a group of high school students. The idea lends itself to classroom discussion and extension with rich opportunities for students to choose songs giving them (much needed) life, while also exploring the role of music in change movements, and possibly falling in love with new artists.

Resources for Middle School Learners

Note from Kathryn (School Principal): My daughter picked this book up at a school book fair and became instantly absorbed in it. She read entranced, looking up only occasionally to ask me a question about school integration, racism, or xenophobia. As soon as she finished Pinkney’s book, she set it on my nightstand so I could read it and “we could talk about it.” With the Might of Angels is a great book to start or continue conversations about school integration, belonging, and perseverance.

Note from Brian (Middle School Coordinator): This book is jarring, but accessible, for middle school students as well as high school students. Students find it easy, yet occasionally unsettling, to identify with main character Cassie, a strong young girl navigating a world that is occasionally and brutally unfair and unjust.
Note from: Lisa (Elementary Coordinator): Brown Girl Dreaming is a young people’s novel that I discovered and read when I was already in my 30s! I love Woodson’s voice throughout the book as she tells her stories in free verse.

Note from: Megan Lilien (Science and Health Division Chair): My daughter and I were introduced to this book as part of the family book club we participate in at school. The first-person narrative made the story relatable to my daughter. It also helped both of us learn about injustice and racism from several perspectives. Each character has different approaches for the same fight. Our book discussion led to several thoughtful questions.
Note from Stephanie (Assistant Principal): What would happen if we stopped letting race or gender decide what someone can accomplish? How many brilliant ideas, solutions, and cures have we lost because of ignorance and injustice? This movie is a great peek into our history and a fantastic reminder to keep pushing for recognition and equity. 

Bonus Teaching Notes: Journey’s in Film has created a free curriculum around this movie.
Students can (and should) also read the book on which the film is based by, Margot Lee Shetterly. In addition to the original, which is appropriate for high school readers, Shetterly has also written adaptations for both middle and elementary students.
Note from: Lisa (Elementary Coordinator): I appreciate the young People of Color, especially young women, that are amplifying their voices and pushing the movement for social change. In the words of the filmmaker, Kiki Finley: “I wanted to make sure this message was told from this young lady’s perspective. She has been taught to appreciate her skin tone no matter what and pass the wisdom to her friends at a time when skin tone and gender can actually be an offense.” View the short film here.

Resources for Elementary School Learners

Note from Kathryn (School Principal): I read this book with my daughter when she was in third grade. I just asked her what she liked about the book and she said, “The Watson family.” She’s right, you can’t help but fall for the “Wacky Watsons”to use the protagonist’s term. As an adult reading the book, you know what happened in 1963 at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and you know that this story is headed to that horror. For moments though you forget and laugh along with the Watson family. Then suddenly you remember where the story is headed and hold your breath as Christopher Curtis brings you there through an adolescent protagonist named Kenny.

Note from Lisa (Elementary Coordinator): Young children are the most keen observers of other people.  They notice every little bit of people’s appearances from their hair down to their feet. When doing a unit of self-portraits with my Kindergarten students, I Love My Hair was one of the books I read to share the uniqueness of children and to acknowledge and celebrate our differences.

Note from Lisa (Elementary Coordinator): a kids book about racism is written by an African-American father. From my perspective, it is one of the most simple yet straightforward ways to begin conversations about racism with young children, particularly if you are unsure where to start. I appreciate that the word ‘racism’ is in the title because too many times adults back away from even starting to talk about racism with their children. It is my hope that we can all begin and then continue these conversations.

Note from Lisa (Elementary Coordinator): During my first year teaching first grade, I stumbled upon Angela Johnson’s work while looking for books written by African-American authors with Black children as main characters. Her books have simple text and vivid illustrations that celebrate love and joy in Black families. Other note-worthy books for young readers by Angela Johnson are Do Like Kyla, A Sweet Smell of Roses, and Daddy Calls Me Man.

Note from Lisa (Elementary Coordinator): Recently, I saw a picture of a friend’s three beautiful Black boys holding a sign at a protest that read “When do we go from cute to a threat?” The photograph and the sign’s message really struck me as our country battles for racial justice. In Be Boy Buzz, bell hooks celebrates the multi-facets of this young Black boy.  “Beautiful…I be boy laughing, crying, telling my story, talking way too loud…All boy, hug me close, Don’t let me down.

Note from Lisa (Elementary Coordinator): My two sons are mixed race. When they were younger, I wanted to surround them with picture books that featured families that looked like us – parents and children with all  different shades of brown. On a deeper level, I also wanted to instill within my children a sense of gratitude for families that had to fight to be together. At it very core, it is love that connects and defines a family.

Note from Brian (Middle School Coordinator): After meeting brilliant illustrator E.B. Lewis, this book (and Across the Alley) became one I have regularly read to elementary school students. The pictures are textured and evocative in several different ways, and gently address a sensitive issue. I also recommend Across the Alley by Richard Michelson, which includes more moving illustrations by E.B. Lewis.

Note from Megan (Science and Health Division Chair): This book is a new discovery for me. It is beautifully written and illustrated. The book helps kids find their voice when they feel different and left out and to use story to teach acceptance and to celebrate diversity.

Additional Resources

Thank you to Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Jill Clingan, Lisa DeCastro, Stephanie Walter, Brian Stuhlman, Megan Lilien, Sherry Denney, and Lou Jobst for contributing to this resource.

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