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On Critical Race Theory protests and removing Hitler from history books

Across America, school boards have become the latest battleground on the issue of mask mandates in schools. People have been threatened one another, even coming to the point of physical violence. In some states like Florida and New Hampshire, local anti-maskers are teaming up with white supremacist groups like The Proud Boys to intimidate school board members to allow students and staff to enter schools maskless. While the fight rages on, there was another issue that ignited controversy in schools and school board meetings before the mask protests—Critical Race Theory (CRT).

Spearheaded by FOX news hosts like Tucker Carlson, protesters have demanded that CRT not be taught in their schools because it, in part, teaches white children to hate themselves. Republican governors like Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt signed legislation banning its teaching, stating that “we need policies that bring us together, not rip us apart” and that “not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex.” In short, as Oklahoma City Public Schools School Board President Paula Lewis stated, the ban is an “outright racist and oppressive piece of legislation.”

As anti-CRT legislation is pushed nationwide, few realize what CRT actually is and that it is not being taught in K-12 institutions. Critical race theory is, well, a theory created in the 1970s by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others. Its main goal is to analyze the impact of America’s policies from a racial lens, such as the racial implications of housing policies that denied mortgages to black people. CRT has also been used as a lens across other fields of study, according to Education Week. Although simply a theory utilized in college, CRT has become the catch phrase for anything related to protest racial injustice. The question I find myself asking is how far do CRT protesters want to take their fight?

As a diversity, equity, and inclusion expert, I work with private, public, and charter schools across America. At one school, I met a teacher who told me how frustrated he was with a parent’s preference for teaching about Dr. King but not Malcolm X because Malcolm was, in his words, “the villain”. Have we come to a point where parents can now make a menu of their favorite historical figures that make them feel nice and wholesome like their favorite television shows growing up? Furthermore, where were these so-called CRT activists when I along with millions of nonwhite students were being taught to hate ourselves via the ways we were depicted in the school curriculum? In reality, these misrepresentations still occur today as schools across the country look for more representation of diverse perspectives and stories in their classrooms.

If we refuse to teach history in its totality, we will create the ultimate whitewash through an educational brainwash. I find myself thinking about World War II. What would removing Hitler from the history books look like? Would our books only write about the actions of then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt without talking about the evil Roosevelt helped to defeat and the millions of Jewish and other people liberated from concentration camps? Would we only talk about the heroism of the “Greatest Generation” and ignore the stories of sexual assault by American soldiers on European women? The list is endless but the main point is that we ultimately do our students a disservice when do not teach a complete and intersectional picture of history.

A recent survey by Axios survey showed that across the board, college students, including over half of college republicans, believe that legislatures should not block the teaching of history in its totality. Moreover, most college students surveyed including almost half of college republicans believe that teaching about institutional racism is necessary. In Pennsylvania, students are protesting a move by a schoolboard to ban books and videos just featuring nonwhite people like kids’ books on Rosa Parks and Malala. This generation of students do not want to have history sugarcoated. As an American University professor, I have seen first-hand the anger in the eyes of students when they learn about aspects of history that they should have learned in their K-12 experience such as how The 13th Amendment to The Constitution did not fully ban slavery or that America had a nonwhite Vice President by the name of Charles Curtis in the 1930s decades before Vice President Kamala Harris. We build a better America by raising a better informed America and that starts with teaching our full history in schools. Rather than cherry-pick history, we need to teach it all for the sake of our future.

 

Cleveland Guardians Name Change is Late but the Right Move


I was watching the news earlier this week and I saw a great story about how the Cleveland baseball team changed its name to The Cleveland Guardians. They are to be commended for this action. Living in Washington, DC and seeing the name of The Washington Football Team change its name to whatever it is going to be, many of us are celebrating these changes that so many have fought for decades to change. Unfortunately, everyone is not celebrating.

There are many who disagree with the name change because they feel like it is too politically correct. Some are calling it of course “cancel culture” and “woke culture”, which are two terms that I am not a fan of in the slightest. I’ve seen people in my social media feed say things like “Who cares about Cleveland changing the name of its baseball team. We have bigger issues to worry about.” Another person who professed to be “left” and “progressive” stated that the name change is an overreaction to today’s racial climate. My response to them was simple: if you have a problem with the name change, you are not that progressive. I have encountered many people who claim to represent the “left” but are ignorant, racist, and do not want black people and non-white people in general to attain and maintain power. The life of Fredrick Douglas comes to mind and his conflicts with white abolitionist “colleagues” who disparaged him and would not allow him to speak at events they had for several reasons including the idea that if people heard him speak, they would never believe he was enslaved.

Another commenter mentioned that if it took 106 years for Cleveland to change its name, it must not have been a big deal. My response again was simple. The reason the name did not change is because ignorance and hate sells. Afterall, this is a country where the United States Postal Service allowed postcards to be sold with real life pictures of black people who were lynched and burned alive at the stake in front of hundreds of people with their white children in attendance. Images of black people in the most stereotyped ways sold for years in this country as memorabilia and collector’s items. This is also the reason why mascots of stereotyped Native Americans sell. This is indeed a “big deal.”

If you do not know what it is like to have your culture introduced to the world only through stereotypes, you cannot understand why this name change is significant, demonstrated by one commenter who asked if I would be as bothered if Cleveland changed its name to “The White Caucasians.” These types of comments minimize the experiences of marginalized groups. For those who ask why now, I remind them that it was Dr. King who stated that the time is always right to do right. I believe, as Les brown said, that we should work to create communities where everybody feels celebrated and not tolerated. We need to do more to ensure that Native Americans and their culture are respectfully visible in this society beyond stereotypes and Pocahontas Halloween costumes. Our Native American family are the most marginalized cultural group in America. We cannot forget them at best or degrade them at worst. I hope other teams continue to do more from the elementary schools to college level as well as in professional sports.

4 Reasons to Stop Using the Word BIPOC…Like Now!

I pride myself on being a continual student of life. I am always looking to learn more about what I do not know. I also know that if I am going to continue to do my work in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion, I can never become too arrogant to think I have it all figured out. Enter the word BIPOC, which is a word I am afraid to admit I just learned about in 2020. I first thought it meant “BIsexual People of Color.” In what I have learned about this term, I have come believe that this term is problematic for several reasons and organizations especially should stop using the term immediately.

According to the New York Times, the term first started appearing in social media circles in 2013. The term started to gain more prominence in 2020 in the wake of protests over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. Since then, the term has sprung up everywhere. Organizations such as the BIPOC project are centered on a mission to “build authentic and lasting solidarity among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), in order to undo Native invisibility, anti-Blackness, dismantle white supremacy and advance racial justice.” They also state that they use the term BIPOC to “highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African Americans) people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context.” While I respect their mission and the sentiments of others who identify with this word, this term should no longer be adopted into our lexicon for the following four reasons.

  1. The term “BIPOC” is like a double negative (or double positive if you prefer).

If Black people are “people of color” and our indigenous or Native American people are “people of color” than the term itself is repetitive.

  1. Black & Indigenous people don’t have that much in common.

While the term BIPOC exists to express solidarity, it groups together a group of people whose histories could not be more different. The experience of Native Americans is like no other and is an extremely understudied aspect of American history. Native American history is often told from the perspective of the people who arrived on boats as opposed to from the perspective of people who were on the soil whereas black people were brought to this country through the transatlantic slave trade.

Both black people and Native Americans have experienced great oppression but their stories are also complicated by the fact that some Native Americans were also owners of enslaved Africans. Then of course, we can talk about the African American soldiers known as the Buffalo Soldiers who killed Native Americans in the 1800s. So what do these two groups really have in common? Queue reason #3 to stop using BIPOC—whiteness.

  1. Uniting around whiteness is not the way to go.

Black people and Native Americans have experienced severe forms of oppression at the hands of white colonizers and enslavers. Native Americans were also enslaved by colonizers. There are indeed countless examples of Native Americans and black people working towards unity, demonstrated in the 20th century by the fight for equality and civil rights and black & brown empowerment movements. The point here is that historically, most of the times that Native American and black solidarity has been demonstrated has been in response to white oppression. Is this reason enough to combine these groups in such a generic fashion? We cannot build movements based off of opposition to another group because real solidarity does not fully exist if it can only exist with a common enemy.

  1. Why do white people just get to be white?

I have seen so many terms used to describe nonwhite people throughout American history from Negro, colored, and Hispanic, to Indian, people of color, and LatinX. Now we have BIPOC. Throughout all of this, white people just still get to be called white. Not only is this annoying because, last time I checked, white is a color too, but also because the more terms we come up with, the more white people are viewed as being the original people and everyone else is colored into that white narrative of originality. Putting white people basically at the center of creation is not historically accurate. I have written more extensively about the broader problems the term “people of color” creates and why we should not use it so I will not revisit that here. I will just say that the more time we spend coming up with new terms to describe nonwhite groups, the more we actually strengthen the narrative of white Eurocentric dominance in America.

At the end of the day, I do not have the right to challenge how any one individual chooses to identify with a culture or identity. I am speaking to the challenges that exist on a collective level when we continually create new terms for people who ultimately do not have that much in common, as we have done with the term “people of color.” I argue for us to be intellectually energetic enough to treat each group with the respect they deserve in the same way we do white people. Both white people and Native Americans owned slaves but no one has come up with the term WIPOC to express solidarity. Let us tell the story of Native Americans, black people, and all cultural or racial groups with the individual respect they deserve. This is crucial in your commitment to create communities where everyone is celebrated and not tolerated. Let’s GO!

The Rule of 7: Testing Your Commitment to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

I have truly enjoyed engaging so many companies, schools, and individuals about pressing issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I have found that most people are serious about challenging themselves on seeing where their biases lie and doing something about it. One challenge that I have seen, however, is that too often, people with whom I interact ask me what books they need to read or what terminology they need to adopt in order to not make a mistake and be called out for being racist, homophobic, etc. While the concern is understandable, this is not the way to achieve true diversity, equity, and inclusion and definitely not a way to become antiracist. It’s more of a way to check off a box saying “I did this so I’m good.” I would like to propose a simple, but more in-depth measure of seeing how serious you are on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I propose The Rule of 7.

Rather than checking the box or reading an assigned book, The Rule of 7 is personal. Only you know the answers to these 7 questions and therefore only you know what you are supposed to do about it. The real questions is do you have the will to actually do something about it or are you going to stay comfortable and not rock the boat? You can come up with your own list of 7 questions or you can do it as a group of friends or even at your job. The goal is not come up with an easy list. This should be a list that challenges you to become better on this journey. The reason why The Rule of 7 can be powerful is because it speaks to what you’ve already done versus what you’re doing. The 7 questions could include:

  1. What do your 7 closest friends look like (or the 7 closest friends of your children)?
  2. Who are the authors of the last 7 books you read (or books bought for your children)?
  3. What do your 7 closest neighbors (in terms of proximity) look like?
  4. What did your last 7 teachers look like (or the current teachers of your children)?
  5. What does the cast of the last 7 shows and movies you’ve watched (or that your children watched) look like?
  6. What did your last 7 hires look like or what do the 7 closest members of your work team look like?
  7. What do the last 7 toys you bought for your kids look like?

I could go into more detail about each question but they are all self-explanatory. If, for example, you’re white and all the answers to all or most of your 7 is “white,” you have more work to do. If you are black and your answers are mostly “black,” you have work to do. I would also say that if you are a member of one group, say Latinx, and your responses to the most questions are mostly “white,” you also have some work to do. For those of you with children or students in your life, this is also important because you may be programming them in way that reinforces a narrative or superiority or inferiority in their minds in the same way you may have been programmed.

If this article is too vague for you, that is the point. The goal of this article is to challenge you to work on your own or with colleagues and friends to actively challenge your biases and do the work to diversify your experiences and practices. I can give you books, documentaries, glossaries, and TED talks for days. At the end of the day however, you have to do the work to challenge yourself on your thoughts and experiences with diversity, equity, and inclusion when nobody is watching. Lastly, if you want to go to a deeper level, spend time exploring why your neighbors and teachers all look the same or why you do not work with anyone who does not look (or think) like you. That is an entirely different reading list for you. Are you ready? Let’s go!

3 Reasons Antiracism Efforts Are Failing At Your Organization

The year 2020 has been called the year of America’s racial reckoning by some. It’s been called a time where movements for racial and social justice exploded on the national scene. I have to be honest. I am not convinced. As a student of history, I have learned to analyze the difference between what activist Joe Madison calls a moment versus a movement. Was #metoo a moment or a movement? In my opinion, it has turned out to be a moment in history because I have not seen wholesale systemic change in how women are treated in the workplace beyond certain individuals like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and others rightfully having their careers and fame challenged and more or less ended. I feel a similar vibe happening with the work of antiracism.

I have been engaged in so many powerful trainings and talks with organizations on the issue of antiracism, defined by some as “the policy or practice of opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance.” From the human resources to the executive level, I have been truly impressed by the sincerity by which these organizations have taken issues of racial or social justice head on. Below I am sharing three reasons why the antiracist efforts of your organization may not be working.

  1. You do not fully understand what antiracism is.

Is antiracism just a word at your company? Are you and your colleagues really learning vocabulary that speaks to the challenges we face today? Can you and your colleagues explain the difference between racism and systemic racism or a microaggression and a stereotype? Words matter. Definitions matter. I have had multiple situations where I had to work with an organization on just agreeing to the same definition of a term like antiracism before we could move on in any other part of the discussion and it was completely worth it because in times when this was not done, we had to backtrack and start over with definitions.

This is an extremely important step because if I’m looking at systemic racism as a “a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization” and you are looking at racism from the lens of “I never owned slaves so I’m not responsible for racism” or “if you just work hard you can overcome anything” without even acknowledging the “systemic” part of “systemic racism”, any training we do is going to be unintentionally sabotaged from the beginning. Invest the time necessary to get on the same page before you move forward.

  1. You are too focused on the problem and not the solutions.

Too many organizations have focused their antiracism efforts on reading articles and books and talking about them. This obviously must continue but it cannot be enough. For many nonwhite people, especially black people I have spoken to at some organizations, antiracism training is just the replacement term for diversity training. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is the new version of saying “We value diversity.” Organizations that have been more successful with their antiracism efforts have shown that black salaries matter and black employees matter. In short, they understand that representation matters.

Organizations that have hired more nonwhite people at the executive level, granted more power to their directors of diversity, and have increased representation of nonwhite people across the board are experiencing greater employee satisfaction and are celebrated more by their customers, exemplified by MSNBC naming Rashida Jones as president of the network and introducing more shows hosted by black people such as Tiffany Cross and Johnathan Capehart. It is represented by President-elect Biden not just saying he believed in diversity but making his cabinet more diverse including adding Native American congressperson Deb Haaland to his cabinet as well as appointing the first openly gay cabinet member in Pete Buttigieg.

  1. Antiracism is a fad at your organization.

I remember during the summer of 2020 seeing “black lives matter” signs going up everywhere from Dell to Starbucks. Even republican senators like Mitt Romney had marched for black lives and verbalized the phrase. Microsoft’s advertising department got in trouble after an email surfaced asking that they paint a #blacklivesmatter mural while the protests were “still relevant.” This led to a powerful response by artist Shantell Martin, who partially wrote that “Education and Accountability must occur in order to see REAL change. Supporting equality only when it’s popular is in itself a form of racism.”

While the aforementioned situation does not represent all of Microsoft, it does express the sentiments that I have seen by some leaders of organizations and companies that see work on antiracism as the flavor of the month. The fact of the matter is that, especially in the age of social media, your company will indeed be exposed positively or negatively. Your organization would actually be better off doing nothing rather than putting forth a half-hearted measure that will create more problems than you are trying to solve. Make sure your efforts are sincere and you are more likely to get buy in from most parties involved.

     Going forward.

At the end of the day, it is important that your organization steps back to truly assess what your goals are when you state that you want embrace antiracist policies. I have stated before that even though I am an antiracist and committed to the work, I am not a big fan of the word because it literally focuses (by the definition of the word “anti”) on what we are against as opposed to what we are for. It is similar to the late Mother Teresa stating that she would never attend an anti-war rally but would attend a pro-peace rally.

If you really want to assess your antiracist efforts, you should look at what progress your company has made eight months after the killing of George Floyd, which was one of the major catalysts for today’s antiracist efforts along with the killing of Breonna Taylor. In the same way you have not heard their names on television lately due to potential social justice fatigue, is your organization experiencing antiracism fatigue or just not moving forward? The three steps above may help you but only if you and your organization are sincere about the work and honest about exposing the challenges your organization faces in order to make sure that you are part of a movement and not a moment.

Should schools also speak separately to white students, parents, and staff?

I have been really impressed by the steps taken by schools to speak to the racial tensions engulfing America right now. I have had the honor in my work to also lead some of these discussions as well and will be leading more. As a parent of K-12 children, I have also watched my own school’s response to the crisis in America today. Moreover, I have spent a great deal of time reviewing the responses of schools at the university level. While I have appreciated the fact that so many of these institutions have initiated or renewed a commitment to ensuring that black lives matter, I have found myself asking one question over and over again: what direct message is going out to white students, students, and staff?

            Across the country, many social media posts have popped with some form of @blackat… handle. These are accounts where black students as well as alumni have posted their negative experiences being black at their schools. These stories started to really trend in 2016 after incidents of racism at schools like American University, where I teach. I was inspired by this movement to finally write about my own “black at” experience from 7th-12th grade at Boston Latin School. I believe the @blackat… postings are also a large part of the reason why schools have been feeling more pressure to respond to their black students in ways they have not before. I wonder if, in some unintentional way, that this is leading to black students being singled out in ways that might do more harm than good despite the best intentions of schools. Let’s look at an example.

            One high school I was watching sent out an email that they were having a zoom call for black students, another call for multiracial students, and a third one for all students. I have spoken at enough schools to know that this can backfire. While many black students can be vocal and will speak up on issues, this type of action can lead to black students feeling they have to be the representative for all black people, which is an added burden, particularly in schools where they are not in the majority. Furthermore, not meeting with the white students separately can make it seem like they’re being brought in as allies and not as partners. I have writtenabout how this concept of “allyship” can create more problems than it solves. Another reason this is problematic is because many of the challenges black students face come at the hands of white students in addition to other issues, such as curriculum and staffing. Did I expect the students who wore white hoods in protest of my running for class president to really care for a call to all students about racial unity? Those students needed separate interventions, which never came and made me feel more marginalized. Schools therefore need to create environments where white students can be organized and spoken to directly about the antiracist work they must be doing amongst themselves. Robin DiAngelo speaks in White Fragility to the work white people must do to challenge racism. The book is primarily for adults but much of the work can be instructive for students as well.

            This takes us also to white parents and staff. I have appreciated the calls I have been on and led with parents of all backgrounds, and oftentimes the white parents and staff outnumber the black parents and staff. This makes sense given the makeup of these schools but if the black parents and staff are going to be separated or addressed in separate conversations, which happens, wouldn’t the fight for equity and equality necessitate that white, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American parents and staff be spoken to separately as well? Are schools equipped to even have that conversation? Are they ready to discuss, for example, how many private schools always use a black child as the face for the financial aid campaigns although the school may have more white students in the school on some form of financial aid? Are they ready to discuss the social networks that often form among white parents and staff that often exclude black people unless some form of representation is needed? My wife and I have had to often think twice before sending our kids to some birthday parties because we had to be sure that our kids were really invited because of friendship and not out of a desire to have diversity at a party. Examples like these are endless.

            At the end of the day, I could write an entire dissertation on the ways in which our schools are failing its black students. Many like Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Glenn Singleton have already done that work and more are doing it now. What is most important now is that schools realize that black students are suffering for real reasons that go beyond lack of representation of their full history in the curriculum. Much of what we suffer as black students, parents, and staff in these schools comes at the hands of our interactions, or lack thereof, with white students, parents, and staff. If schools are going to be really serious about addressing issues related to the black lives matter movement, they must be equally dedicated to challenging white students, parents, and staff in an authentic way that leads them to understanding their role in this movement. It is obvious that all white people are not to blame and I commend the white student, parents, and staff who are out there doing the work every single day to condemn ignorance and create true equity and equality. It is high time, however, that schools directly challenge their white students, parents, and staff in ways that go beyond a book club and curriculum review. Those are good points of departure but the journey is long and must go deeper beyond this moment.