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How You Can Be an Ally In the Fight For Racial Justice

brown, black, white hands with tan background, "how you can be an ally for the fight of racial justice"
Our country is reeling from two deleterious public health crises: COVID19 and systemic racism, both of which will continue to disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities for years to come.

What We’ve Felt
Many reveled in pure joy seeing teachers and administrators distribute congratulatory yard signs, participate in drive by parades, as well as plan for and host virtual commencement exercises after a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic changed the face of education in innumerable, lasting ways. Critical conversations around achievement, accessibility, socioemotional learning, and equity were happening with a heightened level of care, zeal, creativity, and innovation befitting that of an unprecedented paradigm shift in the field of education.

Then something else happened. On the very same devices that we have recently developed a greater dependence on for teaching, learning, and connection, we collectively witnessed yet another traumatic instance of police violence, followed by days of protest and unrest.

And so did our students.

Who We Are & Why It Matters
Our identities (race, gender, socioeconomic status, beliefs, personal and moral imperatives, etc.) have a profound effect on how each of us will see, interpret, and process what we’ve witnessed. It is crucial in how we internalize and contextualize multiple cues—images, sounds, feelings—at one time, with both short- and long-term implications.

As adults with developed cognitive capacities, we struggle to navigate it. Children and students experience an even greater struggle, one in which in an equitable world, they wouldn’t have to navigate at all. Many students are seeing harm and trauma being inflicted on individuals who look like their fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends, teachers, and mentors. Individuals who look like them.

How do we best support our students during this time?

How do we support our Black friends and colleagues?

How do we acknowledge humanity and demonstrate empathy? Two analytics that serve as the basis of what is arguably one of education’s most important contributions: culturally relevant pedagogy, and its ensuing intervention, culturally responsive teaching.

Context is Key—Things To Know
  • Seeing images that demonstrate violence upon Black bodies evokes a specific type of historical trauma that is varied and multilayered in Black communities across time and geographical space.
  • Many people see racism as conscious hate, when really it is much deeper. Think of these analogies:
    -“Racism is a complete system of social and political levers and pulleys set up      generations ago to work on behalf of the racial majority at the expense of others. It is a set of traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world.”
    -“It [racism] is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it.”
  • As we continue to quote and lift the legacies of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., remember that he was not always the pedestaled, beloved figure we hail him as today. His messages of non-violent change and appeals for social justice were often ignored and misunderstood, even at the time of his assassination. He was also jailed and fell victim to state-sanctioned violence many times.                        

What Can I Do to Promote Healing and Change?

  • Talk About What’s Uncomfortable and Why: There is no change in silence. You can’t change what you don’t talk about. We are all negatively impacted by racism. You may not see or be affected by it in the same way as others, but that doesn’t mean it is in any way less dangerous to humanity.
  • Start Where You Are: Change starts internally and manifests outward. Initiating or engaging in critical conversations about equity and social justice with those you love and care about is a first step. Stand in allyship with people who are already on the journey and ask questions. We all have to start somewhere.
  • Figure Out Where You Can Do The Most Good: There’s a role for everyone to play. Consider how you can leverage your privileges (we all have them) to promote change.
  • Acknowledge Your Fear and Act Anyway: Feeling overwhelmed or fearful are normal cognitive and affective responses to combating centuries-long systems of oppression. If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re a change-agent in some capacity. Keep going!

    Dr. Sierra Austin is a graduate of the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at The Ohio State University, with a focus on race and social justice. Sierra's research (done in our member district Columbus City Schools), activism, work focused on education equity and prioritizes operationalizing intersectional approaches to social change. She offers professional development through the ESC focused on equity, consultation, and community workshops.i 

    i Woods, Scott.