Anti Racism Lessons
Updated: Feb 12
Honestly. Not knowing where to begin but knowing deep down inside that not another day could pass without teaching Black History All Year; I decided to jump in with both feet. If I waited until I felt ready to start anti-racist teaching, I may never have begun. So, I vowed to learn out-loud and trust what would unfold. Now as I stand on the other side of this this period of work, I feel like it's something. It's a place to begin to help support my Black brothers and sisters in our one human family.
Create a Black History All Year bulletin board and introduce it to the children on the first day. Explain that we are no longer okay with teaching Black History solely in February, because designating only one month per year sends the wrong message. To celebrate Black history all year means we are honoring a group of people who deserves our best attention. We might ask the question: What took us so long?
Read: Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
Comment on how beautiful the little girl on the cover is with her braids, sparkling eyes and wide smile. Point out the graffiti on her front door. Read it aloud, "Die." Ask the children how they feel about seeing the word "die" on her front door. Why do you think it's there? Who do you think wrote it? How does the main character feel about it? Can you imagine how you would feel if you found the word "die" written on your front door? Does anyone think that this is an example of racism? Why do you think so, or why not? There is a Black homeless woman sleeping in a box out on the sidewalk. Why do you think she's living in a cardboard box?
To notice these striking examples of how people are treated in this Black neighborhood and not pause to reflect on how this would make someone feel, is accepting the way human beings are being treated. So, let's notice that it's not okay to have graffiti on your front door that says, "Die" and it's not okay to have someone living in a cardboard box.
The teacher can mention that these are examples of racism and a broken system for Black families. And, through the daily difficulties of life, the main character, the little girl, is still looking for something beautiful. Talk about her strength and resolve. Be clear that the little girl has feelings like you and me. She's probably very sad about the graffiti and the woman. In the end of the book when her mother finds something beautiful and it turns out to be her little girl, the teacher can talk to the students about how common it is for mother's to love their children so dearly, just like that.
Vocabulary word: Systemic Racism - is a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization.
Project: Make a paper doll that looks like you. Offer shades of brown from light to dark and let the children make clothing, shoes, hair, and a nice face.
When all the dolls are complete, hang them up on the bulletin board and ask what they notice about the dolls. In our classroom we had mostly "white" dolls.
So I asked:
1) Why do you think our dolls are mostly white? (Insert explanation about how race defines the majority of people who live in a certain neighborhood).
2) Do you think this is fair?
3) Introduction the word: microaggression
Example, Black neighborhoods generally have more liquor stores, less funding for schools, more crime because of less resources. White neighborhoods are often given stores with healthy choices like Whole Foods. This is a microaggression towards Black families. This is also an example of systemic racism.
What does it mean to be white?
Give an explanation of white culture. It has incredible power and quietly exists and just "is", but in doing so it oppresses people of color. We call this white superiority or white supremacy.
Introduce: sundown towns: a place where mostly white people lived and as the sun went down, if you were Black, you'd be arrested and asked to leave the town. Lafayette was a sundown town and many other surrounding towns were, too.
Children will be invited to consider that Black children and White children experience the world differently.
Ask: Did you know Black people and White people are treated very differently in society?
Here are some statistics:
Black students are three times more likely to be suspended.
Black graduates from college are two times more likely to be unemployed
Black people are 41% less likely to receive CPR from a stranger if they collapse on the street.
Driving in a car:
Black people are 30% more likely to be pulled over by the police.
Often when a Black person and a White person are accused of the very same crime the black person will be discriminated against and given a much harsher sentence than the White person.
Buying a Home:
African Americans are shown 18% fewer homes.
90% of businesses are owned by white people and 10% by people of color.
Getting a loan from the bank is difficult
Show pictures and discuss:
Ask if anyone would like to share what they are feeling. Write down a reflection paragraph about what you heard and saw.
Read: Colors We Are
This book explains why we are certain shades of brown and how your skin color is scientifically based on a combination of our:
3) melanin levels
Do you think these are good reasons to discriminate against people? Why or why not?
Sing: Life is a Rainbow
Lyrics: "Life is a rainbow and every color is precious in love's sight. Every color is a ray of love's pure light."
Ask: What if life was a rainbow but only red was precious. Does that seem right and fair? Why or why not? Explain that that is what it's like to leave a group of people out. We can't have a complete rainbow without valuing all the colors equally.
Invite the children to close their eyes. Ask them to imagine that they're going to take a trip on an airplane where there's open seating and they get to choose a seat. Ahead of you you see two open seats. On one side of the aisle there's a free seat next to a Black child. On the right side of the aisle there's a seat free next to a white child. Which seat are you going to choose?
Tell the children that actually happened to Ms. Karima's friend. She chose to sit next to the Black man and he spoke up and asked, "Why did you choose to sit next to me? Most middle aged white women avoid me." The two strangers had a deep and meaningful conversation about what it is like to live in the United States as a Black person, and how unconscious and conscious biases play a role in our every day decision making about how we treat people.
Vocabulary: Unconscious Bias
Social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness.
Ask: How do you break your unconscious thoughts? You make yourself aware of your biases by asking yourself questions and noticing how you behave as an observer. Once you are aware you can make different choices.
Make a Life is a Rainbow mobile.
1) Cut out one large white cloud out of paper
2) Tape 3 or 4 twelve inch threads to the back of a large cloud
3) Cut out and tape rainbow hearts to the threads. If you don't want your tape to show make a heart sandwich around the thread
4) Attach a stick with thread to the top of the cloud if you'd like a handle. (See above picture).
Teach that the story of Black people does not begin in 1619 with the enslavement of Africans. African culture is rich and diverse. In Cameroon alone, an African country the size of California, there are over 200 languages spoken. English is only one of them!
Geography: Ask children to raise their hand if they've heard of (insert names of African countries: Algeria, Benin, Mauritania, Cameroon, Guinea Bissau.) Chances are, they've not heard of them. Take this as a teachable moment. Plan on playing North/Central African Bingo and then South African Bingo on another day. Wash the beautiful country names over them as you teach the location and the names. Tell fun facts about each country as you teach the location.
Read: Kofi and His Magic
Pull down the map and point out where to find Ghana. Explain that the author, Maya Angelou, lived there as a young adult. (Poetry connection).
Explain that Ghanaian culture has a system of kings and queens. In the book, there are wonderful images of contemporary kings and queens adorned in gold. It's important to explain to children the rich heritage and traditions of Africa and to explain that this preceded and succeeded the enslavement of its people. Point out the, beautiful Kente cloth that Kofi wears on the front cover is royal and sacred cloth from the Akan-Ashanti kingdoms in Ghana.
Invite the children to make Ghanaian crowns adorned in gold.
Secondary Art Project: Invite children to draw royal and sacred Kente cloth designs
Enslavement of Africans
Instead of saying there were slaves who were taken to the US from Africa. Say, men and women from Africa who had jobs and families, were enslaved. Their lives and their descendants were forever changed in 1619. White slave traders went all the way to Africa to buy slaves from African chiefs. It was a lucrative business with fault on both sides. The white slave traders traveled all the way to Africa on purpose to find people who looked very different from the majority, so that if they ran away, they would be easy to find. That system was set up intentionally. That system still affects our country today in the form of racism.
As an anti-racist student its important to:
1) not ignore racism because you feel uncomfortable
2) speak up if you see injustice!
3) ask questions.
4) learn about injustice.
A wonderful mindfulness activity suggested by teacher, Chloe Gilmore is designed to help us feel our feelings:
Mindfulness Tool (for both adults and children) when reflecting on something we did, or witnessed, or need to process.
RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate (with kindness), Non-Identification
R: What is happening in my body? Does my stomach feel icky? What about my head or my chest? Am I feeling a desire to remove or distract myself from this feeling?
A: Allow feelings to just be. Don’t fight the discomfort, and instead try to picture what that discomfort looks like. Does it have a color? A texture? Going into this detail helps us to separate the discomfort from our bodies without numbing it.
I: Don’t be hard on yourself about these feelings, because if you’re hard on yourself you won’t be able to progress and move through them. What is the feeling trying to tell me or do for me? Do I believe I’m feeling attacked? Do I feel shamed? What memories are coming up? It’s important to investigate in order to tie your feeling to your “why?” as a practice of self awareness.
N: You can recognize that something happened that you didn’t like, or you did something you shouldn’t have done, but that is not you. You may feel shame, but you are not a bad person. When people are stuck on “being a bad person” they cannot heal and move forward.
“I am not tied to this, and it is not my story. Also, I resolve to use this knowledge to do better; to be a better listener, to use my privilege, to build trust.”
Question of the Day:
Do you think it's helpful or hurtful to be "color blind"? By not seeing color, you're not honoring our differences.
Write a paragraph to reflect on what you think.
Read Aloud: This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe
It describes a day in the life of 7 families from around the world. It's a matter of fact way to honor world diversity and remember that we are all one human family.
Black Joy: While it's important to learn about history, it's also important that we don't focus solely on trauma. What about the joy?
Learning about amazing and contemporary projects for Black youth has given me energy and waves of joy! Here is one to celebrate!
Harvard Diversity Project's International Debate Competition. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLrlwzbtCfg