In late May and early June, after George Floyd's murder became public, I knew I had a lot to learn about systemic racism. I didn't phrase it as creating a book club, but that was my plan, to read and learn. I offered to help organize an Anti-Racism 101 reading group for everyone at my school. I knew that I needed to understand more about the difference between personal racism and structural racism, between the (wrong) idea of being neutral and the actions of an antiracist. With lots of help from people who had given the topic more thought than I had, I put together a reading and watching list. (I'll link it here, in case you want to see it.) We found movies, short videos, essays, poems, and books. Many of us spent the summer immersed in learning more about our country's racist systems that purposely buoy some and sink others.
When the summer ended, I knew more than I had, but that's not saying much given where I started. A faculty spouse/local college professor offered an upper-level version of the group. Her "Doing the Work" program (Thanks, CC!) has kicked my education up a few notches, helping me see and understand more about how racism isn't layered on top of an otherwise working and fair country but woven into the fabric of every system we have.
One of the first homework assignments for that course was to read Tre Johnson's powerful article, "When Black People are in Pain, White People Just Join Book Clubs." (When you're done reading it, please come back here.)
Clearly, my learning isn't enough. It's all academic.
At the end of the summer, colleagues and I talked about what else we should be doing. We came up with the idea of forming a group in which we could work on ourselves in a venue that limited the possibility of inflicting harm on others. Our Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (thanks, YT!) recommended the name Alliance of White Anti-Racist Educators (AWARE). I know it might seem an odd step in anti-racism to form a group for white people only, but when the purpose of the group is to help learn how not to continue our unconsciously racist ways and to reveal our biases and flush them down the drain, working among other whites makes sense.
I've been lucky to co-lead the group with a woman who's been figuring things out longer and deeper than I have. (Thanks, ARC!) Together, we've organized monthy-ish meetings attended by teachers, nurses, coaches, librarians, and other staff who want to learn how to stop perpetuating racism. Together, we work through what to say and do in the face of the racism around and in us. We recently looked at this list of common group-level white behaviors. Many ring too true.
Acting out scenarios and discussing our typical behaviors in a group of well-meaning white people has been difficult, but eye-opening. Doing the work (both the class and the work itself) and meeting with AWARE has helped me realize how far I have to go. I'm grateful to have others travel with and guide me on this important journey.
Do you have suggestions for AWARE and/or thoughts to add about the work needed? Please share your ideas in the comments.