Antiracism in The Archive

Posted on February 4, 2020


As I organized last week, I was thinking about the fact that Black History Month is upon us, and I was reflecting on how I celebrated Black history, arts, and cultures in my high school classroom. I didn’t limit it to February. But I did increase the number of Black perspectives I brought into our work together during February, and I promoted participation in local Black history events.

How did this White woman become an antiracist? you may wonder.

Easy. My dad was openly racist, and my siblings’ musical preferences, my public school education, the books I read, what I heard on the radio, and the TV/movies I saw offered me antiracist perspectives that I adopted out of my love for humanity–my own, and everyone’s.

It was easy for me to understand the POV of a Black person or other POC because my dad was openly misogynist as well. When he called women “heifers,” “dumb blondes,” or said (with conviction) that “the only degree a woman pursues in college is her ‘Mrs. degree,'” I could easily make the connection to people from other groups he disparaged and see the dehumanizing parallels for all but White men in his words.

With barely an interaction with any non-White-identifying people until my late teens/early 20s, I cultivated understanding, compassion, and empathy for non-White people by reading and listening to as many non-White voices as I could get my hands on in Grass Lake.

As an undergraduate at EMU in the early 1990s, I heard bell hooks give a speech in which she implored listeners to “decolonize our minds.” Without knowing it, I had begun that process when I was a child, but after hearing her say it, I began to consciously seek out non-White perspectives on every topic about which I had a question.

I approached my decolonization project like this: I figured that I’d heard enough White perspectives to “get it” by then, and I’d been denied other perspectives, so if I started right away, I might bring my inner world more closely in alignment with the outer world’s diversity of viewpoints by my 80s.

I took it as a good sign that in my late 20s, someone I knew said, “You can sit in a room alone and have group therapy!” It’s true. Being a lonely child who was years younger than my four siblings, I grew up like an only child, and I definitely had two very close imaginary friends, “Diana” and “Rose”. My imaginary friends gave me practice at holding a number of viewpoints in mind at one time, and we definitely had our own, secret language! As soon as I could read and play my own records, I populated my mind with thinkers of all kinds, from worlds far beyond my tiny town encircled by cornfields and dairy farms. I was hungry to know the peoples of the world, and to join the work-in-progress of liberating oppressed peoples.

Likewise, I took it as a good sign–although I’m not certain he meant it as a compliment– when a young, White man said in my Literature classroom in 1995, “All we ever read in here is Black people!”

It was actually around 20% of the writers we studied that year, but it was enough, it would seem, to allow students to feel the presence of Black folks in American literature and history.

But–what if we DID read only Black Americans? It was an American Literature course, and plenty of classes like it ran around the country–without any non-White writers on the reading list. What if 1/13 years of K-12 education was dedicated to Black American writers? It would still be American Literature!

I will turn 56 in a few days, and while it is impossible to erase the effects of white supremacy entirely from my mind, I am pleased when I see what I’ve done with the place…And I’m not dead yet! There’s still time to learn more–and I’m always curious. I continue to want to know, understand, love, and liberate all my relations on this pale blue dot in the cosmos.

Let’s see how I brought my project of decolonizing my mind to my work as an antiracist teacher, shall we? The slideshow in the link below is a collection of artifacts from approximately 1994-the present.

Antiracist Artifacts from The Archive

Related Links

Everyday Antiracism

Join the Antiracist Book Club

RE: Teaching To Kill A Mockingbird

PD for White Teachers: A Conversation on Confronting Racism

Teachers Can Make Every Day Indigenous People’s Day

Seeing Whiteness In School

Seeing White podcast

1619 Project Podcast