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It's Time to Talk Racism

This post is dedicated to Teresa Sanchez

A little over two months ago on August 3rd, a white supremacist drove to a Walmart in El Paso, Texas with the intention of killing as many Mexicans as possible. 22 people lost their lives that day in an act of hatred, racism, and xenophobia.

While it's impossible to change the past, we can always ask ourselves what needs to be done in order to prevent terrorist acts like this from happening in the future. It's always been my belief that if we can start to have conversations with children around differences, empathy, and respect, we're investing in a better future.

When I teach about racism and anti-racism with my students, inevitably one student always asks, "Why is everything about race?!" To these students, I ask if they can name one aspect of our society that has not been impacted by race, racism, and the imbalance of systemic power. Sports, fashion, film, education, housing, transportation, jobs, the outdoors, food, you name it. Racism has been present in the United States since the first colonizer set food on these lands. Part of our responsibility as educators is to show our students how racism operates as a system, and in order to dismantle systems of white supremacy, we must start with decentering the white narrative and dispel unfair and problematic stereotypes around immigrants and migrants.

Quite often, starting these conversations from scratch is challenging, which is why I prefer to use read alouds so students have the opportunity to connect to a personal narrative, therefore humanizing the immigrant experience. Whenever starting a new conversation, lesson, or unit on differences, make an effort to start the dialogue with an ASSET LENS perspective (no one wants the first conversation they have about their own identity to be rooted in oppression and negativity.)

"Where Are You From?" is a beautiful picture book for early elementary of being proud of your roots despite the questions of others, and "Esperanza Rising" has always been a favorite for upper elementary in middle because it also shows that immigrants come from their own beautiful traditions and cultures, and demonstrates what is often lost and given up when immigrating to a new place (you can also go further with this book and discuss social class within immigrant communities.) For further resources, I also appreciate this lesson from Teaching Tolerance about dispelling myths around immigrants.

As the climate change movement has been featured extensively in the media lately, I also want to take this opportunity to encourage educators to incorporate anti-racism into lessons on environmentalism. Black and Brown folx have always been disproportionately impacted by climate change and pollution, as well as the most erased when it comes to talking and teaching about conservation and access to the environment. Remembering that anti-racism and anti-bias are lenses through which we can teach anything and everything, please remember to keep racial inclusivity at the forefront of your conversations about climate change.

This past year, I worked with my third grade students to tackle environmental racism and justice. Using examples from Environmental Justice in Postwar America, my students participated in a gallery walk of images from the different environmental issues that impact people of color (redlining, the placement of toxic waste dumps, air and water pollution, displacement, etc.) and wrote about their observations. Throughout the next few weeks, we used articles from National Geographic and Newsela to dive deeper into each issue, and better understand how oppression also exists within environmentalism. I love this unit because it allows students to further recognize how racism is a system that impacts people, and to consider what environmental justice might look like.

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