Adding “Ourselves” into Anti-Racism Work
Julie Toole, Chicago IL TAB Board Chair DEI&J
Anti-racism work is not self-improvement work for White people. It doesn’t end when White people feel better about what they’ve done. It ends, according to Rachel Cargle (2020), when Black people are staying alive and they have their liberation.
We have paused. We have grieved, We have breathed. We have read, watched, and we have learned. We have listened to Black voices. We have practiced self-care. We have reached out to the ones we need and the ones who need us. We have made art. We have raged. We have protested. We have taken inventory. We have cried. We have looked inward, and now it is time to take action.
As I reflected on our TAB Statement of Solidarity, I know that words do matter, but they also can be performative and hollow. Words, social media posts, and book clubs cannot end systemic racism. In the last line of our statement, “We call on all TAB teachers to join us in working to end racism in our schools and our communities,” I feel like a word is missing and that word is ourselves. “We call on all TAB teachers to join us in working to end racism in our schools and our communities and IN OURSELVES. True change must begin within. Antiracism work is Work (with a capital W). Speaking from my experience as a White woman, it is challenging, it is uncomfortable, and it pushes me to be vulnerable in ways that fight against all the privileges I have been given because of my identity. And onward I go.
Bettina Love and her Abolitionist Teaching Network has guided me on my journey. “Abolitionist teaching is not a teaching approach: It is a way of life, a way of seeing the world, and a way of taking action against injustice. It seeks to resist, agitate, and tear down the educational survival complex through teachers who work in solidarity with their school communities to achieve incremental changes in their classrooms for students in the present day, while simultaneously freedom dreaming and vigorously creating a vision for what schools will be when the educational survival complex is destroyed”. IT IS A WAY OF LIFE. This is who I am. I cannot unlearn or unsee anything I have learned or seen.
As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. When you know better, do better”. No matter where we are on our journey towards justice, given what we have all lived through the last few months, we all know better. It is time to show up, speak up, and push for equity and justice in our schools and communities. Don’t be tempted to hide out in guilt, fear, or your own tears – those are all tools of White Supremacy culture. Our Black students, families, neighbors, and colleagues are not afforded the option of not showing up. And when they do show up, they are taking a much bigger risk and with substantial emotional labor. This is the Work of White people to do. White people have and always have held the power because that is the way our country was built to operate.
This double pandemic, one 7 months long and the other 400 years long, has given us the opportunity to call on our “radical imagination” (Cornelius Minor). We are art educators and artists, we were designed for this. Not only that, we are TAB teachers. TAB teachers have been bucking the status quo of the traditional methods of art education for close to 40 years. We create our studio classrooms (however they look) with a firm foundation of community and relationships. We know that no learning can truly take place without that foundation and without co-creating not only a safe space, but a brave space. In a brave space, we create an environment for students to take risks, give honest feedback, and ask challenging questions. We lift up and honor student voices and support our young artists to create art firmly based on their identity and interests, deeply steeped in creative wonderings. Our spaces are places of healing where social emotional learning lives and breathes. As we move into the uncertainty of what our school year will look like, one thing for sure is that I do not want to go back to normal.
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
Sonya Renee Taylor
Join me and our TAB community in stitching that new garment.