Looking for Anti-Blackness in My School: Where do I start?

During a conversation with the legendary principal and national speaker, Baruti Kafele, on Episode 175 of his weekly AP and New Principal Academy, we discussed steps school leaders (and other educators) can take when school opens to begin addressing anti-Blackness in their schools (and classrooms). I shared an abbreviated definition of anti-Blackness from my new book, There Are No Deficits Here: Disrupting Anti-Blackness in Education, as well as a few look fors (Wells, 2023).

School leaders who want to build school cultures that are fortified against the inequalities and systemic oppression endemic to our society must do so ON PURPOSE. While systemic and institutional racism is not new, this moment is. We need definitions and strategies to address anti-Blackness in our current time. I offer the full definition of anti-Blackness from There Are No Deficits Here to help school leaders understand what it is and how it operates.

“Anti-Blackness is the beliefs, attitudes, practices, and behaviors that create the specific forms of racism that systematically marginalize, dehumanize, denigrate, and disempower Black people (Comrie et al., n.d.). Anti-Blackness positions Black people as inherently inferior and codifies a continuum of social belonging on which all people, including all people of color, are situated but on which Black people are categorically denied the benefits of membership. Anti-Blackness is the ideological, structural, and cultural foundation on which the violence; lack of access to education, jobs, and healthcare; psychological abuse; exposure to toxic, unhealthful environments; and disenfranchisement we experience are normalized. Anti-Blackness exists and operates both at the individual and structural level within our educational ecosystems and generates learning opportunities that perpetuate the mistreatment and erasure of Black people in schools and society.“

So, what do you do with this definition? How do you use this definition or any other definition of anti-Blackness to examine your thinking and your school for the ways in which anti-Blackness shows up? Begin by asking yourself, the leader, three important questions?

  1. Am I ready to be uncomfortable enough to do this work?
  2. How have my experiences shaped my beliefs and perspectives?
  3. What resources do I need to guide my school in this work?

Answering these questions honestly for yourself will let you know if you are ready to begin the work, give you insight into your mindset, and identify the resources you need. Then you can begin using these five steps to help you become aware of and respond to anti-Blackness in your work: Look, Name, Watch, Replace, and Repeat. It is important to note that there is no correct pace for moving through these steps. You should pause and process between each step so you can develop a depth of understanding before moving on. But starting with you first is essential. Spending time moving through these steps in your everyday life is vital to becoming metacognitive about your thinking and actions. It is also important that when you do begin engaging your school community you work collectively with a representative cross-section of stakeholders, what I call conscious collectivism, and have the support you need from experts. 

 

IN YOUR EVERY DAY LIFE

LOOK: Hold the mirror up and take a hard-eyed look at your thinking, feelings, and behavior. Here are a few ways you can begin this reflection.

  1. Observe yourself in public spaces like grocery stores. Who do (don’t) you stop for? To whom do (don’t) you say excuse me? What do you think about people as you pass them? 
  2. Identify the thoughts and feelings you have when driving through predominantly Black neighborhoods and communities. When you see groups of Black people in restaurants? At the beach? The movies? What do you do? 
  3. Examine how you respond to conversations about race, news reports about acts of aggression or violence toward Black people, and protests in support of the rights of Black people.

NAME: When you identify anti-Blackness in your thinking, feelings, and behavior name it.

WATCH: Be mindful and develop practices for noticing and naming anti-Blackness.

REPLACE: Be proactive in redirecting your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to those that affirm Blackness.

REPEAT: Keep looking, naming, watching, and replacing to understand and uproot anti-Blackness when it shows up for you.

 

IN YOUR SCHOOL

LOOK: Hold the mirror up and take a hard-eyed look into your school to analyze the culture. Here are 15 questions you can ask when looking at your school.

  1. What do you see in the physical environment?
  2. How are students distributed across classrooms and courses?
  3. What does student seating in classrooms look like?
  4. How do curricula materials portray and discuss Black people? What do you do to address inclusivity? Negative images?
  5. What instructional strategies are most prominent?
  6. What types of questions do you ask Black students (boys, girls, LGBTQ, non-binary)
  7. Who is disciplined? For what? How?
  8. What is the impact of policies, practices, and programs on Black students?
  9. What are the demographics of the staff? Who is in what positions?
  10. How do you talk to Black students (boys, girls, LGBTQ, non-binary)? 
  11. How does your school encourage Black students to express themselves?
  12. What is the vocabulary of your school when talking about Black students?
  13. What do you do when Black students identify issues of race, racism, discrimination, exclusion, and prejudice in your classroom, school, or district?
  14. Where do you get external support? What organizations? What are the demographics of the leaders? The staff?
  15. Has your school made a public commitment to equity? Racial equity? Anti-Racism? Where is there evidence of this commitment in your school?

NAME: Shift the language you use in your school from terms like “discrimination,” “unintentional,” “unfairness,” and “implicit-bias,” to explicitly name anti-Blackness where you identify it.

WATCH: Develop a culture of mindfulness in your school where there are norms and practices for noticing and naming anti-Blackness

REPLACE: Be proactive in changing the culture and correcting the policies, practices, materials, partners, and language that harm Black people in your school.

REPEAT: Keep looking, naming, watching, and replacing to understand and address anti-Blackness in your school.

Confronting the reality of anti-Blackness in our schools is essential to creating educational environments where Black students and their identities, histories, and cultures are valued in the culture and learning, where they can thrive! We need leaders with the conviction and courage to investigate the beliefs and practices operating in their own thinking and in their schools. May you be the ones who take the first step.

References

Comrie, J. W., Landor, A. M., Riley, K. T., & Williamson, J. D. (n.d.). Anti-Blackness/ colorism. Boston Center for Antiracist Research, Boston University. https:// www.bu.edu/antiracism-center/ files/2022/06/Anti-Black.pdf 

Wells, L. (2023). There Are No Deficits Here: Disrupting