Round Rock, TX,
Previously, we wrote about our experiences leading a book study on Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum. The purpose of the book study was to help CPM employees (1) develop a shared vocabulary that we can use in our discussions about race and racism, (2) better understand ourselves so we can better understand each other, and (3) to challenge ourselves to understand better how our own implicit biases impact our ability to follow the CPM Equity Principles
We know that what we do as CPM employees impacts what CPM offers teachers, and so it also impacts what teachers offer their students. We do have some power and authority in the world, and as an educator, you do too.
We all are up against systemic problems that are too big for one person to address, so we want you to know you are not alone in this work to change the status quo. Here, we will share a bit about what we learned as facilitators of this book study, including our successes, frustrations, and failures.
Some participants are now more willing to have difficult conversations about race with their families and colleagues. For example:
- “I am willing and ready to have conversations with my children and others when racial topics come up versus avoiding them.”
- “I feel empowered to address behaviors and/or statements that generalize a specific group of color.”
Other participants learned about how their racial identities impact their lives and have decided to continue exploring this. For example:
- “I have a better understanding of my own white privilege.”
- “I’ve started a small book study/affinity group of my own to explore my own racial identity.”
Others have a new lens on the racial dimension of school and classroom life after confronting some of their own previously unrecognized implicit biases. For example:
- “I observe classrooms differently and am able to ask the question when some students are treated differently.”
- “Before, when I would see a loud group of Black boys in the hallway, I would make assumptions about their intentions, such as to disrupt, tease, avoid class, etc. Now, because of reading about racial identity through adolescence and teenage years, I know their intent is to feel a sense of belonging and closeness with one another.”
Many of us exposed problematic ideas and learned by making these ideas public. Examples included:
- Statements that supported colorblind racism
- Statements that uncovered a person’s implicit bias
- Statements or gestures that essentialized particular cultures
1sentialize definition: Verb, gerund, or present participle: essentializing. (a) Characterize (a quality or trait) as fundamental or intrinsi Esc to a particular type of person or thing, “this approach is controversial because it could essentialize the ‘peaceful’ nature of women”; (b) portray or explain (a particular type of person or
- Failing to say something immediately when we heard the above problematic statements (this one is particularly on us as book study facilitators)
Collective reflection on these uncomfortable moments provided the most significant learning opportunities of the book study. We value that the conversation allowed the above problematic ideas to be expressed so that we could address them explicitly.
If you plan to facilitate a book study on race with your colleagues, it is important to consider the racial make-up of the participants. For example, as facilitators, we pushed our predominantly white participants to prioritize impact over intent when offensive statements were made — even unintentionally affirming problematic ideas results in perpetuating those ideas and further marginalizes the ones who are offended.
Also, it was difficult to balance making time to share personal and professional connections to the book and also develop an action plan. Still, some participants felt ready to put what they learned into action: one participant shared they must do better now that they know better, and another questioned whether they were having meaningful enough conversations about race with their children. No change is too small in our attempts to change the status quo.
We would have liked to have a meaningful collective professional action plan as an outcome of the book study. If you conduct a book study, we recommend a backward planning approach to ensure all participants leave with an action plan that aligns with their roles and responsibilities.
We encourage you if at all possible, to facilitate a similar book study and to be sure to have multiple perspectives in book studies on racism. Why? This experience led us to grow individually and bonded us personally and professionally. In the words of the author, B.D. Tatum:
While we cannot guarantee that everyone in our facilitator group or the larger book study walked away with a shared understanding of racism, we do know that we now have a shared experience to draw on in our relationships and work together. This book study is a resource for us to hold each other accountable for understanding that we are not powerless.
thing) in terms of one or more stereotypical or supposedly intrinsic traits, “nineties culture, over time, has been essentialized into a few symbols” (Definitions from Oxford Languages)
This article is the second in a series of three articles that will share experiences and outcomes of this book study. We hope you look forward to the last article where we share our next steps and potential action items. If you would like to contact us for more information, please fill out this form, and we will get back to you: https://forms.gle/rbaFxW6mzQwRQfUM7.