Countering Racial Rhetoric and Violence by Stepping Up, Not Standing By
This post was originally published on April 21, 2021 by Forbes.
Yesterday’s “guilty” verdict for George Floyd’s killer was a historic victory for justice in the face of centuries of racial violence against Black people in America. And while we celebrate this moment as a major event in bending the arc of history toward justice, we must recognize it is too soon for unfettered optimism. There is enormous work to be done to achieve racial justice and reconciliation in this country, and everyone has a role to play in that work.
The verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial capped two weeks of gut-wrenching replays of George Floyd’s murder, coupled in the media with the horrific police shootings of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, pulled over on a traffic violation and shot in his car only 10 miles from where George Floyd was killed; young Adam Toledo, only 13 years old, shot as he stood facing police with his arms raised above his head; and, just as the verdict was coming in, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, who was shot by the officers who had been called for help. And these killings echoed those of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, as well as so many others who, like Kawaski Trawick, have been killed without outside witnesses.
These events, evidence of ongoing racial violence by police against young unarmed Black men and women, stand against a backdrop of relentless race-based violence perpetrated against many communities in our society. Just one month ago, on March 18, we learned the tragic news that eight men and women—six of them of Asian descent—were murdered in Atlanta. But this news was quickly overshadowed by that of Vilma Kari, a 65-year-old Filipino-American woman on her way to her church, who was brutally attacked on a downtown Manhattan street in broad daylight while bystanders looked on without intervening. Because hate crimes are deeply underreported, we cannot know how many others have been victimized whose stories did not make the news. But the best evidence available indicates that rates of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders skyrocketed after March of 2020 when national leaders engaged in dehumanizing and xenophobic rhetoric blaming Asians for the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking a 149% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes between 2019 and 2020.
Hate-motivated speech, discrimination, and violence are also relentless realities for Black, Latino, Native American, and LGBQT people living in America, as well as for Muslims, Jews, and members of other minoritized religions. Research shows that disparaging rhetoric can measurably increase our biases, as it creates a false “othering” of people that fosters racism. However, this kind of hate is a learned behavior and, as such, can be combatted with education. Within and beyond the classroom, each of us has a sphere of influence to help change the culture of fear, hate, and violence in which we are currently immersed.
It was because Darnella Frazier engaged in the courageous act of recording George Floyd’s murder that the nation was moved to action and a guilty verdict was ultimately rendered. It was because an anonymous good Samaritan distracted the attacker of Vilma Kari, yelling at the attacker from across the street, that the beating ended as the attacker ran after the Samaritan. It was because many people took to the streets to protest the police shootings and other racial violence that the media took note and many members of the public were informed and inspired to join the protests and donate to justice organizations. It is because organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti-Defamation League, and ACLU have been reporting, recording, and litigating these cases that the justice system has been prodded to action. It is because state and local policymakers have acted that policing is changing and school curricula are beginning to address issues of racial oppression. And it is because many teachers have been helping students to learn about and take up social justice issues in their classrooms that new possibilities for surmounting bigotry are born each day.
We all have the capacity to learn and teach about the sources of intolerance, the experiences of those who are objectified and vilified as “others,” and to help create a critical mass to counter the narrative of hatred. Collectively, we have influence to change the structures and policies that hold oppression in place within our school systems and in our society more broadly. Our power to dismantle oppression in all its forms and to advance a more racially-just future begins with our own willingness to learn and understand, and continues with how we share with acquaintances, how we teach, invest, vote, march, buy, communicate, and live our daily lives.
As we work to change the narrative that has sparked violence against so many, it is important to address the institutionalized racism that has derailed and destroyed so many lives and pervades our country’s education, housing, judicial, and policing systems. As Minnesota Governor and former school teacher Tim Walz noted after the verdict yesterday, “Accountability in the court room is only the first step. We must rebuild, restore, and reimagine the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. We must tackle racial inequalities in every corner of society— from health to home ownership to education. We must come together around our common humanity.”
By deepening our understanding of this history and its ongoing impact, and taking action, we can create a more just and inclusive society for all. Below are some resources that all of us—teachers, parents, and friends—can use to address racism, hate, and violence. By speaking up, and not standing by, we can create a society in which every person is valued, safe, and finally able to realize the American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in ways that allow everyone to pursue that same dream.
Learning for Justice
After Atlanta: Teaching About Asian American Identity and History
An article on conversations started by the author with students the day after the attacks in Atlanta, along with recommended resources to teach about Asian American history and identity.
Organization of American Historians
Anti-Black Violence, African American Memory, and the Trayvon Generation
A resource for teaching this moment from an historical perspective.
Facing History and Ourselves
Curriculum and teaching resources to address historical and current oppression as well as ways to combat hate and bias.
Immigrant History Initiative
Empathy During COVID-19: Addressing Anti-Racism through Restorative Dialogue
A facilitation guide to use restorative circles and open up dialogue about the causes of anti-Asian racism.
Learning for Justice
Learning Plan Builder
A wealth of resources to help teachers build lessons around social justice standards aimed at prejudice reduction.
Mini Lesson: The Pyramid of Hate
An online module to aid conversations about anti-bias, anti-bullying, and hate.
Early Childhood Education Assembly
Resources for Educators Focusing on Anti-Racist Learning and Teaching
A collection of resources to support early childhood educators to engage deliberately in focused anti-racist work.
Center for Racial Justice in Education
Resources for Talking about Race, Racism, and Racialized Violence with Kids
A wide range of resources for teachers, librarians, parents, and others.
National Council on the Social Studies
Resources for Teaching About Racism, Anti-racism, and Human Rights
Articles from NCSS’s three main journals for K-12 teachers: Social Education, Middle Level Learning, and Social Studies and the Young Learner. Also included are recent current event responses that address racism and human rights education.
American Federation of Teachers
Share My Lesson: Teaching for Racial Equity and Justice
Lessons and resources supporting social justice teaching.
Talking About Racism and Violence
Resources for educators and families.
National Education Association
Safe and Just Schools in 2021 and Beyond
Classroom resources, professional development, legal guidance, and advocacy opportunities for educators.
General Resources to Address Racism and Hate
American Friends Service Committee
How to Intervene if Someone Is Being Harassed
Video and guidance on what to do if witnessing public instances of racist or other oppressive interpersonal violence or harassment.
Learning for Justice
How to Respond to Coronavirus Racism
“Speak Up” strategies to address racist or xenophobic comments about coronavirus or anything else centered on four strategies: “Interrupt,” “question,” “educate,” and “echo.”
Learning for Justice
Six Steps to Speak Up
A short, accessible guide for addressing racist thinking and speech in acquaintances.
Southern Poverty Law Center
Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide
A guide setting out 10 principles for fighting hate in your community.
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