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Unpacking Racial Bias: Using Our Summer Reading to Become a More Inclusive Community

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

 

 

Ask any teacher and they will tell you that one of the greatest misnomers in the English language, as it relates to the teaching profession, is calling the months of June and July “summer vacation.” The truth is, summers are used intentionally to reflect on the previous year, engage in professional development, and prepare for the upcoming school year. This summer is certainly no exception!

At Heathwood Hall, we value the restorative time that summer offers teachers and also recognize the opportunity of time to reflect and grow. Each year, teachers are given a book, or choice of books, to read in order to prepare their minds and hearts for the upcoming school year. 

In February, members of the Senior Administrative Team identified five books that teachers could read this summer to help in growing spiritually and intellectually. We centered on a theme - books that help us to develop a common language and frameworks around racial bias and justice. This would be an essential step in deepening our understanding of how racial identity impacts our work as educators and move us closer to becoming a more inclusive community. The books we selected are:

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Mahzarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. Banaji and Greenwald explore hidden biases that we all carry from a lifetime of experiences with social groups – age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, or nationality. “Blindspot” is a metaphor to capture that portion of the mind that houses hidden biases. The authors use it to ask about the extent to which social groups – without our awareness or conscious control – shape our likes and dislikes, our judgments about people’s character, abilities, and potential. In Blindspot, hidden biases are revealed through hands-on experience with the method that has revolutionized the way scientists are learning about the human mind and that gives us a glimpse into what lies within the metaphoric blindspot – the Implicit Association Test. 

My Vanishing Country: A Memoir, Bakari Sellers. Part memoir, part historical and cultural analysis, My Vanishing Country is an eye-opening journey through the South's past, present, and future. Anchored in Bakari Sellers’ hometown of Denmark, South Carolina, this story illuminates the pride and pain that continues to fertilize the soil of one of the poorest states in the nation. In his poetic personal history, we are awakened to the crisis affecting the other “Forgotten Men & Women,” who the media seldom acknowledges. For Sellers, these are his family members, neighbors, and friends. He humanizes the struggles that shape their lives: to gain access to healthcare as rural hospitals disappear; to make ends meet as the factories they have relied on shut down and move overseas; to hold on to precious traditions as their towns erode; to forge a path forward without succumbing to despair.

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Debbie Irving. For twenty-five years, Debby Irving sensed inexplicable racial tensions in her personal and professional relationships. As a colleague and neighbor, she worried about offending people she dearly wanted to befriend. As an arts administrator, she didn't understand why her diversity efforts lacked traction. As a teacher, she found her best efforts to reach out to students and families of color left her wondering what she was missing. Then, in 2009, one "aha!" moment launched an adventure of discovery and insight that drastically shifted her worldview and upended her life plan. In Waking Up White, Irving tells her often cringe-worthy story with such openness that readers will turn every page rooting for her-and ultimately for all of us.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, Beverly Daniel Tatum. Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see Black, White, and Latino youth clustered in their own groups. Is this self-segregation a problem to address or a coping strategy? Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, argues that straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about enabling communication across racial and ethnic divides. These topics have only become more urgent as the national conversation about race is increasingly acrimonious. This fully revised edition is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the dynamics of race in America.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, Robin DiAngelo. In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.

 

These five books were selected in February, though they could not seem more relevant this summer given the civil unrest and national discourse centered around race relations. As educators, we pride ourselves on the relationships we build with our students and families. The theme of these texts help us to broaden our perspectives and appreciate the breadth of experiences of our students and families -- an essential component of developing authentic relationships.

At Heathwood Hall, our mission and our history charge us to remain committed to ideals and actions that improve the human experience. Our hope is that the summer reading and inservice book talks will serve as a starting point for a much larger conversation this year as we seek to understand and appreciate one another’s experiences, engage families and alumni on these topics, and strive to make Heathwood a more inclusive place for all.