Dear English Department,
A common goal for most communities and school districts is diversity and inclusion, but how does this actually affect students? How do we make our students feel valued and heard? When the topic of racism comes into the conversation people may become defensive or feel targeted. This can lead to an uncomfortable atmosphere for both teachers and students, but it is critical to get past that in order to create a more inclusive environment. To further the student's education on being antiracist means being able to overcome those uncomfortable feelings and acknowledge the previous bias or misguided actions that even teachers may have.
For our assigned reading at school, we read Stamped by Jason Reynolds. It is explicitly said that one can not just read the book. We cannot just repost or hashtag and expect our community to become more inclusive. Being an antiracist is a constant choice that we need to make. This is why I think our English department needs a change in the unit for the next group of ninth graders.
This book is an excellent way to get students to dive deeper into a history we currently know only one side of, but if we expect this one book to be enough to educate our students on racism we would be mistaken.
This book exposes a deeper understanding of the historical figures and beliefs that we were unaware of. It explains that one person is not confined to being only a racist, assimilationist or antiracist, instead people can have a more fluid mindset.
This is helpful to the students struggling with being antiracist, and may think they cannot change their actions. Just like the historical figures Reynolds mentions, who were able to change their beliefs early in their lives, I believe students can break from how they think their previous actions defined them.
Our community in Westchester, New York is predominately white. With this comes challenges to value and include everyone. At some point during this unit, it felt like the class objective was more about teaching the students what racism was. There was no acknowledgement of the students sitting in the classroom who have had these racist experiences.
While reading this book I found myself getting very angry and frustrated. Part of my anger was from learning about the people who tried to silence black stories and make them something they're not. Stamped did an excellent job bringing out emotions to inspire change, but this book lacks other important thoughts and facts. Reynolds claims Stamped is a book about race, here and now, all about racism, but the book only talks about what Black Americans have been through.
Yes, the struggles that Black Americans have gone through in this country are an important part of the conversation. It is vital to learn about Black history because it is our American history. However, Black Americans are not the only group to be discussed. For a book that claims it is all about race, Stamped barely touches on other marginalized groups in this country.
I found myself getting particularly upset was when he mentions the attacks on September 11th, 2001. The writing on 9/11 was a mere paragraph, not even a page. Then, he goes on to talk about standardized testing. Reynolds does not talk about how 9/11 affected South Asians, and Muslims. He coincidentally left out the dark history of others too. He mentions nothing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese concentration camps, the case of Ling Sing, or even the murder of Latasha Harlins and Vincent Chin.
Reynolds barely touches on the tortures and genocide Indigenous Americans have experienced which I felt was extremely vital information. Students of color should not have to go out of their way to learn their American history. This creates a very dismissive environment within the school community as opposed to an open and inclusive one.
Our past school curriculum on racism was a giant iceberg that the school district completely ignored. These discussions on racism in the past and how they affect us today are important, but the current curriculum feels almost performative if there is no inclusivity and diversity in our education. We can not assume that the students who are reading this book and participating in our class discussions will suddenly go out of their way to become antiracist and inclusive to all students. This is especially so if they are only being educated on the racism of just one marginalized group.
Education on our collective history is not just important for students, but also for teachers. After all, a person can have good intentions, but without awareness, teachers can perpetuate racist beliefs and stereotypes that hurt a marginalized student body too.