Earlier this summer, I received an email asking if I wanted to participate in a four-week online course, Thinking About Racism and Anti-Racism, offered through the University of Redlands Office of Alumni and Community Relations. Being a life-long learner and recent graduate of the U of R School of Education Leadership for Educational Justice doctoral program, I was intrigued by the course title and signed up, hoping to broaden my knowledge and understanding of social justice.
Professor Keith Osajima (a.k.a., “Professor Keith”) started the class by introducing himself and all of the classmates in the cohort (alumni participants ranged in age and worked in different private and public industries including education, healthcare, banking, and policing across the United States). After a quick introduction to the class learning outcomes, Professor Keith advised the class that he was going to talk about real-life issues, such as the recent killing of George Floyd, the passing of U.S. House of Representative and Civil Rights Leader John Lewis, and the current riots and demonstrations across the United States. Yes, Black Lives Matter!
From the scholarly to the personal and political
From the first day of class, Professor Keith was an inspirational leader, challenged us to engage in self-reflection about our biases, and allowed participants to take risks and to learn from one another without being ridiculed or shamed. He asked our cohort questions like “Are you willing to look at yourself and examine your own assumptions and attitudes about racism to change your conscious and/or unconscious behaviors?” “Do you discriminate against other individuals who may not think and/or look like you?” He explained that current research tells us that racism is real and it’s everywhere in our society.
In order to “Think about Racism and Anti-racism” from a critical and scholarly lens, we read “Beyond Hate—Strategic Racism” (2001) by Ian Haney López. This article gave our cohort a great starting point to discuss ways racism can appear in society. According to Lopéz, three understandings of racism predominate: hate, structural racism, and implicit bias.
To further showcase our thinking of racism and anti-racism in America, Professor Keith asked us: What is it that is vexing? What is hard to understand? What feelings come up? Where does your mind stop working? In thinking about all the possible ways you might (or you have tried to) act to move matters forward, what worked, what didn’t, and what lessons did you learn?
Through our readings and class discussion, we learned that one of the central issues of American racism today is the notion of the “black-white binary” framework of thought, which “effectively dictates that non-Black minority groups must compare their treatment to that of African Americans to redress their grievances” (Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, 2017). We also learned that resistance to change is most often the result of an unawareness of the need to adapt. Many people do not recognize the need to make personal and/or organizational changes in response to the diversity of the people with whom they and their organizations interact. They believe, instead, that only the “others” need to change and adapt to them.
Through class discussion, we learned that having an understanding of one’s identity—locating one’s “position” in the larger political, institutional, and social structures—is an important prerequisite for change through the subsequent analyses of intersectionality, oppression, privilege, and racism. In other words, we must first critically recognize our own biases, so that through the transforming action of social justice and social interaction, we can create new situations that make possible the pursuit of humanity and equality for all.
According to Martin Luther King Jr., “Change does not roll out on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” Dealing with change in our personal and work lives is a daily occurrence. Openness and willingness for self-examination and a life-long commitment to personal mastery are critical for anyone who takes up the challenge to be a true leader in action. For in truth, we cannot change others until we first change ourselves, our attitudes, our beliefs, and our positionality. We need to recognize the varied levels of social and institutional inequities and to serve as advocates for the disenfranchised and underserved.
For example, we can ask the following questions of every policy, program, or practice: Who benefits from our mission/vision? Who benefits from our hiring practices and assignments? Who benefits from our budget decisions? Who benefits from our accountability measures? Who benefits from our communication? Leaders effect change through ethical behaviors, factual information (being transparent); respectful relationships; listening and communicating; credible decision-making; and engagement of all stakeholders.
Our class also learned that culture is real and is a major element in our society and human interaction; cultural diversity in this country is a reality. Resistance to change is often the result of an unawareness/denial of the need to adapt to others. People who do not recognize the need to make personal and organizational changes are often the people who believe that others need to change and adapt to them.
Faith in the future
As a bilingual/bicultural educational leader, my core belief is that all students regardless of race, gender, diversity, ethnic heritage, marginalization, spirituality, cultural background, age, ability, socioeconomic, and/or sexual orientation status can succeed in a public educational system that focuses on equity and a firm commitment to academic excellence.
I pursued a career in education because I have faith in the future and the leaders of our educational system to do what is best for every student. I strive on a daily basis to inspire and restore faith in the future with optimism and a framework of shared leadership and a common vision of change.
As an educational leader, I will continue to address the issues related to educational social justice by empowering teachers, administrators, and parents to work collaboratively and collegially in the best interest of students. I will continue to foster an environment that demonstrates both fiscal responsibility and sensitivity to the diverse needs of all members in the community. I will continue to encourage the creation of learning communities where new ideas are shared and where opportunities for growth and understanding are nurtured and developed.
Individual teachers, administrators, and parents cannot do it alone, in isolation. If we are to fulfill the promise of creating communities of life-long learners, we must work together in the spirit of community to create learning environments that celebrate our differences, define our commonalities, and take pride in our accomplishments by continuing to have high expectations for all students, regardless of one’s race, gender, ethnic heritage, cultural background and/or socioeconomic status.
In closing, Professor Keith advised us that in interactions large or small, putting attention on racism, on a regular basis, is a useful activity to keep us focused and thinking about how to move forward in an anti-racist way. I challenge readers to join us today in the fight against racism by speaking up and having a voice for all humanity. Collectively, we must be the courageous leaders of social justice through empathy, resiliency, hope, and action. John Lewis said it best, “If we see something that is not right, not fair, not just, we have a moral obligation to do something about it. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”