This year, the 50 year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, has prompted a lot of reflection about how far the United States has come and the long way it still has to go when confronting racism and hatred. The following guest post from scholar Binna Kandola challenges us to consider the implicit ways racism sneaks its way into everyday interactions, including in our professional environments.
As the first black president, Barack Obama's legacy will always include issues of race. At his farewell speech he acknowledged this: "After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.” His presidency reveals the longstanding myth that American history has always been on a steady, progressive path towards embracing equality for all.
Today’s News, Tomorrow’s History is an ongoing series with Listenwise. This series connects Facing History’s themes with today’s current events using public radio to guide and facilitate discussions around the social issues of our time. We will take a look at the ways countries have tried to manage racism, especially in Brazil.
I’ve always believed we can inspire young people to create a more compassionate future through education, both formally and informally.
While programs like Facing History educate our middle and high school students to promote a more humane and informed citizenry through examining racism and prejudice in historic events, I haven’t found much support for us, as adults, in tackling difficult topics like race, hatred, and bigotry in a respectful manner.
In Emily Berman’s ninth grade biology class, social justice is a central theme. She’s part of a group of six teachers that brought an interdisciplinary approach to teaching Facing History’s “Race and Membership” unit last year at Blackstone Academy Charter School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Bringing current events into the classroom creates some very interesting challenges for teachers. The classroom is a community of diverse people with diverse stories, experiences, and points of view. The teacher is not just an instructor but also a member of the community with their own stories, experiences, and points of view. How do educators navigate their own personal feelings while creating safe space for students to share? How do educators walk the fine line between teaching and telling, between educating and indoctrinating? These are important questions educators must grapple with when charged with creating social and emotional safe spaces for discussing current events.
Talking about race can be challenging and uncomfortable. Yet, recognizing the impact of race on the way we see ourselves and others can help us better understand how we see the world and, in turn, the choices that we make. The challenge, for many of us, is that we don’t know where to begin.
As an educator who has taught the Facing History Reconstruction unit several times, one thing has become clear: who we are and where we are shapes the way we teach our students about this critical period in history. I’ve heard my fellow educators grapple with some of the same questions I’ve considered. How do we approach the topic of race and racism? How can we talk about African American history with a predominantly white student body versus a predominantly African American one? Or, how can we talk about the legacy of slavery with a predominantly urban or rural student body?
When I was in elementary school, I was chosen to read aloud a poem I wrote about Martin Luther King, Jr. It was during a school-wide assembly to celebrate the United States’ Black History Month. I remember reciting my poem and the celebratory feeling in the room. The sense that we were united by the legacy of this wonderful man and our enlightened accomplishments as a racially diverse school community. Even then I understood that my presence onstage was meant to be evidence of that enlightenment and progress.