There's No Neutral on Racism

It’s anti-racism week in Winnipeg and as an elementary school teacher, I feel a little baffled that I wasn’t among the first to know.


I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to talk about racism at all age levels. It’s great that adults are being encouraged to examine their beliefs and ways of being and understand where their own undercurrents of racism lie.


But, if we aren’t teaching kids anti-racism, then nothing will change. There isn’t an age where kids are too young to learn about respecting, accepting and celebrating the differences that exist in the world.


If we aren’t explicitly teaching anti-racism, then we are teaching racism.


I’m sure there are people who will disagree with me on this, but as far as I can tell, dominant culture is still filled with racist, patriarchal, Christian, heteronormative, cis gender messages and children are small sponges, soaking up all of these subtle (and not so subtle) ideas.


We need to disrupt these messages and infuse our little sponges with empathy, compassion and acceptance. Parents need to be teaching anti-racism, schools need to be teaching anti-racism, community centres and religious institutions need to be teaching anti-racism.


This is why it boggles my mind that Winnipeg’s anti-racism week is being held the week before spring break. I mean, I get it that if you are not in the school system, some of the subtleties of the flow of the school year might be lost on you, but if the government had even taken a few minutes to consult with a teacher they would know that the week that is sandwiched between report cards and the holidays (not even to mention the educational reform bombshell) is one of the worst weeks of the year for involvement, engagement and learning.


The thing is, I don’t know that the government does want us to be involved. This to me is more than a little troubling. If we aren’t seeking change in our learning institutions, then are we really seeking change, or just paying lip service?


Why weren’t schools invited to be a part of this week? Why weren’t there packs of crayons with a rainbow of skin colours being distributed to all elementary schools? Why wasn’t there a push to decorate our classrooms and hallways in anti-racist messaging and post it on our social media accounts?


One of those most powerful sources of anti-racism teaching is through books by diverse writers that address racism both implicitly and explicitly. What if for anti-racism week, the city challenged business owners in Winnipeg to buy a book celebrating diversity to donate to a local school? This would not only increase access to these important books, but also help build community by bringing the business sector and education sector together. Systematic change involves changing everyone in the system.


Personally, I’d like to see Brian Bowman reading Anti-Racist Baby and talking about each of the points raised in the book.


I’m glad the city of Winnipeg is acknowledging that racism is an issue that needs attention in our city (and the world), but if the government wants to make change, they need to start with a more inclusive mindset.


We, in the public schools, are educating the next generation of Winnipeggers. If we want to have a city that is anti-racist then we need to be educating on those values, here and now.


It isn’t that I don’t believe that adults can grow and change, but why wait twenty (or thirty or forty…) years for bad habits and racist mindsets to become entrenched? It is much easier to educate than it is to reeducate.


We have beautiful, curious, intelligent children growing up in a world that is going through a flux that will hopefully bring it to a place of openness and opportunities for everyone. These children are ready, let’s help them learn about being anti-racist. Let’s help them to be the change we need to see in the world.


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