“I can’t wait for Black Genius to die.” That was the message overheard in a school where Village of Wisdom (VOW), our organization was offering professional development. We were working to introduce our Black Genius Planning tool to the school’s teachers so that parents of Black children could use it as a way to communicate with the teachers about their child’s strengths, learning goals, and culturally responsive rights. And, this was not the first time our team encountered resistance to our tools that seek to affirm the experiences, culture, and identity of Black children.
Time and time again we have found ourselves in schools, conferences, and nonprofits where teachers and education adjacent professionals say “I just need a tool, to better reach my Black students”. And, unfortunately, what I have found is that a significant number of the people clamoring for tools have not yet done the identity exploration or pursued the political education necessary to implement tools designed to specifically benefit Black children. Let me take a second to break that down.
First, let’s discuss the stated “whys” of white folks and also people of color who don’t want to use a tool that is designed to facilitate the affirmation of a Black child’s racial and academic identity. People tend to resist using Black Genius Planning because either 1) they don’t see the importance of affirming Black children or 2) they mistakenly see the affirmation of Black children as the devaluation of children from other racial backgrounds. And, for the educators not caught up by those reasons they often are uncomfortable with having a conversation about race with Black children or their parents.
Hearing various reasons why educators struggle to use the Black Genius Planning tool the staff at VOW remind educators that research proves that the act of affirming a Black child is beneficial to their self-esteem, academic performance, and overall mental health. Inevitably, this is when we are able to gauge if folks are ready for the tools or not. At this point people, especially those who benefit most from racial injustice, either have the understanding and conviction to press through the emotional discomfort that often comes with performing activities that lead to racial equity or they don’t. Ultimately, this is why I believe understanding the history of racism — while an important component of becoming an advocate for racial equity — is by itself not enough to solidify an individual’s ability to take a stand for racial justice.
A few months back I had the chance to check in with Dr. Howard Stevenson who is an OG in the Racial Socialization and Racial Identity Development fields. I was telling him about the issues we’ve had with attempting to get teachers and non-profit professionals to use the Black Genius Planning tool. He reminded me of his work to promote racial literacy among professionals grappling with issues of unconscious bias and inequity. He said in his experience the real work of taking tangible action steps toward racial equity cannot start until individuals have cried — typically marking an emotional identity exploration event. In other words, frequently when folks begin to wrap their minds around how they have been oppressed, how they have oppressed others, and how they have benefited from the oppression of others it is a fairly emotional process. Dr. Stevenson said he’s only seen people become effective advocates for racial equity once this type of significant identity exploration has happened.
Once identity exploration has occurred people can be emotionally prepared to participate in political acts that lead to racial equity, such as culturally responsive instruction. Racial equity acts are inherently political because pursuing equity often means correcting for inequity. And to correct for inequity it means providing unequal but equitable resources or support to those who have been disenfranchised. This likely means that those who have historically benefited from inequity likely will not receive the same resource. And from what I have seen this causes cognitive dissonance for many because they interpret the giving of resources unequally as unfair. Folks experiencing this cognitive dissonance typically have not come to grips with the fact that the unequal allocation of resources at this point is a correction for inequities that have already occurred. To overcome this dissonance requires identity exploration and a systemic understanding of racial inequity.
What we have found is that unfortunately, sometimes teachers would rather let the Black Genius of their students die than their misguided notions of meritocracy, a post-racial society, and identity development that goes along with disabusing oneself of these notions.
Said another way, if we as educators can’t take the time to develop our critical consciousness and intentionally explore our racial identities, then no tools or tips will make our instruction more culturally responsive.
Even more, teaching from the faulty foundation of an unexplored racial identity will undermine all attempts educators make to connect with and guide the learning of students of color. So now I ask you, have you readied yourself to handle the tools?
Note – Village of Wisdom is part of the Freedom Hill CoalitionEquity Perspective