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June 11, 2020 | 4 comments

Breaking Through on Speaking Out: Being Anti-Racist

Kelly Booz discusses being a better ally and listener and asks a question of her White peers: What will you do differently, or will you do anything at all?


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The Deafening Roar of Silence

I’ve been doing mom school in the mornings until my husband takes over for dad school in the afternoons. I’ve blogged about how much I’m struggling. And I still am. 

But then George Floyd is murdered and joins a long list of Black men and women who have died at the hands of police officers, racists or white supremacists. He’s murdered on camera in Minnesota, a state I love and where I was born. A place where we say “you betcha,” “doncha know” and “oh jeepers.” 

And I am at a loss for words. 

Then a week went by, and I was still at a loss of what to say and do. My Black friends and Black colleagues were telling us they are not OK, while I remained silent. I won’t minimize how hard it is to parent, work and co-school, but my struggles at mom school and working full time are not that bad. I am lucky. I have a job, a paycheck and a healthy family (knock on wood). And as a White person, I am in a bubble and do not experience the overt and micro aggressions triggered simply by the color of my skin.

No, my Black friends are not OK. Yes, there is plenty I can do—like educate myself; have conversations with my kids, family and friends; and speak out. 

In 2014, my very good neighbors and dear friends’ 21- month- old child died in his sleep of no known cause. My husband and I quickly became command central to take the pressure off our friends as much as possible. I was grateful for my sister-in-law, a grief counselor, who has provided me with so many skills over the years and advice during that time on how to be supportive. No one knew what to say or do. We were not celebrating the end of a long and full life. We were mourning the loss of so much incredible potential and life yet lived. 

Since George Floyd’s murder, I find I’m better equipped to help families and friends support parents who lose a child than I am right now to talk about race and white privilege. I was so uncomfortable and so worried about saying the wrong thing that I did the wrong thing: I remained quiet. 

I knew with the loss of a loved one, saying nothing hurts a lot and it can hurt more as time goes on when friends stop calling and checking in and expect you to be “back to normal.” Acknowledging a loved one gone is important at the time of the loss. But it’s even more important four months from now, a year from now and many years from now. When someone you love dies, acknowledging them keeps their spirit and memory alive and can help ease the loneliness and isolation. 

Yet, while I helped give advice to friends searching for the right words to say and not say when someone dies, I realized how foolish I have been by first keeping quiet and then later by asking my Black friends so many of the same wrong questions since George Floyd’s murder, such as: “What can I do?” “How are you doing?” “Are you hanging in there?” 

No, my Black friends are not OK. Yes, there is plenty I can do—like educate myself; have conversations with my kids, family and friends; and speak out. 

Reconciling Privilege with Inaction

I texted one of my colleagues to check in on her and ask what I could do to support her. Her response was this:

“Yes, there’s a ton you can do. Donating to organizations, talking to family and friends, and using your platforms to share why my life matters, checking your white privilege and using it for good. The real question is what do you feel comfortable doing? There are resources floating around that address every level of comfort.”

She made me realize how little I’ve done. This blog is the most words I’ve written on race and white privilege ever. And while I am anxious to read your responses, good or bad, I’ve taken my first step. I will do more today, four months from now, a year from now and beyond. I will no doubt make mistakes. But I hope my mistakes of commission or omission will be flagged so I can learn.

Over the last several days, I’ve started by having honest and vulnerable conversations with my friends, family and my young kids. I’ve admitted how uncomfortable and silent I’ve been up to this point. I’ve said the wrong things and I’ve asked a lot of questions; and even when making mistakes, I kept asking, talking and listening. I’ve shared my support for Black Lives Matter, and I’ve had conversations with White friends who argued, “but all lives matter.” Yes, of course all lives matter. But that’s not the point. History and actions have shown us that Black lives don’t matter. Our laws and rules are rigged based on the color of your skin, from risking your life when getting detained by police to being denied a level economic playing field. Our Black friends need us because their lives are in danger. 

being anti-racist: recognizing the meaning of black lives matter
Photo by: sarahwillsphoto.

We need to engage with our Black and our White peers about conversations on race, white privilege and systemic racism. I don’t understand and won’t understand how it is to be Black in America. And that is a conversation we can all have with our Black peers. It’s OK to admit you don’t know what to say and you are uncomfortable. Commit to learning and commit to not remaining silent because you are uncomfortable. More than that, listen. 

One of my colleagues at work who is Black shared that she had “the talk” with her son many times on how to interact with police if approached. She lives in a predominantly White suburban area, and many of the parents of her son’s friends reached out to her asking what they can do. She asked them: How are they supporting her Black teenage son? Are they teaching their sons and daughters how to be allies? Do they know what to do if her son is approached by the police? Do they know they should record the scene? 

George Floyd is not just one loss, but he joins hundreds of years of murders and mistreatment of our Black friends. Sure, we protest and share our solidarity, but then a few months go by and it’s back to business. Meanwhile, our Black friends soldier on, hurting quietly while we forget to check in and say something, or when we do our obligatory check-in and move on.

I am learning. I am a friend and ally. And I will not stay silent. I will listen. I will speak. I will act. Now, four months from now, and years from now. What will you do differently, or will you do anything at all?

Resources I found helpful:

Books I’m reading:

Anti-Racism Resources for White People. This google document has many resources, including resources for white parents to raise anti-racist kids, book and movie recommendations, and podcasts.

Share My Lesson Resources to Teach Anti-Racism and Social Justice Issues:

Do you recommend additional resources on being anti-racist? If yes, please share in the comments section. 

Kelly Booz

Kelly Carmichael Booz oversees the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) PreK-12 online resources serving 1.9 million educators on the AFT's, the AFT's E-Learning professional development platform, and the production and dissemination of PreK-12 publication for the AFT's 1.7 millio

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Kira Herbert
Kira Herbert June 11, 2020, 10:11 pm

I am working on this too. I am learning to be anti racist a little each day. Your article today and some new resource each day. I reread, Maya Angelou's " I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" and I am reading the the YA title, "Genesis Begins Again" by Alicia D. Williams. I turn to Teaching Tolerance for resources. I listened to Dr.Kendi on youtube from an interview a year ago. I am working on this too.

Kira Herbert
Kira Herbert June 11, 2020, 10:16 pm

I actually realize now that Dr. Kendi's video is posted in the Teaching About Race and Racism in America: Lesson Plans and Resources link that you shared above.

Cyndy Harrison
Cyndy Harrison June 12, 2020, 10:11 am

I cannot even begin how your perfectly articulated words speak to my mind and heart. I have considered myself mentally competent and able to handle tragic situations but have had a very difficult time reconciling my thoughts on what to do/how to help. I taught in a multicultural environment and came to terms with my white privilege, but I have not done enough. I am moving forward in learning more and speaking up more. Your image choices were perfect as well. The street painting along with the little girl and her sign sends the message loud and clear that I can no longer be silent. What I do moving forward may not be perfect, but my intent is to show I believe with all my heart that #BlackLivesMatter.

gglover_2750736 June 12, 2020, 1:56 pm

I have tears streaming down my face. Your words articulate so well what is in my heart.