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Anti-Racism Teach-Ins: Confronting Racism in Our Curricula

Anti-Racism Teach-Ins, hosted by the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library and supported by The Sojourner’s Truth, are taking place on Zoom twice weekly through Labor Day. The teach-ins are open to the public with a special invitation to teachers, administrators and parents who want a safe space to work together to learn about, challenge and change white supremacy in schools.  Join in Zoom meetings, 5-6 pm Mondays and Wednesdays at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87347454267, meeting ID: 873 4745 4267. On Facebook, follow Anti-Racism Teach-Ins at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100053978557767 for the schedule and links to materials shared in teach-ins. When the coronavirus is under control and limitations on gatherings are lifted, sessions will take place at the Mott Branch Library and continue to be accessible via Zoom.  Materials from presentations are available on the Truth’s website at thetruthtoledo.com.

Crap! My Curriculum is Racist! What Do I Do?

By Jason Cox, Ph.D.
The University of Toledo

As an assistant professor and head of the art education program at the University of Toledo, I try to be anti-racist in all my work.  However, I realized through reading Ibram X. Kendi's How to be an Antiracist that systemic racism had insinuated itself into the policies and structures that I use as a teacher, and that having had this realization it was now my responsibility to do something about it. My presentation addresses the concepts that lead to my epiphany and the steps I took to an antiracist transformation of my curriculum. 

This work is framed by the objectives of the teach-in, which include:

  1. Reflect on our own racialized bias, tendencies and behaviors.
  2. Examine white supremacy, structural racism, and white fragility in the context of drastically unequal racial power and privilege invested in whiteness.
  3. Explain the practices and the significance of antiracist pedagogy as a framework to challenge links between structural violence in educational, social, and political contexts

Step #1 is to admit we have a problem.  According to Kendi, “There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups” (p. 14).  That means there’s no such thing as a race-neutral curriculum.

As teachers, we determine many of the policies that govern behavior and action in our classrooms through our lesson plans and behavior management systems. If a policy isn’t specifically aimed at equality, it is producing or sustaining inequality, and I have personally been more concerned about meeting my SLO requirements than pursuing liberation.

Step #2 is “Don’t panic!”  Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”  The need for change is not about me, my intent, or my reasons for having done things a particular way. Those perspectives were housed in a racist system so omnipresent as to appear “normal.”  If as a teacher or administrator, I have determined that my policies are racist, then I have a duty to take action against them.

To paraphrase art educator Dr. Patty Bode, “Racism is not your fault, but it is everyone’s responsibility.” When the structures we have trusted prove fallible people often grow angry. This is “white fragility” made manifest. The anger grows out of fear of hard questions: Have I been racist? Who have I harmed? Why didn’t anybody tell me? The way out of that anger is to begin seeking the answers to those questions.

Step #3 is to do the best I can (until I know better).  We have several tools at our disposal to do this. 

Tool #1 is to look.  Some school systems encourage their teachers to not be “political.” While their intentions may be to eliminate bias, when students leave the school they will be confronted with an unequal society (Bode & Nieto, 2012, p.396).  I need to ask students what images give shape to their thoughts, and use the visual discourse to guide the direction of the class. Making sense of images together helps the students form a community of inquiry that questions policies, including my own.

Tool #2 is to listen. Students are the experts on their own lives. I must seek out their perspectives, and when they offer them I must resist the temptation to offer my own interpretation or counter-narrative and incorporate their truths into my curriculum. 

Tool #3 is to learn. “It is through caring for and being cared for by others that we are able to live, to know, and to allow things to show up, to matter in the world” (Benner & Gordon, 1996, p.50)  Minorities are asked to do the lion’s share of the work in bridging the gaps between communities, and equality cannot be achieved by layering on even more work. I will ask questions I do not have the answers to and seek to educate myself on how the world looks to others. When I know better, I will do better.


Benner, P. & Gordon, S. (1996). Caring Practice. In Gordon, S., Benner, P., & Noddings, N. (Ed.), Caregiving: Readings in Knowledge, Practice, Ethics, and Politics (pp. 40-53). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania University of Pennsylvania Press.

Bode, P. & Nieto, S. (2012). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education (Sixth ed.). Boston, Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

Kendi, I.X. (2019). How to be an Antiracist. New York, New York. One World. 

Join in Zoom meetings, 5-6 pm Mondays and Wednesdays, August 3 until Labor Day, at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87347454267, meeting ID: 873 4745 4267.  


Teaching about White People’s Violence against Black People

By Renee Heberle, Ph.D.
The University of Toledo

We have discussed at length how to be anti-racist in the sense of being persistently reflexive as to how our racial identity impacts our being in relation to others. White people have yet, for the most part, to do this work and we have discussed many ways of engaging as educators with ourselves and with those who resist.

This presentation is an experiment with anti-racist framing of an historical incident, most commonly known as the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. It focuses on Whiteness, not on “what really happened in the elevator?” or “how many people really died?” or “did White people help Black people?”

Here are the basic facts of the incident: A young Black man, Dick Rowland, who works as a shoeshine person needs to use the bathroom. The only bathroom available to a Black person in the White area of Tulsa in which he works is at the top floor of the Drexel office building across the street. He must use the elevator.  The elevator operator is a White woman named Sarah Page. Upon the door opening on the assigned floor, she is heard yelling. Dick Rowland is seen running from the elevator. She alleges he assaulted her. The actual story is most likely that he trips leaving the elevator, or stepped on her toe, then reached for and maybe grabbed her arm. Mr. Rowland is arrested the following day and held at the jail, which is on the top floor of the county courthouse.

The context of this incident matters: The Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa was known as the “Black Wall Street.” It was not a “financial district” like the White Wall Street in Manhattan; it was/is a business and residential area in the north part of Texas.

Black anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, among others, had told Black people to head west in the 1890’s where they could have some relief from violent White reactions to any sign Black people were developing political or economic independence.  Given rapid growth during the oil boom, Tulsa was an attractive option and Greenwood was the result. It was the kind of relatively independent, Black-owned business and residential district that Black activists since the Civil Rights movement have worked toward. Many Black towns similar to Greenwood sprung up in Oklahoma between 1890 and 1930.

White and Black responses to arrest and detention of Dick Rowland were swift. The headline in the Tulsa Tribune, a White owned paper, on the day Mr. Rowland was arrested, read: Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator.  The paper was on the streets at about 3:15 pm. Within 45 minutes, talk of lynching began to circulate among Whites.  The Sheriff took reasonable measures to protect Rowland, disabling the elevator at the top floor and placing additional guards on the top floor where the detention cells were located.  Hearing rumors of lynching Black men armed themselves and went to the courthouse to offer help to the sheriff in defending the structure and Rowland.

The sheriff told them to go home and they did, even while White people were mobilizing and circulating around the Courthouse.  Black men returned to the courthouse, again in response to the massing of armed White men—now upwards of 2000. The White men had attempted to steal weapons from an armory, and when thwarted, pillaged gun shops. The Black men were once again encouraged to leave; as they were dispersing, heading back to Greenwood, a White man threatened to disarm a Black man. A shot was fired.  This triggered the response among the White crowd and the attack on the Black community began.  White crowds stormed into Greenwood, burning, looting, and shooting for hours. The Black community fought back as best it could. 

I suggest the following are points of interest as one researches and teaches the Tulsa massacre:

  1. In order to relieve himself, Rowland had to use an elevator run by a White woman. In the racialized space in which he worked, he was forced to put himself at obvious risk, to share an enclosed space with a White woman and no witnesses, to use the bathroom.
  2. Black communities don’t only resist and protest after the fact. And it should be noted that Black violence, if organized specifically against White people as White people (as slave masters, the Klan or the police) has been, without exception, in self-defense.
  3. Black responses to White threats are never irrational. One year prior, 17 White members of the International Workers of the World were kidnapped from the Sheriff’s custody and literally tarred and feathered and driven out of town for allegedly setting a bomb. A White man had been lynched only two weeks before Dick Rowland was arrested for allegedly killing another White man, and all of Black Tulsa knew that if White men could be tortured and lynched by White people, then Dick Rowland would be an obvious target.
  4. White individuals will respond differently in racialized contexts. The Sheriff was trying to do his job properly. The Police Chief ignored and enabled the increasingly restive White crowd. The Sheriff was not necessarily acting in the interest of the Black community, but rather trying to sustain the very thin legitimacy of the White state that emerged out of slavery. This White state has never fully overwritten the effects of chattel slavery, not with amendments to the Constitution or legislative remedies, but those initiatives sustain its legitimacy when we talk about “progress.”
  5. After the burning and killing had subsided, hundreds of Black families and individuals were herded into camps because it was assumed their very presence in the streets would trigger more violence. They were locked up for over a week “for their own protection” and to stop the violence.
  6. No White person was ever detained or charged with criminal violence. Sarah Page recanted her claims and Dick Rowland survived the catastrophic events triggered by his need to use the bathroom.

Anti-racist teaching requires that we interpret this and the many similar incidents in a White supremacist framework.  Here is my initial attempt at that interpretation:

  1. Since its invention during the Atlantic slave trade, Blackness has always been suspected of being innately dangerous. This is purely a construction of what I will call here European/White Master thinking.
  2. The fear White people have of Black people is grounded in the European/White invention of race to explain/rationalize slavery. We should remember that race and racism did not cause slavery; race was the theory that explained slavery and racism was the effect of the enslavement of African peoples.
  3. In creating the slave out of a human being, the Whites believed they had created a potential monster. Thomas Jefferson, famously said, “We have the wolf by the ears, we dare not let him go….”
  4. My earlier point, that Black violence against White people has, without exception, been in self-defense, shows that there never was a “wolf.” It was and remains a figment of the White imagination.
  5. After having their community of Greenwood entirely destroyed, Black families and individuals were put in detention camps in the name of social order. This was also an effect of White supremacist thinking. As victims, Black people were still treated as if they themselves were the threat.

Anti-racist teaching requires that we acknowledge, reflect on, and act on the realization that White supremacy is based in White fear and resentment:

1.     White violence has been the reaction to every sign of Black empowerment or autonomy, whether it be a Black person with a gun, with a business, and, the most threatening of all, with the potential to wield political power (the vote), are grounded in fear and resentment. It is grounded in the particular kind of master/slave relationship that emerged under conditions of chattel slavery in the US.

2.     White supremacy in the US is symptomatic of the political impotence of Whiteness as such. It requires violence and institutionalized coercion (forcing Black men by law to use bathrooms at the top of office buildings such that they literally have to put themselves in danger, in an enclosed space with a White woman). It cannot allow its “other” freedom, because it will literally disappear. The White supremacists in Charlottesville were not wrong when they shouted their fears of being “replaced”-–but it would have been more accurate from my perspective to say that they will simply disappear because Whiteness cannot function without being dominant. If others become equal to it, it will disappear.

3.     Plantation owners like Thomas Jefferson could not do this, the White citizens of Tulsa could not do this, in the post Jim Crow era, White voters have not done it (fear of ”Obamacare” inspiring the election of Trump). Black people have been trying to prove themselves “harmless” for four hundred years, yet fear of the imaginary “wolf” created by slavery continues to drive policy preferences.

Being anti-racist teachers means showing our students the historical truth about Blackness in relationship to dangerousness. The truth is that there is no relationship. Whiteness, however, is a danger to us all.

We as teachers can show this truth by carefully reconstructing our textbooks and curriculum to show what Whiteness wrought in the post-slavery era of lynching, community massacres, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration. Putting these at the center of our analysis of racialized historical and cultural developments in the US may help begin to undo White supremacy as a fear and resentment based construction.

Join in Zoom meetings, 5-6 pm Mondays and Wednesdays, August 3 until Labor Day, at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87347454267, meeting ID: 873 4745 4267.  


Scott Ellsworth Death in a Promised Land, (Louisiana State University Press 1982)

Mary E. Jones Events of the Tulsa Disaster (Third World Press 1993)

B.C Franklin, “The Tulsa Race Riot and Three of its Victims” 1921 (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/long-lost-manuscript-contains-searing-eyewitness-account-tulsa-race-massacre-1921-180959251/)

James Hirsch, Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and its Legacy (Mifflin Harcourt 2003)

Paul Ortiz, Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920, (University of California Press 2003)

Hannibal B. Johnson, Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa's Historic Greenwood District. (Austin, TX: Eakin Press 1998).

The Tulsa Massacre of 1921: The Controversial History and Legacy of America’s Worst Race Riot (Charles River Editors).

Deneen L. Brown, “Remembering Red Summer: When White Mobs Massacred Blacks from Tulsa to DC.” (National Geographic 2020).


  1. By Lynne Hamer, Anti-Racism Teach-Ins: Safe Spaces to Tackle White Supremacy (part 1 of series). Retrieve from https://www.thetruthtoledo.com/pdf/2020/072920pdf.pdf or 
  2. By Lynne Hamer, Anti-Racism Teach-Ins: Policy and Practice for Anti-Racism (part 2 of a series). Retrieve from https://www.thetruthtoledo.com/pdf/2020/080520pdf.pdf or 
  3. By Shingi Mavima and Dale Snauwaert (part 3 of series), Anti-Racism Teach-Ins ContinueRetrieve from https://www.thetruthtoledo.com/pdf/2020/081220pdf.pdf or 
    http://www.thetruthtoledo.com/story/2020/081220/afrocentricity.htm and 
  4. By Aaron Baker and Chelsea Griffis (part 4 of series), Anti-Racism Teach-Ins Popular. Retrieve from https://www.thetruthtoledo.com/pdf/2020/081920pdf.pdf or 





Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/29/20 00:22:11 -0400.

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