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White Supremacy Culture

What norms and unwritten rules does your school adhere to and why? Who do these “codes of conduct” benefit? Who do they marginalize? What can be done to disrupt them?  As my school works to become anti-racist, we’re trying to scrub our habits, beliefs, and routines for the evidence of White Supremacy Culture in order to create a more welcoming environment and promote equity. Dr. Tema collaborated with a number of researchers to create characteristics of White Supremacy culture in organizations and antidotes for uprooting and dismantling these standards. Our school is using these characteristics to evaluate our school operating norms. Our goal is to confront our practices and challenge our existing norms in order to become more inclusive to the community we serve.

Why does this matter?   
A Quick History of Schooling. Schools were initially created by Puritans to teach students how to read the Bible and how to live in accordance with the virtues of the Puritan religion. In 1635, the Boston Latin School was the first school opened in the United States. Schooling in the 17th and 18th centuries was not a priority or requirement and was usually reserved for the wealthy white males (Urban, Jennings, & Wagoner, 2008). The 19th century gave birth to a shift in education that pivoted from its strong religious roots towards “academics,” saw the first iteration of the Department of Education, and the spread of public schools throughout the states with state funding. From 1900 – 1930, compulsory education laws were passed in more than 30 states which increased attendance and impacted the economy as the labor force shifted and the population grew (Katz, 1976, pp. 21-27).

What about Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color (BIPOC)? 
Enslavement in America began in 1619 and was “abolished” in 1865. The Indian Removal Act was signed in 1830. This span of time is critical when considering the education and inclusion of  Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color. Under Jim Crow Laws, public schools in the South were entirely segregated by race. In the 1896 case, Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court maintained the constitutionality of racial segregation, therefore, allowing the anti-Black Jim Crow laws to keep “separate but equal” public places. This included schools. The late 19th century also witnessed the creation of boarding schools for American Indians. These schools opened for tens of thousands of Native Americans. Children were separated from their families for extended periods of time, severely punished, and banned from practicing or engaging in their cultural rituals, or speaking their native language. The goal was for children to assimilate into the White dominant culture (National Museum of the American Indian). Brick by brick, the American schooling system was constructed on racist and exclusionary beliefs. It has upheld a standard that has advantaged Whiteness. These roots are deep and need to be extracted.

Quick Reflection:
What were you taught about the history of schools? 
What information shared do you want to further research? 
Why does this history of education matter when thinking about equity?
Who historically and currently holds the power in education?
What are the barriers to equity in education? Why?  

One School’s Approach. 
Operating under a set of standards without considering where the norms come from and who is in the room, impacts the efficacy of the team. My school team is in the continuous cycle of unpacking our norms to ensure we are maximizing our collective effort. We believe that requiring teammates to conform limits opportunities for teams to perform. It begins with the simple question: Are we operating beyond or to the White gaze? The White gaze is the offspring of White supremacy. It is the belief that White culture sits at the center. In education, it is the curriculum that rewrites history to silence the theft of land and reimagines the free and forced labor across generations. But what can be done to disrupt the status quo? 
To start, if you aren’t familiar with the characteristics of white supremacy, read and complete this document. The top explains the characteristics/antidotes and the bottom invites your reflections. There are also a few reflection pages if that’s your jam.
The first step is learning how the characteristics of  White Supremacy culture operate and exist in the school. My school team began by engaging in collective learning about the characteristics. Note, our goal wasn’t to “say we are never going to do these things,” but rather to make sense of what they were and how they could push staff, students, and families to the margins. My school population is close to 99% BIPOC. That said, this level of engagement around norms can and should be done in all schools AND school systems. As a school team, we believe it is within our roles to disrupt the status quo that seeks to protect power, especially when power is being used to oppress others. During our discussion as a school, we noted places where we were upholding these characteristics in a way that was not driving towards the experience we wanted for our staff and students. 
Our key actions:
*Individually read and reflect on the Characteristic of White Supremacy Culture 
*Divide into groups by the characteristics and list what the tenant looks like at our school
*List strategies to disrupt and a priority level that reflects how quick we should address it 
*The team’s work was synthesized by priority level 
*Review the greatest need and flesh it out at the school and class level 
*Make commitments to how we would operate and what we would do if we defaulted to old practices 

Much of this work is in progress. The beauty is in not seeking to be perfect, but being grounded in purpose. This is true rinse and repeat work.

Examples and Strategies
Let’s look at an example of one of the characteristics.
Next Steps 

Finally, ya’ll come on join me on Patreon. My goal is to pour into that space in the same way I do on this blog. What’s ready for you? Glad you asked:

     1. Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture: The School Edition (a workbook) 
     2. PowerPoint (with notes embedded) to engage with your school in examining the characteristics 
     3. Materials to share with your school

I have so much more planned to roll out! It’s going to be awesome! Why Patreon? I enjoy what I do, and it requires a tremendous amount of emotional labor and time. Those things are not free.  My Patreon is designed with levels for you to choose how you support me. The most important thing is that with the exception of a T-shirt, the levels promote equity. You will not get more for paying more. It’s my small attempt to reject capitalism and to invite people into the collective. So many big things coming up. Click the link below! 
Works Cited
DeJong, David H. Promises of the Past: A History of Indian Education in the United States. Golden, Colo.: North American Press, 1993.
Katz, M. S. (1976). A history of compulsory education laws (Fastback Series 75) (Bicentennial Series). Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa
National Museum of the American Indian. (n.d.). Boarding Schools Struggling with Cultural Repression.
Urban, W. J., Jennings L., & Wagoner, J. (2008). American education: A history (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

 

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Tanesha B. Forman

Tanesha B. Forman

I'm a current middle school administrator who loves breaking down complex topics and providing opportunities for educators learn, reflect, practice, and implement methods that foster equity and anti-racism. I believe we win together!

Behind the Blog

Hi, I'm Tanesha.

I’m a current middle school administrator who loves breaking down complex topics and providing opportunities for educators learn, reflect, practice, and implement methods that foster equity and anti-racism. I believe we win together!

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