Why We Cannot Be Silent About Racism & How We Can All Do Better


Why No One Should Be Silent When it Comes to Racism_silence is violence, silence is complicity

“Silence is violence.” 

That three-word sentence is being shared heavily on social media this week. Most of us are currently glued to screens watching footage of protests and riots erupting as a result of ongoing racism and violence against black people. We all have a duty to do more than watch, no matter how confused, scared, overwhelmed, angry or sad we are. We need to be having deep conversations about racism – with other adults, and, yes, with children, too. 

Why teachers need to speak up about racial injustice 

Staying silent is modeling acceptance. This is harmful for white students and students of color. Jamilah Pitts of Teaching Tolerance says, “When teachers choose to remain silent about moments of racial tension or violence — violence that may well touch students’ own communities or families — children are overtly reminded of their inferior place in society.” Students need to hear their teachers say, “This isn’t okay and we need to work together to stop it,” when it comes to racism. 

Children trust their teachers to advocate for them. That means advocating in all areas of their lives. They need to know you support people of color and won’t stand by quietly watching racism. Students notice when your action doesn’t support what you’ve told them. When trust is broken, it is difficult to establish a connection that promotes learning. Kids need teachers to be a safe space and that means they’re counting on you to speak up against racism. 

Racism is unfortunately part of life. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Children are seeing it and experiencing it. Why wouldn’t you talk about it?

It’s the right thing to do. People are being killed because of the color of their skin. People of color live in fear every day.  We all have a duty to stand up and say, “This needs to stop.”

Here are some ways to start speaking out against racism. 

1. Put your discomfort aside. 

“We may be uncomfortable talking about race, but we can no longer afford to be silent. We have chosen a profession that—like parenting—requires us to put our comforts second to those of children,” Pitts says. All people – no matter their profession – need to put their discomfort aside and start speaking up against racism. It’s truly a matter of life and death. 

2. Learn these keywords. 

Think long and hard about what they mean in your life.

  • Bias: is a prejudice that might be conscious or unconscious against an individual or group of people based on factors such as the color of their skin.
  • Racism: is discrimination against people of a different race based on believing one’s own race is better 
  • White privilege: the advantages white people experience based solely on being white. This doesn’t mean white people don’t have hard lives or have bad things happen to them. It means it doesn’t happen because of their skin color.
  • White fragility: the discomfort and defensiveness of white people when being confronted with white privilege, racial inequality and injustice.
  • Anti-racist: someone who opposes racism and actively works to make sure racial tolerance is being practiced. 

3. Not being racist isn’t enough, we need to be anti-racist.

Elephant Journal defines “not racist” as someone who says, “I would never discriminate against someone because of their skin color, but I have no control if other people do.” Being anti-racist goes farther to say, “I would never discriminate against someone because of their skin color and will do my best to make sure no one else does either.”

4. Don’t use the excuse “Politics don’t belong in school.”

Taking a stand on racism isn’t political. This is a human rights issue.

5. Listen to people of color. 

Really listen without trying to change the narrative or dismiss their feelings and experiences. Ask black students, coworkers, friends, etc. to share their experiences. Then listen. Find black voices on social media and share their posts. Amplify the voices of those experiencing racism. 

6. Point out discriminatory comments and behavior. 

Point it out in the classroom, in staff meetings, at home, with your friends, on social media, and everywhere else. Stop letting it slide. Stand up for what’s right. Do it like people’s lives depend on it because they do.

7. Be clear: Black Lives Matter. 

Yes, of course, “all lives matter,” but making that argument diminishes from the crisis at hand – black people are being killed. 

8. Educate yourself.

Being anti-racist means educating yourself – far beyond a one-day professional development workshop. Don’t ask people of color to educate you. That’s not their place.

Here are some suggestions to get you started. 

  • Teaching Tolerance has been providing resources, education and guidance to educators since 1991. It offers anti-racism lesson plans, posters, grants, podcasts, magazines, films, professional development, and more. 
  • Yale offers a free online course in African American history. This course tackles what being black in the United States has been like from emancipation to present. 
  • Colorín Colorado has compiled a list of articles, podcasts and more to help teachers talk to students about race, racism, racial violence, and the trauma surrounding this topic. 
  • A list of anti-racism resources has been circulating on social media. It contains podcasts, tv shows, books, articles, and more for white people to educate themselves. 
  • NEA Ed Justice tackles racial and social justice issues related to schools. 

Books: 

Here are some books suggested by teachers on the Bored Teachers Facebook page to help understand racism.

Note: we may get a small share of the sales made through the above Amazon affiliate links.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

-Elie Wiesel when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986

We all need to stand up to put an end to fear, violence, and death because of racism. Our children are watching. Silence sends a strong message – and not a positive one. We’ve been hearing “we’re all in this together” for months while the country was on Covid-19 lockdown. Well, let’s all stand together to fight racism. 

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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