By: Nikki Griffin, North Carolina High School Social Studies Teacher
Many times in my career, as a classroom history teacher, I have come across colleagues who are fearful of being anti-racists. These mostly well-meaning teachers are by no means racists, but sometimes lack the courage to be ANTI-RACIST. Here is an important distinction to make for ourselves and for our students – being an anti-racist requires more of us than simply not being racist. Being anti-racist requires action, not just a disposition. Being anti-racist moves us to actively address issues of systemic racism in our schools and in our society. Being anti-racist demands expression of anti-racist ideas that directly challenge racist ideas.
My Journey to Being Anti-Racist
Last year, following the horrific murder of George Floyd and the proliferation of protests across the United States and the world in support of Black Lives Matter, I decided to put my own beliefs about being racist into action and to NOT hide behind my role as a teacher to remain on the sidelines of “teaching history” so I could avoid the more uncomfortable role of being anti-racist. Many of my students sent me messages expressing their sense of frustration that there was nothing they could do to be anti-racist or that they did not know how to show action to express their anti-racist views. My answer to them was almost always the same, “Let your voice be heard” or “Counter racist ideas with getting your own anti-racist ideas out there!” Very often, I would remind these students that they had spent a whole year or more studying history with me and that they had the arsenal of knowledge with which to arm their anti-racist actions. Finally, I decided to take my own advice, step out of my role as classroom teacher, and publish a video called “Opportunity Lost.” Actually, this is a video series that I am still working on and intend to finish this summer.
My message to teachers is that being a teacher does not mean you can not express your own views to the wider world. Just as you expand understanding of anti-racism in your classroom, your unique knowledge of your subject area, students, and community put you in a unique position to share ideas to the broader world to pursue the goal inspiring anti-racism in the world.
About the Author
Nicki Griffin has taught high school social studies in North Carolina for 29 years with a focus on AP History and AP Art History Teacher. She attended East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.