A Call for 60s-Style Teach-ins on Anti-Racism

By Sabrina Völz


Pho­to Cred­it: “DSC8902 – The Ele­phant in the Room” by damienconway30

Let’s start off with a few telling facts: The ori­gin of the word “racism” stems from the French word racisme which appeared dur­ing the last decades of the 19th cen­tu­ry. In Eng­lish, how­ev­er, accord­ing to the Mer­ri­am Web­ster Dic­tio­nary, “Racism appears to be a word of recent ori­gin, with no cita­tions cur­rent­ly known that would sug­gest the word was in use pri­or to the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry.” Now, let that sink in. The peo­ple at Web­ster are also quick to point out that just because the word is “fair­ly new” doesn’t mean that “the con­cept of racism did not exist in the dis­tant past.” No won­der we – and with we, I mean all soci­eties – have a prob­lem with racism. So let’s get to the root of it and root it out.

One of the cours­es I reg­u­lar­ly teach that I wish wasn’t so rel­e­vant these days is called, “The Six­ties in Fact and Fic­tion.” As an Amer­i­can Stud­ies schol­ar, I’d like to think that soci­ety can learn the lessons of the past, so I keep teach­ing and keep teach­ing about the long 1960s. Yet, it seems that soci­ety has been left untouched by those lessons we should have learned some time ago. It is sad to say, but racism, inequal­i­ty, police bru­tal­i­ty, and injus­tice are still alive and well in the Unit­ed States. How­ev­er, many of the peo­ple who have been their vic­tims are not.

It is para­mount that we delve more deeply into racism, a top­ic that lit­er­al­ly affects the lives of mil­lions of peo­ple. And I sug­gest we bring back the 60s-style teach-ins at all lev­els of soci­ety – from ele­men­tary school to post-grad­u­ate sem­i­nars, from pub­lic libraries to church­es, and from police precincts to city halls. The more peo­ple who tru­ly under­stand the his­to­ry, mean­ing, and effects of racism, the greater the chances are that pro­found change can final­ly come. For white peo­ple like myself, how­ev­er, that knowl­edge is like­ly not just uncom­fort­able, but also full of guilt and pain.

For white adults, I’d start the anti-racism jour­ney with an episode from the pod­cast Dear Sug­ar Radio by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, enti­tled “Talk­ing About Priv­i­lege” with Catrice M. Jack­son, repub­lished on Jan. 10, 2020. Then, I’d move on to the col­lec­tion of seem­ing­ly end­less resources on anti-racism geared to all ages, back­grounds, and lev­els of knowl­edge by Dr. Nicole A. Cooke, Augus­ta Bak­er Endowed Chair and Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor at The Uni­ver­si­ty of South Carolina.

As you can see from the image above, the ref­er­ences have been attrac­tive­ly com­piled in Padlet, and many of them can be used for remote learn­ing. Here, read­ers will find plen­ti­ful sug­ges­tions that make won­der­ful addi­tions to any library, such as the children’s sto­ry, The Pow­er Book: What is it, Who Has it and Why? by Claire Saun­ders et al. or The New York Times best­selling work of non-fic­tion for adults, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeo­ma Oluo. Also, every­one should do The Implic­it Asso­ci­a­tion Test – the results may sur­prise you. Then, there are the links to arti­cles, such as “Why You Need to Stop Say­ing ‘All Lives Mat­ter,’” and videos, for instance, “Uncom­fort­able Con­ver­sa­tions with a Black Man,” in which Emmanuel Acho has a heart-to-heart with white Amer­i­ca. These resources will keep the open-mind­ed busy for hours and hope­ful­ly help read­ers to engage with the com­plex top­ics on both an intel­lec­tu­al and emo­tion­al lev­el. My hope is that this knowl­edge will empow­er us to make a dif­fer­ence. Thank you, Nicole Cook.

For those, who’d like a more struc­tured approach, I’d high­ly rec­om­mend the Nation­al Muse­um of African Amer­i­can His­to­ry and Culture’s “Talk­ing About Race” Web Por­tal. It includes sec­tions on anti-racism, bias, com­mu­ni­ty build­ing, the his­tor­i­cal foun­da­tions of race, sys­tems of oppres­sion, and white­ness. Each sec­tion builds on the next with rel­a­tive­ly con­cise entries sup­ple­ment­ed with pic­tures, charts, videos, and much, much more.

Let’s turn those feel­ings of con­fu­sion, help­less­ness, or even rage into deep learn­ing. And let’s move the dia­logue from racism to anti-racism.

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