We have all heard that collaborating is an opportunity to stretch our thinking by hearing what others have to say, or have read, or are reading on a topic that we are exploring. That is what is occurring as I co-write a book with Ivannia Soto; I am learning about resources from my writing partner, in addition to reading what she has to say, and the combination makes collaborating a powerful experience. One book Ivannia recommended is Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. A self-proclaimed “internet yeller,” Oluo brings a fresh, current, and serious look at racism in ways that are on the one hand personal and on the other generalizable. She helps us to see, in today’s climate, how it comes in many subtle, but no less-damaging forms than overt racism.
As I read the book, I applied the ideas in my work with a school district that is determined to support its culturally and linguistically diverse students to feel safe and welcome and to have a sense of belonging to the community as valued and competent members. This district is wholly committed to hiring the best candidate of color they can find to support these goals: someone who they feel is sure to demonstrate them in their deeds and actions.
I also applied Oluo’s ideas to a district who might not seem to understand the importance of this level of commitment. The prevailing sentiment among the leadership in this district could be paraphrased thus: “As long as a candidate is good at teaching and really committed to ‘our’ students, does it really make that much of a difference whether they are White or not?”
Writer and outspoken social media presence, Oluo would respond with a resounding “Yes!” it does matter. She helps to push this type of conversation further by sharing many thought-provoking examples from her life experiences. These help us to see, really see, what it is like to be a Black person on a daily basis. Quoting Oluo, “My Blackness is woven into how I dress each morning, what bars I feel comfortable going to, what music I enjoy, what neighborhood I hang out in.” Supporting schools to think about what it means to be a student of color is critical for all of us to consider as we work to validate, honor, and be fully committed to support each student and transform education to be culturally responsive to all of its students. It is what is guiding our writing together and my work with schools. As personal as her book is- and it is filled with stories from her childhood and adulthood- what is emblematic of her writing is how important it is to bring racism in all of its forms into the light. And, there is no better time to do this, no better time to read her book, no better time to take actions that help all of us to understand the importance of talking about race than right now.
Work Cited: Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. Seal Press, 2018.
Debbie Zacarian consults at the federal, state, and district level on education for diverse populations. Her forthcoming book with Ivannia Soto, Responsive Schooling for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students will be published by W. W. Norton in 2020.