By Mary Lynn Ellis, Abington Friends School Faculty Alum
Community Conversations on Race opened its meeting on Tuesday, September 28 with these words by Barack Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” The focus of the evening was the ongoing national controversy over Critical Race Theory (CRT). Posed with the query, “What is my responsibility for understanding what is going on with Critical Race Theory?” participants in small groups first shared the ideas about CRT they had gleaned from media, from readings, from family and neighbors.
Some discussion of a few core tenets of CRT followed. One such tenet is counter-storytelling, meaning the inclusion of other contemporaneous versions of the accepted single “truths” of our history; for example, we’ve been taught Columbus and the Pilgrims and the Fourth of July, but what of the Indigenous viewpoint on these historical moments? Another tenet is that racism permeates our culture. One element of our culture, for instance, is that “anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make something of themselves in America.” Black entrepreneurs did just that, and were massacred for having successful businesses in Wilmington, NC in 1898 and Greenwood, OK in 1921.
Participants practiced ways of responding to those who use the buzzword CRT to push back against any teaching of race, identity, or racism in schools. One strategy is to ask genuinely curious questions. Another is to try to find some common ground before engaging in such a challenging conversation. One group found that asking someone about their own background —"How did your family arrive here? What were their struggles?”— made for connection and created a space of humanity and grace from which to start.
One white person came away with a renewed sense of commitment to anti-racist work, “because others are carrying the heavy loads of living with the effects of racism daily. To be educated about it is the right start for me, but it is not enough. These conversations motivate me to ask myself, ‘What’s the next step I can take?’ It reminds me that I can speak to the CRT issue locally, find out how my own school board is reacting. And it also reminds me that this work is a lifelong process.”
At the end of the meeting, someone expressed gratitude “to have this space for honest, safe, frightening conversations." She came away with "a more nuanced sense of what CRT is and how what teachers are doing in elementary and high schools is not CRT, but what they are doing - age-appropriate conversations about race - are absolutely essential.”
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