How Accountability can Interrupt the Cycle of White Male Violence

Unfortunately, Elliot Rodger wasn't alone in feeling justified in horrific action because he felt rejected by women (the comments, oh the comments that supported his acts of terrorism, were completely heartbreaking). There's an emerging body of research about Aggrieved White Male Entitlement Syndrome. Perhaps that was to blame, perhaps it wasn't. However - the idea that women somehow belong to men, and are out of line to reject them (as are the men of color who "claim" what isn't "theirs") is obviously incredibly dangerous. As educators, it's our job to fight this social disease. Here are some concrete tips:

  1. Hold white male students accountable to the same rules as everyone else (track your discipline data to make sure you’re equitable)
  2. Talk about sexism in a developmentally appropriate way. Specifically – talk about moments when men get unearned advantages (like in math, like the wage gap etc)
  3. Refer to sexism as male supremacy (so that you can be clear about reverse sexism not being a thing)
  4. Teach consent. If you teach kindergarten, talk about how we need to check in with our friends before we hug them. Ask students for permission before you give them a hug. Ensure that each student knows their body is their and it’s okay not to want to be touched. Also let students know that it’s okay if their physical displays of friendship aren’t wanted. It happens to everyone and it’s normal.
  5. Give students opportunities to fail and be rejected. Teach them how to recover and celebrate how they bounced back (Scott was super disappointed I didn’t call on him, but I’m really glad he did the “aww shucks” we talked about and bounced back).

 

I need you to take action, not because Elliot Rodgers committed heinous acts, but I’m asking you to act because not acting ensure there will be exactly zero change. We can’t act surprised when this happens again, and honestly, surely while you’ve read this, other woman has fallen victim to the dangerous white male aggrieved entitlement syndrome. #interruptthecyle

Self-Evaluation: Are You Ready

One thing I'm really good at is talking to white teachers (who are ready) about how to interrupt white supremacy in the classroom. Obviously this matters to me, because I'm over and done with the criminalization of black and brown kids (and adults) and I'd like to see the end of the school to prison pipeline closed, like, uh, yesterday. I get lots of requests and emails asking this very crucial question from white teachers?

Am I ready?

Let me just answer that question right here:

1. Are you ready to get your feelings hurt?

Because they are going to get hurt a lot. You are going to feel bad and guilty and sad. You are going to feel personally attacked and victimized. You're going to have to get over it though, because it's part of the process. Surely you don't want your hurt feelings getting in the way of undoing all the harm racism and poverty cause your kids right? Move to step 2.

2. Get over yourself

Like get really, really good at getting over yourself. If you take things personally, do the work (with friends, a therapist, your parents, just not another personal of color who hasn't volunteered to help you with this - we have enough to deal with). That means be ready to avoid saying things like "but I grew up poor too," or "I never benefited from being white," and LAWD never even think of saying "I always wanted to be black. I mean I LOVE basketball." If you do say those things and you get checked, get the fuck over it. Apologize and move on. Avoid saying "but I'm not racist." This isn't about you, it's about systematic race based oppresion. Get over whatever shit, it ain't helping you help your kids. This step is an ongoing process and is the most challenging. It will go on forever, but you will get better at it. Keep trying

3. Build your knowledge

Please avoid doing this the lazy way that harvests knowledge from people of color (POC). There's this thing called google. Please familiarize thyself with words  and phrases like white privilege, oppression, anti-racism, school to prison pipeline, opportunity gap and please (seriously please) understand the difference between prejudice and racism:

From Stuff White People Do:

 

People of any race can commit acts of violence, mistreatment, ostracizing, etc., based on their racial prejudices. A black kid can beat up a white kid because he doesn't like white kids. An Indian person can refuse to associate with Asians. Whatever, you get the idea.

 

However, to be racist (rather than simply prejudiced) requires having institutional power. In North America, white people have the institutional power. In large part we head the corporations; we make up the largest proportion of lawmakers and judges; we have the money; we make the decisions. In short, we control the systems that matter. "White" is presented as normal, the default. Because we have institutional power, when we think differently about people based on their race or act on our racial prejudices, we are being racist. Only white people can be racist, because only white people have institutional power.

Also - check yourself on number 2. Did your feelings get hurt? Is your brain trying to defend you with things like "but I'm not racist, I love black people!" Stop doing that and get over yourself. It's not about you remember. It's about undoing institutionalized oppression. The train is moving, are you moving with it or against it?

4. Are you still working on number 2 and owning / moving past your shit. Keep working on it. How? Be specific and honest with yourself.

5. Are you talking to other white folks about #3? Are you having difficult conversations and calling out racism when you hear it from white friends and family. Are you educating folks around you?

You're ready now. Email me.

Step 6: Listen and adjust

So there'll come a day where you ask yourself - is any of this working? Do my students feel like they are part of something special? It's hard to know sometimes especially if you work with teenagers if they're feeling your class or not. Yes, you can generally tell if students respect you, but are they driven while in your classroom.

The best way to find out is to ease drop and to collect interpersonal data. I tell my students that if I have 100% of them working they can have what's called a "chatty-Mcchatterson" in which they can talk as long as they want about any school appropriate thing (they have to stay at their table) and they have to use a 4 inch level voice. When any of those rules are violated the chat session is over. It never, ever, ever has lasted more than 4 minutes and that wasn't until the end of the year. It usually lasts about a minute. Ease drop carefully and notice how comfortable students are talking to each other. If they don't talk - stop and do some community building games that week. Notice who is included into the conversation and who isn't. Who wants to participate but feels to shy. Notice your students and how much of their personality comes out in your classroom. If you want more participation, if you want them to bring their fully present selves (and you do if you want them to have a transformational experience) facilitate it for them. Listen to them and see how well it's working. Then adjust, build something special in your classroom. Frankly - if you students, like mine, have spent several years in failing, unsafe classrooms wherein they don't work - you need to create something different for them. Do it by listening.