Say Something: An Anti-Racist Lesson #itstimetotalkracism

If you’ve been following along on Instagram or here on the blog, you know that the 22 Days of Anti-Racist Resources for Teachers was an amazing response from a wonderful group of educators.

Some incredible bloggers and activists shared their posts, including Stephanie Reyna, Dia Charley, Megan Forbes, Ha Dinh, Liz Kleinrock, Allison Greer, and Melissa Garcia-Wright.

But unfortunately, when we first created the campaign, 22 people had been killed by a white supremacist on August 3rd in El Paso, Texas. Since then, another person who was injured has died from his injuries, so today is dedicated to Guillermo “Memo” Garcia.

Today, I’m thinking about what anti-racism looks like in our students. What do our kids do when they see racism happening?

This is why I’m writing about this today: I recently read a story of a person describing a situation in which someone treated him with blatant racism.

His grandson was nearby and witnessed the whole thing. Later, they discussed this experience together, and the grandson told him that the thing that bothered him the most was that no one else said anything.

The bystanders did just that: they stood by and allowed this racist act to happen.

It made me think about our students. Do we actively teach them to say or do something when they see something wrong? Specifically, do they say or do something when they see racism in action?

I believe that we need to give kids more credit to notice when something is wrong and to say something about it. We just need to give them the tools.

That’s what this lesson is all about.

I aligned this lesson with the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards for K-5. If you haven’t checked out these standards, I really recommend them! They will give you a direction in your anti-racist work. These are the standards I chose:

K-2 standard: Action 19 AC.K-2.19 I will speak up or do something if people are being unfair, even if my friends do not.

3-5 Standard: Action 19 AC.3-5.19 I will speak up or do something when I see unfairness, and I will not let others convince me to go along with injustice.

Here’s the lesson

Step 1: Read aloud I Walk With Vanessa. In this book, one character is hurtful to another. We don’t know what they said, and the usual interpretation is bullying. However, students may see situations like this one involving racism at school. Because of that, we want students to be aware. As you read, stop to ask these questions and have students discuss. You can even mark your thinking with post-its
if you’d like:

  • What do you think happened?
  • Have you seen this happen before?
  • How does Vanessa react?
  • How do you think Vanessa feels?
  • What do you think the main character is thinking?
  • What does she do?
  • How do her actions affect Vanessa?
  • How do her actions affect other students at school?
  • Why is that important?

Step 2: If a student brings it up, address the concept of racism. If not, explain that, while we don’t know what the character said to Vanessa, one interpretation is that he was being racist. Introduce the idea of racism: making assumptions, being hateful, or treating someone differently than others based on their race because you believe your race is better.

Step 3: Set norms for your discussion. It’s good to practice these first when you’re talking about less potentially difficult topics. Possible norms include…

  • Respect the speaker and what they are saying
  • What’s said in this discussion stays in this discussion
  • Speak from the heart
  • Listen to understand
  • You do not have to share anything you don’t want to.

Step 4: Have a discussion about this idea with your students about times they have seen or heard racism. Remember, your students do not have to share anything they don’t want to. They may be uncomfortable talking about experiences that involve racism, so it’s important not to force anyone to participate. It’s also important not to assume that they’re ok talking about traumatic events because other students are. Instead, make sure the norms are in place and that students understand that they are not being forced to share.

Here are some questions to get you started.

  • Have they learned about racism in school?
  • Has racism happened in history?
  • Have they read about racism?
  • Have they seen or heard racism in person? (Reminder: students do not have to share about anything traumatic that they don’t want to.)

Teacher’s Note:
Students’ safety comes first. Stress the idea of taking “safe” action. If students are out in the world and they try to help, they can put themselves in dangerous situations. Focus on telling an adult and getting their help to make a plan if it’s appropriate.

Step 5: The guide. Provide students with the questioning guide and have them fill out the first three questions on their own. More than one version has been provided for different age groups.

Step 6: Upstanders instead of bystanders. Talk about how, when people are being discriminated against, one of the things that is the most saddening is how other people respond. When people don’t say anything, the people being discriminated against feel like everyone thinks it’s ok.
Step 7: Read aloud Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds.
Discuss the idea of activism: doing something when you see that something is wrong. An activist is someone who takes action when they see social injustice; in this case, racism. Discuss with your students about the different ways you can “say something”. This might be saying something in the moment, telling an adult, taking (safe) action, or making a plan for change.

Step 8: Use the “What do you do?” guide to help students think about safe but important ways to respond to racism. I have left one version blank because it would be more meaningful to have students fill in the examples they have seen.

Step 9: Make a commitment. Speech bubbles have been included in the resource to help students say what they will do to take a stand. These work well as a bulletin board, too.

This free download is available on TpT. If you use it and you’d like to share about it, post a picture on Instagram and use the hashtag #itstimetotalkracism – I’ll follow the hashtag so I can see your lessons!

Want to learn more about this anti-racist teaching event? Visit the original post here, or access the calendar for the 22 days of anti-racist resources here.

This post is in memory of Memo Garcia. Memo was selling lemonade for his daughter’s soccer team in front of a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas, when a white supremacist shot him several times. He struggled with his injuries in the hospital for nine months until he passed away in late April. His nickname was “Tank”.

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