“Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”: In the Wake of Charlottesville, a Teacher Contemplates Bias

I applaud my fellow educational allies who have begun to assemble curriculum resources. I encourage you to follow #CharlotttesvilleCurriculum on social media as it can lead you to an array of resources and subsequently increase awareness of what schools are encouraging. The voices of classroom teachers are also amplified. At the same time, it’s essential to understand that our own biases still play a part in selected and shared resources, as well as how we convey information to our respective communities.

I live in the Bronx. I pride myself on what we offer in the Bronx. This past weekend, I stepped out of my surroundings to enjoy Harlem Week Festival NYC.

I was hoping that among the electric energy on West 135th Street evoked by musicians, vendors selling my favorite Southern food dishes (collard greens and okra), reminders of  travels to Sierra Leone displayed in vibrant fabrics assembled into elegant jackets, a throwback to Curtis Mayfield, dancing and enjoying an electric slide dance line organically form, that I could enjoy being in the moment. A moment away from the internal conversations I have about the best ways to engage my community, colleagues, students, and  family in the aftermath of Charlottesville, VA’s events. You see, I’ve been immersed in revising my middle school conflict resolution curriculum.

Conflict is inevitable. It is a part of our day-to-day lives. So, in hearing of passerbys’ grievances while participating in Harlem Week, I thought each was a normal response. Here are some criticisms about the starting and ending times of events:

Person 1: “This is the first time in 5 years since I’ve attended Harlem Week that vendors begin packing up two hours before the end of the day.”

Person 2: “Yes, the food stands and clothing vendors typically remain open and begin tear down at the closing time.”

Person 3: “I’ve never seen so many cops here,” says another passerby.

Person 4: “Excuse me, but why are there so many cops here this weekend?”

Person 5: “Because we do not want another Barcelona,” says a Community Affairs NYPD Officer.

Nor did we want another Facebook trend of dissenting opinions, another Twitter war, another reason to criticize the White House, another protest becoming violent or worse, another person’s life cut short.

America needs to take a long look at herself. We need to check ourselves.

People have biases but all of us have a moral obligation to ensure that our children get the truth in New York schools. Teachers have biases. Parents have biases. Administrators have biases. Educational policy makers have biases. Students have biases. We all need to check ourselves before children are taught about prejudiced or racist thought patterns and behaviors. Why is it necessary to take an inventory of our thoughts while working with adolescents?

The social-emotional needs of adolescent students are distinct. These students are at a crossroads in identity. This is a time when they are beginning to acknowledge a self contrary to the opinions of others, while simultaneously seeking the approval of classmates and adults. Conflict impacts their daily existence and they are often left to their own inadequate techniques of coping and managing such interactions.

Acknowledging our biases is the first step. Michael Jackson said it best in his lyrics of “Man in the Mirror:”

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways

And no message could have been any clearer

If you wanna make the world a better place

(If you wanna make the world a better place)

Take a look at yourself, and then make a change…”

Here’s a look at three resources I recommend you use in assessing your own bias:

Resource 1 — The Racism Scale  guides you to determine your personal bias’ location. It was “created in July 2017 by C. Demnowicz after repeated conversations on social media showed a need for a visual method of explaining the many levels of racism in the US. It was created from the perspective of one white woman to another white woman, to help her recognize patterns of thought, speech and behavior that created a wall to understanding institutionalized and systemic racism in the USA. The scale was not meant to go viral but since has been shared over 10k times and has been used in several articles. ​The scale has been updated 5 times since creation, to expand and include more areas. It will be updated as needed to be most helpful.”

Resource #2 — The Implicit Bias Test is taken online. It has the capacity to reveal biased thoughts, preferences, and presumptions. The test uses examples to explore a potential for bias surrounding disability, gender, skin tone, race, history and religion.

Resource #3 — The Anti-Defamation League has a  Personal Self-Assessment of Anti-Bias Behavior. You may print this resource and then answer 17 statements about yourself using a scale. The scale begins from “never” to “always.” You indicate a response where appropriate.

Next steps:

  • Enroll in a webinar to become more conscious of the choices we make as a result of our words: Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Webinar: Mindful Language is offered on September 7, 2017.
  • Complete The Anti-Defamation League “I Didn’t Mean It Like That” handout at
  • Share the above resources with your peers and family. Do not reveal your responses yet.
  • Share your results with a person who has a similar mindset as yourself.
  • Share your results with a person who has a slightly different mindset as yourself.
  • Identify one biased thought to change and begin to take actions to broaden your mindset. For example, read a book by an author outside of your comfort zone, attend a lecture, visit a museum, and volunteer at a school in a different district or attend an interfaith event.

Held biases are a part of our reality and affects us all. As Ice Cube would say,  “You better check yo self before you wreck yo self.” Conflict must be constructive. If we are not engaging in constructive ways, we open the door to destructive methods. And that, is completely unacceptable!


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