Overcoming White Fragility in the Classroom

Gov. Ron DeSantis is a racist.

Racism is when the laws and institutions of a society or organization benefits one racial group of people over all others. Ron DeSantis desires to shield white people from guilt and as governor, he’s appointed racists to positions of power and he’s used his office to establish public policy that is in-fact anti-Black. He bans all things Critical Race Theory, yet his actions are Critical Race Theory in action.

Andrew Gillum, then Democratic candidate for Florida governor, in a debate with DeSantis, famously said, “Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.” Well, I am calling him a racist. The evidence is there.

Another piece of evidence is the recent move by DeSantis to block the College Board from testing a pilot Advanced Placement African American Studies (APAAS) curriculum in the state under Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Stop WOKE” Act. According to a letter obtained by National Review, Florida’s Department of Education’s Office of Articulation said the curriculum “is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

What else is new? This who Ron DeSantis is. Sadly, it is what Florida has become.

Perhaps, you’re a conscious, socially aware, and justice-oriented teacher or aspiring teacher—possibly in the state of Florida, or any state where similar policies are either in the legislative process or made law. You desire to teach the truth of American history as well as teach Black history. How do you do that in this environment?

How should you go about teach children about the sins of United States? The United States is a white settler colonial project that used violence to establish sovereignty and wealth. How does one teach that as educators either cower to the sensitivity of white parents and policymakers or are forced out for taking a stand in favor of teaching truth? Here are a few recommendations for how to do that:

  1. Work for a district that embraces teaching truth. This is probably the most sensible move to make. Prepare your portfolio, get your references together, tighten your resume, do the research on districts who value Black history, the truth of history, as well as diversity and go make your next move your best move. Maybe your district isn’t all out against teaching the harsh truths of United States history.

Maybe, their comfortable with the teaching of some harsh truths. However, maybe your district allows for the teaching of racism, yet practices racism in who is disciplined, who is hired, fired, and who is assigned to higher level courses. That’s just as bad as not teaching truth… maybe worse even. In any case, you must be selective about where you teach. The current climate for (Black) teachers, in light of the whitelash against Black history, is one that should make all teachers mindful of where they choose to do business. It’s not that children don’t deserve teachers who will teach truth. However, in the case that it’s not taught, that’s the fault of district leaders, not teachers seeking to protect their livelihood and peace.

  • Create an afterschool program that explores Black history and other historical truths. Teaching afterschool could be an option. Many afterschool programs are funded by federal dollars. So, a school district could lose those dollars if they attempted to prevent a history club, Black history club or Black Student Union from emerging. Not only will you have an opportunity to teach truth and Black history afterschool, but you’ll be able to do that absent the level of white surveillance that comes during the school day when teaching these topics. Not to mention, you’ll probably be paid for your work. This is a great option for teachers who are unable or unwilling to leave their district of work for whatever reason.
  • Create/facilitate Saturday or evening school—either in district or out of district (on your own or with an organization with a similar perspective). This is an option for anyone looking to do something out of their district. Few schools offer Saturday school for programs, but many community organizations with a focus on education for the community do offer such schools. Take the time to draft a course curriculum, syllabus and a set of lesson plans with assignments and link with an organization that engages the community with education programs. A great example is the Pan-African Studies Community Education Program (PASCEP), which offers low cost (non-credit) courses to the Philadelphia community—and has done so for the last 40 years. If there is a community organization that engages in this work, join them Or, you could link with like-minded educators and offer your own rendition of a community school, open to students of all ages.
  • Teach the truth anyway. Full disclosure; this is what I would do. I’d probably get fired and I’d have to employ suggestion number one. But one thing I will do, as a history teacher, is teach history—teach history whether folks like it or they don’t like it. But history will be taught. I have no fear of who comes in my classroom and hears what I am teaching and how I teach. Over the years, some have entered my classroom and have loved what they heard. Others were offended. But what I know is true is that my students appreciated learning the truth and they were able to use the learning to understand the world around them better as well as be ready for things they may confront. If you’re comfortable with being under the microscope, possibly losing your place within your school or even worse, losing your job, then teach the truth anyway and the racists be damned.

No matter what option you select, it is important for us to find solidarity within the profession whereby we’re encouraged to continue doing this very important work. We must find mentors to help us navigate white institutional spaces and coaches to help us strengthen our teacher practice. We must continue to grow in the knowledge of our content and build community amongst our students. We must always continue to do the work on behalf of children, even as schools and policymakers will not.

Never forget, we are part of a tradition of resistance and subversion. It’s not like Black teachers and the allies of Black folks aren’t use to this. As our enemies remind us of who they are, let’s be sure to remind them of who we are. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Up Next