“How to Be an Antiracist”, Ibram X. Kendi – Discussions within our Criminal Justice Programs

By Mary Weir

“Antiracist: One who is supporting an anti-racist policy through their actions or expressing an anti-racist idea.” (Kendi 2019, 13).

“An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences – that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group. Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities.” (Kendi 2019, 20).

On September 14th, members of the Criminal Justice working group met together to discuss the first eleven chapters of Kendi’s How to Be An Antiracist. The Criminal Justice working group is a state-wide coalition of Criminal Justice coordinators and faculty members at Washington state Community and Technical Colleges. Several members of the CJ work group decided to read How to Be an Antiracist after George Floyd’s tragic death.

As a human, seeing George Floyd’s murder was deeply upsetting, although I recognize that as a white woman I was not impacted in the same way as my black and brown colleagues and friends. As a Criminal Justice educator, George Floyd’s death was – and continues to be – a demand to interrogate my role as a Criminal Justice educator. How can I ensure that my teaching is anti-racist? What is my role in promoting racial justice in my classes, at my school, within the Criminal Justice system, in the world? I joined the reading group because I was hoping to discuss these issues with my fellow colleagues and learn from them.

During the reading group, we discussed the importance of helping students recognize their own racism and the racism and bias of the Criminal Justice system in our classes. We discussed how this takes courage – both from our students and from ourselves. One teacher told his own story of being profiled while on his way to work at a jail. We discussed the “us vs. them” mentality and tools to help students recognize othering. We discussed how to ensure assessments truly assess learning and the importance of disaggregating data to identify disproportionate pass rates. This conversation posed more questions than it answered.

While the magnitude of the ways that racism can show up in our classrooms are many and the challenges with the Criminal Justice system seem daunting, professionals working within the Criminal Justice system, Emergency Management and Homeland Security cannot wait to interrogate how they can work towards racial justice. I am sure that many of you have been doing this work for a long time. Of you, I ask that you share your wisdom and keep doing this challenging work. For some, these may be new topics. Of you, I ask that you dive in. Our communities cannot afford you to wait. Start a reading group of your own. Educate yourself. Discuss how racism shows up in your own work and what you can do to stop it. Discuss how you can move towards the work of an anti-racist. This work is vital and synonymous with creating safe and just communities for all.