Resources for teaching about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner

9 Dec

As I was typing the title for this blog post, it occurred to me again that how we name what we’re teaching about is one of the first and most essential considerations in teaching about it. I’ve heard people refer to teaching about “Ferguson and Staten Island,” “the Ferguson and Staten Island cases” and the “Brown and Garner murders,” all of which communicate something about our relationship to and perspective on the events that we’re trying to understand individually, socially and nationally right now. My words aren’t the right ones for you. They’re the words I’ve found that name what I think is most important: the individuals who represent a much larger group of black men (stretching back to before Emmett Till in 1955), boys (like Tamir Rice), women and girls (including Keyarika Diggles) who are victims of a national and nationally-sanctioned epidemic right now. In choosing my words, I am striving to be accurate and helpful in framing a conversation that I can’t afford people to opt out of.

Today, I’d just like to post a list of resources for talking about the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and the beatings of Keyarika Diggles and Rodney King. I’m compiling this list in dialogue with educators and parents/guardians who recognize their responsibility to talk to our children and youth about these individuals’ lives and the larger context of race and racism in the United States.

Before getting to this list, I’d just like to offer my essentials for talking about injustice:

  • Know your intention. Why are you invested in having this conversation? Do you need someone else to “get it”? Do you feel compelled to demonstrate that you “get it”? Do you need an outlet for what you’re feeling? What do you intend for yourself and others in engaging in this dialogue? Knowing this can help you decide when, where and how to have this conversation.
  • Create safe spaces and opportunities for people to exhale. That’s right. Just one occasion where I have to be ready to participate and be articulate isn’t going to work for everyone. And safety is something we build through explicit agreements, practice together and experience. One way to start from inclusion is simply to begin with individual reflection and learn where people are, rather than presuming a common starting place and then having to backpedal to make room for those who aren’t standing where you thought they would be.
  • Expect and invite diversity. We can tend to invite these conversations when we presume a like-minded group (whether we think that group all agrees about an issue or all enjoys a heated debate). Recognizing that people are processing through different and sometimes conflicting filters (Singleton and Linton, 2005): intellectual, emotional, moral and social (activist) can help us engage each other more compassionately, consciously and, ultimately, effectively. Simply noticing my determinedly intellectual lens and leaning into how I feel about the deaths of Garner and Brown will help me not only empathize with others, but myself as well. And inviting a diversity of perspectives–instead of just a presumed “right” perspective–in the group will actually help everyone to grow, by cultivating deeper awareness of our own perspectives, understanding of seemingly and actually conflicting perspectives, and recognition that rather than a “them” out there we can blame for everything we think is wrong, them is us.
  • Name your own questions and that it’s OK not to know (and even not to know what we don’t know). Don’t know who Jordan Davis is? That doesn’t make you a racist. It’s OK and important to ask, learn more and reflect on what we can’t help knowing… and what we can. (What we can afford not to be aware of is sometimes indicative of our privilege. And just in case you went there again, having privilege doesn’t make you bad. Or a racist. However, not owning your privilege certainly facilitates you’re acting in racist and other “bad” ways.)
  • Follow up on questions and needed education.  Sometimes questions are red herrings: What happened before what we’ve seen on video of Garner being choked to death? Since we don’t and can’t know, dogging this question may be a way of avoiding the conversation. So we need to discern the vital questions being asked, and those not being asked. We need to discern the questions and needs that are implied by the conversation we’re having. We need, whether explicitly asked or not, to frame these conversations with an understanding of the development of human identity and bias, with an understanding of group behavior and systems, and with historical context.

And now to some resources. Thanks to all who have shared. This is a short list, mainly because I want to recommend everything on it but not make it un-useful to you by including everything. That said, I’ll keep updating…

Classroom lessons: (shared by JF)

Ferguson: Resources and Reflections for Educators: (shared by GS)

Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson:

Teaching about Jordan Davis Murder: (shared by GS)

5 Tips for Being an Ally: (shared by JD)

No More ‘Allies’:

The Deaths of Black Men in America: (shared by JD)

It would have been very simple to indict Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo. Here’s how:

Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton: (for a brief overview of their guides for having courageous conversations)

Redefining Race Relations: It Begins at Home (for parents of younger children): (shared by GS)

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