Abigail Smith is the former deputy mayor for education of Washington DC, and one of the co-founders of the We Are Educators for Justice initiative. Below she shares why she has prioritized this work, and what she plans to do to advance the cause of education justice and racial equity.
While I have considered race as a key factor in the conditions that have created inequities in education, and I have certainly viewed racial equity as an important outcome of the work we’re doing in education, it is only recently have I begun to view it as the other way around. The fight for excellence and equity in education is dependent on the much more fundamental fight for racial justice. So I’ve come to understand that unless we actively work to dismantle the structures and systems that perpetuate racial injustice – not work within them to improve outcomes – but dismantle them – and rebuild in fundamentally different ways, we will not get there. And that work must take place in both the personal and professional realms.
As white educators: Are we acting in ways that buy into the notion that some people deserve less, are destined to achieve less? Despite our best intentions to improve life outcomes for kids of color, are we assuming the system won’t change and preparing students to operate within that system? Or are we owning our part in the system, and doing our part to work to change it – and urging our students to do the same?
As white parents: Are we practicing what we preach? Are we buying in to the notion that the way for our kids to succeed in life is to put them in elite environments – which implicitly teach them that white people are meant to be leaders, winners – and that people of color by in large are not? Or are we putting our kids in schools that reflect the makeup of our communities – and resisting the fear that we are “sacrificing our kids for a cause”?