Confronting racism in public schools

Some of you may be following the disturbing situation in Wisconsin’s Monona Grove School District.

Joel Wagner, gang detective for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, said a known gang called The Hicks or The Hicks Clan has been identified in the district. Unlike criminal street gangs formed around a drug culture, this is a group that hates minorities, Wagner said.

“There seems to be purely this racial component,” he said.

Members identify themselves by wearing camouflage hats with large, gold fishhooks in the brim and by displaying the Confederate flag, Wagner said. And district officials say they’ve confiscated some of those items.

As a result, wearing fishhook pins – in camouflage hats and elsewhere – will be considered a violation of the school dress code policy next year in the middle school, said Renee Tennant, principal of the district’s middle school, Glacial Drumlin School. Fishhooks already are banned at the high school, said principal Paul Brost. Read more…

Racial tension in schools is unfortunately not uncommon. If only parents, teachers and school administrators well-versed in anti-racism were equally commonplace. If only every parent and educator understood how privilege and racism and prejudice work and how to counteract these social ills. At least one person is attempting to ensure that those responsible for the students in the Monona Grove School District DO have the resources to meet the current challenge.

Many of you may already be familiar with these resources. (Some can be found right here on LIE.) For those who are not, we present full URLs rather than links, so it is clear where to find them.

The following is crossposted from Under the Acacia Tree:

Speaking into the Silence

In the two full days since the newspaper story broke, there has been an eerie and disturbing silence in our district. NOT A WORD from our administration, from other staff members, or anyone. Nothing. The silence has been difficult for me. Speaking into the silence tonight was necessary. I went solo on this. I am reminded how the 50 students of color at my high school feel like they’re “going solo” nearly every time they walk into the school, my classroom, the gym, the art room, the parking lot.

I pressed the send button and sent this letter district wide – to every working person in my district:

Please leave a comment if you have resources I’ve missed. Or, add a comment with your own interpretation of events. I’m especially interested in learning how to be a good ally – feel free to add your own nudge. And, thanks for reading.

Dear Colleagues,

I’m reaching out to my colleagues in the district to encourage thoughtful and introspective consideration of the highly charged recent discussions of racial tensions in our school district.

In some instances, I have felt concerned that our community often recognizes only the most extreme and blatant actions as actually constituting “racism,” excuses offenders as “young ignorant kids” denies the problems that people of color present as their lived reality and blames minority communities for the problem.

Some of you know that I have been working diligently during the past three years to become a better ally in our school community and our community at large.

I’ve taken several classes, participate in a number of online forums, read and continue to read about ways to resist racism, and dedicated myself to being an anti-racist parent.

I’ve scoured some of my favorite resources and included links to those I find accessible/readable/friendly/pertinent to the myriad of discussions happening in public and private spaces in our schools, homes, and communities.

Here are some sources – I promise I’ve tried to keep them readable, brief, and powerful. I know we don’t have enormous amounts of time on our hands to delve into resources. But, we must.

I hope my efforts help move our students and our own lives into spaces of increasing understanding, compassion, and dialogue. I hope that if you have resources you would like to share that you will add to this conversation with information to continue our community learning. I look forward to hearing from you.

Here it is!

This is an all time classic by Peggy McIntosh. It is an excellent exercise you can do in 15 minutes. Do it. Please.

My friend wrote this great piece on how to be an ally. Her piece focuses on why it is important for white majority people to understand our privilege and more deeply recognize the unearned benefits of our whiteness. The end of her article includes other awesome resources for self-reflection and processing:

This link references the program “NIOT” (Not in Our Town) which has become a national movement to combat bullying and racism in schools. I know there are many programs – this is one that has available resources for the classroom and community:

Discussion of NOIT with some video clips of parents and kids:

For those of you who are visual learners – a three- minute discussion about how to talk about racism:

This is an interview with one of my heroes, Beverly Daniel Tatum. She has written many books about race in America. I highly recommend Why Are All The Blacks Kids Sitting Together in The Cafeteria and Can We Talk about Race. I wrote a book review for a local class (Racial Healing) on Can We Talk About Race – feel free to ask for it:

Read anything and everything by Tim Wise. I particularly recommend White Like Me: or his blog
for brief pieces.

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek,, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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