Anti-Racist Book Club: 1st Meeting +etc.

Last week, I facilitated my first meeting of an antiracist book club for some teachers I know, and a couple of friends. We’re reading Dr. Kendi’s How to Be Anti-Racist. I decided how many chapters we read per meeting by just stealing the schedule from a How to Be Anti-Racist “discussion group” led by the folks at Daybreaker.

Easy to audiobook, but

I loved listening to the audiobook, but the group helped me realize that facilitating a conversation about a highly conceptual, non-fiction book is COMPLETELY out of my wheelhouse. I’m used to leading conversations that looking for the hidden complexities in fairly easy-to-read (for me!) text; I’m not as used to looking for simpler ways to understand difficult text.

For example,

“White assimilationist ideas challenge segregationist ideas that claim people of color are incapable of development, incapable of reaching the superior standard, incapable of becoming White and therefore fully human. Assimilationists believe that people of color can, in fact, be developed, become fully human, just like White people. Assimilationist ideas reduce people of color to the level of children needing instruction on how to act.” (Ch. 2)

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

I was about one sentence into verbally breaking that quote down before I realized that no, no, I can’t just swerve and improvisationally facilitate my way through this book like I can through a novel like To Kill a Mockingbird or An American Marriage I can’t just listen to on audiobook and get it. This is the kind of book that must be read, and read closely. Kendi’s very conversational narrative style and and soothing voice on the audiobook made me feel like he wasn’t saying very complex things. As if I “got it” without any problems. But when I actually read the quotations I collected from everyone to get a sense of what they understood about the reading, I realized that I would have to reckon with the writing for real.

Side note: I suddenly got why sometimes students think they understand a text they don’t, even if they are reading along and listening along while I read aloud. I really must continue reading books that are DIFFICULT for me; helps me empathize with students’ struggles.

I think the first group went fine. There were introductions and breakout groups and discussion topics, but really? I need to make it a little bit more raw. We need folks to ask and answer questions. I also need to get together a script of some norm-setting stuff I want to say. I’m not an expert, we’re here to learn, ouch and oops, step up and step back, etc. I’d also love someone to lead a grounding meditation, but I’m not that kind of person (yet), so maybe I will find one online to lead it. Some suggestions afterwards were to have folks present questions to the group, and to break into rooms to discuss those questions. Another suggestion was to ask for facilitators for each breakout group. This is shaping itself into a structure and perhaps I can continue to perfect the structure and lead more discussion groups for this and for future zooming with my kids.

It took me a while to get started, but I just finished re-listening to chapter 2 and listening to chapter 3 . I don’t think I totally got what Dr. Kendi was saying the the first time through. It’s not that the two choices we all face are assimilationist and segregationist; it’s that both of those approaches are in opposition to antiracism.Chapter 3 is about the body. If the connection is there that I suspect will be there, I’d like to consider it in light of Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands. More on Menakem at the Re-Rooted podacast.Outside of the book, I have been exploring antiracism by attending 2 events at the Emancipated Hackathon by zoom where I ran into two former students of mine (one of whom was running the whole event), all grown up! Amazing (how old I am)! The world just continues. I move into middle age, and they move into young adulthood. I was one of the older folks in the zoom room by far, and I could feel myself stretching to imagine bringing all of the pedagogical approaches from that conference into my classroom authentically.

Could I imagine leading my students, or even other educators in my antiracist bookclub in a meditation? Could I imagine leading them in a celebration of our ancestors? Could I imagine even bringing those practices into my own life? So much of the way I’ve been brought up in the White education system has involved separating my body from my mind, separating my current from my past, until all I am is unmoored intellectual energy. That has to stop, and it begins with acknowledging my body’s needs and connecting to my roots.

Of course, asserting my physical and self-understanding needs isn’t limited to the classroom or to leading book discussions on zoom. Rather, the classroom Nkomo (IRL and online) and the Zoom Nkomo need to be in alignment with physical-all-the-time-not-teaching Nkomo. All of these aspects of my self are connected to my physical body, and all of those spaces need time for connecting with myself (possibly through meditation, possibly through journaling) and for ancestral understanding.I have been talking to both my parents about their parents and grandparents. My mom emailed me a family tree chart with information on it, and my dad gave me some information while I was walking and talking on the phone with him, but I need to reach out again because I forgot some of the really cool names on his side before I got back home. Inspired by the idea of a genogram, I want to figure out a little more of who I am so that as I teach, as I discuss books with others, as I continually become myself, I’m fully aware of what I’m working with. I’m delving.

How can I expect my kids to delve and to recognize their multiple deep selves if I do not do the work on my own? I’ve lost a lot of my cultural identity. Not on purpose, and not maliciously. I assimilated into my mostly White classes as a child in public school and my mostly White boarding school when I was a teenager, and my mostly White college as a young adult. And now I’m trying to reclaim my birthright to my own culture. It’s waiting for me; I just gotta go get it so that I can help students do the same.

The funny thing, though, is that I feel like this is my time, like I was born in the wrong era. Though maybe it’s because of folks like me that this era exists. The Black folks who liked Johann Sebastian Bach and Sebastian Bach in the 90s. And Muddy Waters and Blues Traveler, and medieval motets and Digable Planets, and Rickie Lee Jones and La Lupe and Natascha Atlas. I was ostracized from some parts of the Black community for it my interests, my voice, the “way I talked.” Had my second black teacher when I got to college, and my first Black teacher in 1st grade. I thought I was alone in my nerdiness, but I guess I was one of millions that I never connected to. This old story. This old, old story. No internet, you see? I spent a lot of time being lonely, and I look to these young folks and think–if only I could have found your predecessors. In 30 years, we’ll all basically be the same age (old), but right now, I’m a young elder, and I’m starting from almost scratch, learning from those I’ve taught because they know a little more and listen a little better.

Good news: 1. I’ve been accepted to the Eastern Group Psychotherapy Society group leadership training program for Fall 2020. I’m excited to begin learning how to lead group experiences like this. 2. My school is putting real effort into antiracist pedagogy and systems for the kids and families next year.

Meh news: Middle schoolers can’t really have conversations that are as open as those I’ll start learning to lead through EGPS; how will my training help me to apply the methodology in developmentally appropriate ways?

Interesting news: Last week of school!

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