Anti-Racism Should Be Taught to Students—And Their Parents: “This Is About the Future of Our Schools”

We solve problems by having honest and courageous conversations. Banning conversations about racism in the schools—aside from being a form of censorship—does not allow these conversations to happen. 

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A Black Lives Matter demonstration in July 2016. (Alisdare Hickson / Flickr)

Journey to Justice: A Critical Race Theory Primer” is a joint initiative between Ms. magazine, the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) and the Karson Institute for Race, Peace & Social Justice. The primer includes articles, essays, lesson plans, an annotated bibliography and a COMloquium conversation that addresses and examines the perils of teaching critical race theory from kindergarten to college settings. Enjoy the sample below. To explore the full primer, head here.


In the 2020 election, I ran for the school committee on an anti-racism platform. My campaign materials said, “Our classrooms need to be a place where being anti-racist is actively taught and is an expected part of the learning culture.”

That message seemed to resonate with residents in our town—I was the top vote-getter among municipal candidates.  

So, it was an important step forward when the North Kingstown School Committee in Rhode Island unanimously approved the creation of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) Subcommittee. But by the time it held its third meeting, it was already under fire. Claims that it was a solution in search of a problem and that racism did not exist in North Kingstown have been leveled by a small but vocal group in town organized to aggressively promote the idea that working to wipe out racism is harmful.  

That same group filed an intent to recall petition to have me removed from office. (They ultimately failed.) This attempt fits with the broader strategy playing out across our country to overturn election results and replace school board members who support anti-racism education.

Over the past two months, I have been subject to a pattern of harassment, intimidation and bullying. Those who oppose the DEI Subcommittee have created anonymous Instagram pages, Facebook groups, websites and flyers. With the backing of the Gaspee Project—a recipient of far-right dark money—they were able to do a comprehensive town mailing. All spreading misrepresentations and, in some instances, outright lies.   

The mailer stated that they want to make an example out of me, and in doing so, they are not content to go after me; they are also going after anyone who stands with me or who is believed to be associated with me.  

One of the things that detractors of the DEI subcommittee often bring up is that there is no, or minimal, racism in North Kingstown, so there is no need for this type of work. The fact that the number of reported cases is so low is referred to over and over again. I had heard directly from students’ mouths that they did not report what happened to them when they were in school because they were afraid that they would not be believed or that the incident would not be received well.  


The low number of reported cases of racism in North Kingstown is due to the fact that students were afraid that they would not be believed or that the incident would not be received well.

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Jennifer Lima.

What I know from personal experience is that racism does exist in our community in overt and in subtle ways. I also know that I’ve chosen to speak up for those who don’t feel empowered to speak up and look at what I just described has been happening to me. Is it any wonder that a middle or high school-aged kid would choose to stay silent? 

The first step in bridging some of the division in our communities is to be open to the idea that not everyone walks through life with the same experiences. We solve problems by having honest and courageous conversations about them. Banning conversations about racism in the schools—aside from being a form of censorship—does not allow these conversations to happen. 

This is about the future of our local schools and ensuring that students nationwide receive a complete education when it comes to history. We must allow children to think critically, ask questions and draw conclusions for themselves—even in topics that do not reflect proud moments of history. Learning the complete picture of our historical backgrounds can allow for a better world moving forward, so we can learn from our past instead of repeating it. 


We must allow children to think critically, ask questions and draw conclusions for themselves—even in topics that do not reflect proud moments of history.


I have said all along that this effort was the work of a small but vocal minority. I believe that the overwhelming support I’ve received from my community and all over the state confirms that. The desire to be better in diversity, equity and inclusion in our town had existed long before I came along. I was just the catalyst who brought it to the surface. 

The people who have shown up week after week to testify at the school committee meetings, who have sent emails on its behalf, or donated to my campaign are proof of that. I have seen the very worst of people through this whole experience—but I’ve also seen the very best.  

I consider it a privilege to have had so many people confide in me about their experiences in North Kingstown schools. They have shared them because they want our community and schools to be better. They want the schools to be inclusive of both the majority and the minority, of the vocal and the silent. 

Having someone share a painful experience creates a bond with that person, and I don’t take that lightly. I want to tell them that I see you, I believe you, and I will keep fighting to make sure no one else has to be you.  

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About

Jennifer Lima is a North Kingstown School committee member, founder and co-president of Towards an Anti-Racist North Kingstown (TANK).