Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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June 13, 2020

Striving Toward an Antiracist Classroom

By Krissy Ponden

This past week, NAEA President-Elect and Chair of the ED&I Commission, Dr. James Haywood Rolling Jr., put out an impassioned call to action for artists and educators to work to dismantle the systems of oppression that have negatively, and oftentimes violently, affected the Black community. I have spent much of the past few weeks reflecting on my own complicity in these systems in an effort to move forward toward an antiracist way of being. As someone who has been involved in diversity work for over 20 years, one thing I know for certain is just how much I still have to learn.

It is humbling and disheartening to recognize the ways in which I have perpetuated White supremacy in my own classroom over the years. I shudder when I think back to my first few years as an art teacher when I would have students recreate cultural objects without context in an effort to “expose them to different cultures.” I cringe when I recall times when I overheard a student use a microaggression in class and hesitated a moment too long to counter it, because I didn’t know what to say. And I am embarrassed to admit the number of times I have stayed silent among a group of adults even when I did know what to say, because I was not brave enough to make myself vulnerable in order to support someone else. This is being a part of a racist system.

BooksSpending my summer break reading, reflecting, learning, and listening.

In How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi shares his own journey of moving from racist ideas and actions to actively striving toward antiracism. I was struck by his assertion that we can perpetuate racism one moment and then antiracism the next. Just as culture is not static and people are dynamic and complex individuals, we each are given innumerable opportunities to work toward being antiracist. I cannot change what I have done (or not done), but I can move forward committed to effecting positive social change, starting in my classroom.

To amplify Dr. Rolling’s message, I am reiterating the action steps that he put forth that I am actively working to put into practice. These include: making space for Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color (BIPOC) students to express their thoughts and experiences through art, continuing to decolonize my curriculum by adding BIPOC artists and eliminating a Eurocentric focus, ensuring I present positive portrayals of Black lives and celebrate Black artists, examining my pedagogy through an equity lens, and validating the lived experiences of my students of color.

This is the most important work that we can be doing in our classrooms right now. We have each been given this moment in history to pause, reflect, and either commit or recommit ourselves to dismantling the systems that continue to hurt the very students we have been entrusted to teach. We need to lean into our discomfort and know that we will continue to make mistakes along the way. Like Harold and Dr. Rolling, I have my purple crayon firmly in hand, ready to help draw a more socially just world.



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