How has race and intersectionality impacted your life?

During a Women's March in Hartford, a Black woman stood up next to a trans woman, and they spoke specifically to White women, saying, hey, not everybody’s pink hat is pink, you know? Not everyone can identify like you White women. You need to understand that this movement you've created for yourselves is actually standing on the shoulders of oppressed women of color. And it really struck me, like, wow, I thought I was trying hard and reading, really trying to do the work … but I realized, in reality, I wasn't acknowledging my privilege, I wasn’t doing everything I could to reflect on my own racial identity. And I do have one, right? I have a White racial identity. We need to understand that.

Now, I’m learning how to be like, hey, I'm a White woman, and privileged—I've done the things that I've done in my life because of where I'm at both economically and because I’m White—and it’s my responsibility to have more difficult conversations about race. I’m still reading, still learning, yes, but I’m also trying to do more. Like I said, it’s my responsibility. People of color have been thinking about race their whole lives, they’ve had to, so I can’t excuse myself either.

Why is talking about race in the subject(s) you teach necessary?

The canon is a lot of dead White men.

In literature, teaching classic books is not the only way to go. It's a lot about seeing yourself in literature. As an English teacher, I’m thinking, how can I prepare my students for a college classroom, where they’re going to be asked about the classics, unfortunately, but also make sure they’re seeing themselves in what we’re reading? The canon is a lot of dead White men. To teach it in a way that students will actually care about the canon, see why it matters to them, you need to apply a racial literacy lens to it. Be critical of it, pull in other things, get creative.

What was it like teaching this lesson or unit plan?

Stereotypes can work their way up into bigger societal problems, like genocide.

For “Words Matter: Reading To Kill a Mockingbird,” which I’m in the middle of teaching right now, I wanted to talk about the racial identity issues within the text and use modern examples from the stories in Tell Me Who You Are. Classic texts have been taught forever. But you can teach them differently. You can use relevant texts as a companion or a comparable text, you can bring in real, relevant stories that get kids to care. We used Mahala’s story from TMWYA. We read about her experiences and understood the real difficulty of hearing the N-word. We read a few more stories, like Lisa and Lita’s, and my kids just couldn’t believe these were real, they were so engrossed. For “The Foundation of Genocide: Stereotypes in Night,” we looked at how stereotypes can work their way up into bigger societal problems, like genocide. Our freshmen and sophomore students had just gone through one of the Anti-Defamation League’s programs, where they actually looked at ADL’s pyramid of hate and talked about each stage of how a society gets to genocide, and how it usually starts with stereotypes. I used AJ’s story and a few others’ from TMWYA. We had mind-blowing conversations about gender versus gender identity, gender stereotypes intersecting with racial stereotypes. The story of Night is so powerful, yes, but at the same, so overwhelmingly intense and violent and, and, again, slightly unrelated to students because they’re removed from historical situations, especially the younger students. So, to bring in voices that are current and are dealing with things that could end up becoming a serious as the Holocaust, like Nick’s story from TMWYA, makes them think about the seriousness of stereotyping in their own lives.

What would you like to tell any educator looking at your work right now?

Just as teaching is such a large part of who I am, my race is too. I can’t separate them when I show up in the classroom.

Just as teaching is such a large part of who I am, my race is too. I can’t separate them when I show up in the classroom. For all educators, especially White teachers, prepare yourself, and have those tough conversations.

Kelly DUMAS'S Lesson plans:

TYPE: Lesson plan (full class) TITLE: The Foundation of Genocide: Stereotypes and Night CONTENT AREA: English

GRADE LEVEL(S): 9th Grade

DESCRIPTION: This is an introductory lesson for Night by Elie Wiesel that gets students thinking about what stereotypes are and how they fuel greater issues like discrimination and hate as well as genocide.

Click below to download a PDF of Kelly Dumas's full lesson plan.

Dumas Lesson 1
Download PDF • 62KB

TYPE: Lesson (full class) TITLE: Words Matter: To Kill a Mockingbird CONTENT AREA: English, U.S. American Literature GRADE LEVEL(S): 10th to 11th Grade

DESCRIPTION: This lesson plan is embedded in a To Kill a Mockingbird unit focusing on the derogatory and dated language that influences stereotypes and feeds racism in the text and in American culture. Students will analyze the use of language, explore dated references to People of Color, and make connections to relevant narratives and articles in order to help them implement a racially literate perspective.

Click below to download a PDF of Kelly Dumas's full lesson plan.

Dumas Lesson 2
Download PDF • 67KB

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CHOOSE is a student-led organization working to equip every American with the tools to talk about race and act on racism. An intersectional and intergenerational movement.


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Last Updated: October 2020

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