I am not a social justice warrior

Kemi Owens-Hart
Martin Luther King Jr. Susan B. Anthony. Abraham Lincoln. Our curriculum is filled with examples of people that are lauded for their bravery and action in the face of inequality and discrimination. Even though these figures were far from perfect, the mythology that surrounds them makes it seem as though the idea of standing up for what’s right is reserved only for those with an almost deity-like courageousness. As teachers, we need to ask ourselves whether this approach is helping or hurting our students’ understanding of social justice. What would your answer be if someone asked you: “Are you a social justice warrior?”
It wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility to assume that the answer for most people would be “no.” Our understanding of the term elicits images of leading protests, standing triumphant in the face of brutalization or tirelessly fighting governmental bodies for equal rights. The reality is that, in our classrooms, we are grooming our students to enter a world in which they will need to stand up for themselves or others at some point in their lives. The examples we set in our small microcosm of the world will give them models for their future behavior.

Though this may seem like a large task for an already overworked, underpaid population, there are many small acts of justice that we can instill in our daily routine. You can:

  • Model empathy

  • Teach perspective-taking

  • Be mindful of the materials you present in your classroom and curriculum to ensure many races and cultures are represented

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