I know. You are probably thinking, “What does education have to do Black nerd culture?” Education is not usually deemed a very Black space. That, my friend, is the issue. Academia has historically been a site of harm to the Black soul. This is not news to anybody Black, not even those of us who did well in that system and returned to it. Let’s be honest, school has not always been a great place for nerds, either. Many of us may have been good at it. (Not all of us. Let’s not act like everyone who wears the title “nerd” is academically inclined, that just isn’t the case.) Nevertheless, many nerds have painful, oftentimes harmful, memories of our school days. Sadly, the intersection of blackness and the nerd also meant an intimacy with another term in a white supremacist school system that values power and compliance over all else. That term “bully” and for some of us, that was a most dangerous and miserable intersection.
Abolitionists in the Classroom (and Not Just in the Textbooks)
That brings us to today. The bright shining new star in education is “abolition”. Yes, the same abolition you learned about in 10th-grade history class. Led by men and (mostly) women of color, the newest movement sees the educational system being dragged, forcefully, into the light of truth. Education in America must take a look at itself and address the role it plays in the systemic oppression of, well… everyone. Researchers and thought leaders like Bettina Love, Ijeoma Oluo, and Ibram X. Kendi are on
the forefront pushing the dialogue about setting our schools free from themselves.
These scholars and researchers are giving voice to the small army of teachers of color who have been fighting the good fight in these paces for years. These are the teachers that tell the young Black man that, ‘yes, he can totally check out Black Panther as his reading choice for the week’. This sparks his brown boy joy. These are also the teachers that encourage Kisha and Michelle to share their anime fan-fic with them at lunch. They also stand up for every Black student wrongly labeled and mistreated. They show Chauncy literature where they are represented because there are other Black/Brown/Indigenous kids who have a fluid gender identity, too. These are the teachers that allow Chauncy to feel seen and accepted.
Grassroots Action To Make that Change Come
This is a powerful time in the world of education. Educator collabs like the #DisruptTexts, #ClearTheAir, and #Educolor movements on social media (Twitter, this is where the main work is happening) are building their ranks and equipping themselves and co-conspirators with the tools they will need to rebuild education. To make education (gasp) actually serve our children! Teachers of color, led primarily by Black women, are taking education by the reigns and turning the whole cart around. Children are being taught how to advocate for themselves and their communities. How to stand up to racism, sexism, and every other -ism you can think of, as a part of their math and science curriculum. (Yes, I see you #AntiRacistSTEM and #DecolonizeCurriculum). These are grassroots movements, fueled by social media, that are taking over education by actively making it safe for our babies and us! Teachers of color also experience extreme mental and emotional violence in this system that we work for, and unfortunately, often perpetuate!
What Can You Do?
Today in education, abolition is a call to arms. It is not only demanding and crafting change within our systems but also providing safe and hallowed spaces for those within it until their change comes. Anyone can help by sending an email or making a phone call. All school districts have boards–thus board meetings–most of which are public. Look them up online. Ask some simple questions in the public comments for those meetings. You can even do it anonymously. If you need a place to start, ask one of the following:
- How are you investing in kids and staff of color?
- What is your plan for training staff on anti-racism in your schools?
- How much money are you spending on school policing versus the academic achievement gap, and why?
Those kinds of queries get answers and action. We are well past the time of just talking about issues and airing our grievances. Today, we are abolitionists. We are making change happen one freedom dream at a time.