Roberto German 00:00
Welcome to our classroom. In this space, we talk about education, which is inclusive of, but not limited to what happens in schools. Education is taking place whenever and wherever we are willing to learn. I am your host, Roberto German. And our classroom is officially in session. In this episode of our classroom, we'll be talking about: Everything I learned About Racism I learned in Schools with Tiffany Jewell. A black biracial number one New York Times bestselling, and number one Indie bestselling author of This Book is Anti-Racist and The Anti-Racist Kid. She is a twin sister, first-generation American, cisgender mama, an anti-bias, anti-racist educator who has been working with children and families for two decades. She lives in the homeland of the Pocumtuc in the Nipmuck with her two young storytellers, husband, a turtle she's had since she was nine years old, and a small dog with a big personality. Welcome, Tiffany Jewell. Hey folks. Welcome back to our classroom. I'm here with Tiffany Jewell, the author of This Book is Anti-Racist and The Anti-Racist Kid. And she is working on a new book. Lucky you. Lucky you. And lucky me. We have Tiffany here and I'm excited. Tiffany's a wonderful person. I've known Tiffany for a number of years now. Been on panels with her, done some conference organizing with her. Like, in the, you know, Montessori for social justice days. And I've just been able to witness her work and her amazingness, and I've been able to witness her dancing to 90 songs. She wasn't dancing by herself, people. You know, I was there, Lorena was there, others. It was kinda a impromptu dance party. And Tiffany got some moves. Tiffany got, you know, she got some moves. Tiffany can get it down. You get down. Tiffany, I'm so glad to be here with you, to connect with you. I love being around you. You have a wonderful presence. We have great conversations and so I'm looking forward to chopping it up here. Thank you for taking the time to join me in our classroom.
Tiffany Jewell 02:29
Thank you for having me. Will take any opportunity I can to talk to you and talk to Lorena. Like, you're my people. I love you. So thank you for having me.
Roberto German 02:40
And we love you also. So I know you've been dialing down, you've been digging in, you've been working diligently on your new book, Everything I Learned About Racism, I Learned in Schools. Ooh, ooh, ooh, you got us. You got it. You already making some people mad, Tiffany.
Tiffany Jewell 03:02
I know. I mean, everybody.
Roberto German 03:04
Here you go again, trying to get another book ban. Hey.
Tiffany Jewell 03:10
Oh, good grief. I mean, that's not-- no, I'm not like-- if they just read my books, they would be like, "Oh," because we don't need to ban books. They're just stories that people are telling about their lives and we're learning a little more and we're all better because of these.
Roberto German 03:27
Listen, no, they don't-- unfortunately some folks, some of the resistors out there, they don't take the time to listen. They don't take the time to read the content that's being created and be-- and-- and shared. It happens with some of the clips I put out from these interviews and whatnot. Sometimes I get some quick reactions and it leaves me wondering, did you actually listen to the entire episode?
Tiffany Jewell 03:51
No. No. It's usually the title. I think the title is like what jars people so much. So they're like, "I can't even get past-- I don't want my kid reading this." And you're like, "Well, your kid wants to read it, one. And actually like, it's really good. It's just like these are books about humanity. Okay."
Roberto German 04:07
Indeed. Indeed. Well, listen, this book, Everything I Learned About Racism, I Learned in Schools. When did you have this revelation? And also can you provide us with a status update on your book?
Tiffany Jewell 04:25
Absolutely. So I'll do the status update first. Things are slow. Some of it's slow on my behalf. I am a fast writer-- drafter, and then it's like garbage and messy. And I'm a slow reviser. And I will take as many opportunities as I can to revise.
Roberto German 04:45
You and I are similar in that sense then.
Tiffany Jewell 04:47
Yes. Yes. And I think, you know, if-- 'cause otherwise if you're gonna try to, like, write something perfect from the get-go, like you're never gonna finish what you're doing at all. And then things are slow. So this book comes out with the Versify imprint, which is a part of HarperCollins. And Versify is run by three people, only three people.
Roberto German 05:11
Tiffany Jewell 05:13
Me and one editor and one assistant editor. And so my editor is incredible. And right now HarperCollins is on strike, or a lot of the workers, unionized workers are on strike because the CEO and the top HR person are not coming to the bargaining table and giving them-- they're just-- the workers are just asking for $5,000 raise because right now they make about 45,000 and they need 50,000 to live in New York City especially.
Roberto German 05:44
Tiffany Jewell 05:44
HarperCollins is asking--
Roberto German 5:45
Tiffany Jewell 05:46
Right. I know. Even 50. Like, as-- but because HarperCollins is asking folks to come in work from the office, not everybody can be remote now either. And so they want that and they also want more safeguards around diversity and equity, you know, things that I'm not gonna argue with. So the assistant editor right now is a unionized worker who is on strike. And Wesley the editor, is doing a whole bunch of stuff and she's incredible, but she's overworked. She was way before, anyway. She's a black woman, so there's that too. So right now Everything I Learned About Racism, I Learned in Schools projected to come out winter 2024. And hopefully it will and still. We'll see. And a lot of the kind of holdup of things is not just like me and the editor, but there's like a paper shortage. So they're trying to get like the right price for paper, which is not something I've ever thought about. And they're the-- a lot of the design team, a lot of those folks are also unionized workers who are on strike. And we're looking for some-- an illustrator to do some illustrations in the book. And a lot of freelance illustrators are like, no, I'm not gonna work with HarperCollins until the workers can have a fair contract. So there's a whole bunch of things slowing it down, which is okay 'cause it gives me more time to revise.
Roberto German 07:23
Right. There you go. There you go. Well, this-- there's so much going on there. And for all you aspiring authors, there's a little tidbit, there's an inside look at some of the things that folks don't necessarily know that impact, the process of writing, creating, developing, publishing a book. Layers and layers of items and issues that can hinder the progress. Or sometimes speed it up depending on the context. Right? So thank you for sharing that.
Tiffany Jewell 07:59
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, publishing is just a hot mess in general.
Roberto German 08:05
Tiffany Jewell 08:07
And then like this book came the-- I was doing a talk for the Ed collab, I think. And they host like a yearly bi-- like twice a year, I can't remember, virtual conference. And I was talking about kind of like different stories from my schooling journey and just a little bit. And while I was talking I was like, "Ah, everything I learned about racism I learned in school." And like, we had to pause for a moment 'cause I was like, "Whoa, wait a minute. That's like, so true on so many levels." And from there I started really thinking about like, my schooling journey from preschool to college and then as an educator too. And I was like, "I think I have a book here." And that's kind of how it came about. There have been lots of different ways I've looked at this book and things I've wanted to do or try and some have worked and some haven't. And really the book is part memoir of like my schooling journey in mid-size city of Syracuse, New York, which is like a super impoverished city. Like, there's a high poverty rate. There's-- it's like been on list for like the worst place to live if you're like a black or brown person. And also like, I had a really lovely childhood, okay? Like, I love my neighborhood, I love my friends at school, my family. Like, I had-- like, I'm a pretty ground-- I was a pretty grounded kid. But just like one of those places where Syracuse isn't unique. Like, there are a lot of cities throughout our country who are like it. So stories that I have from my schooling journey, I think other kids through many decades will see themselves in the story. But then my favorite part of this book was when it dawned me where I was like, this can't just be me.
Like I don't wanna write books by myself anymore because like, it shouldn't just be me. And I wish more authors would like think of this too. And so I got to pull in a bunch of my favorite authors and educators and share their stories. Like, you are sharing two poems with Roberto. Or there's a poem and there's a song. And they kind of also, like, one of them like closes us-- closes the book out. I haven't even like shared with you like where-- but it sets us up for our vision of what we want schooling to be like. And Joanna Ho wrote a poem. Lorena shared some pieces that I'm breaking out into things. [inaudible 00:10:52] wrote a story about himself in elementary school. Randy Ribay wrote a piece about just kind of like, people always asking like, "Where are you from? No, where are you--" And microaggressions. And so just like reading everybody else's stories too. I was like, okay. Like, it affirmed that this is like a constant for us, like, black and brown folks of the global majority throughout schooling. And I think, you know, Torrey Maldonado wrote this like great piece in his beautiful style of writing dialogue, which is not something I can do. That I definitely like have friends who had that same experience, you know? And I know that kids are now. And so it's kind of like a part memoir, a part anthology. And then they're also pieces of history that I'm pulling into it too. Like, the history of magnet schooling and the history of tracking or-- and what tracking is and military recruitment in schools. So looking at those things that really impact so many of us without really thinking about it. It's been really fun to research for the book too.
Roberto German 12:06
No, it sounds amazing. And we're gonna talk about magnet schools in a moment. But I wanna stay here in terms of what you just laid out for us. The combination of things that you're doing with this book in terms part memoir, part anthology, part history, I love it. And I'm eager to see the final product.
Tiffany Jewell 12:30
Yeah, me too.
Roberto German 12:30
But I want you to talk more about why you feel it's important to take this approach in which you're really committed to doing more co-authoring. This is something that we've talked about, you and I, Lorena. And yeah. I want you to share more about, you know, for you why that's important and why you think others should be considering a similar approach.
Tiffany Jewell 12:57
Yeah. So I am a-- I really enjoy working in community with other people and I-- part of a lot of my teaching journey too I've been a co-teacher for so long. So even when I started teaching at a early childhood center in West Philadelphia, in my early 20s, I had co-teachers and I learned so much from them. And I learned more about who I was. Like, what my limitations were, what I could do. And moving into Montessori, I was a co-teacher for a long time before I had my own classroom. And I didn't love having my own classroom. I did and I didn't because I really love that learners and kids can like go to, they'll see themselves in one of the adults in the room, right? And if you don't relate to the one, then it kind of sucks that you're the only one. That's the only adult you have to spend your time with. And so with writing, one, like writing is a very lonely thing. You're doing it all on your own. A lot of times it's like in your own space. For me it's like a corner in the bedroom. This is my bedroom, a corner of the bedroom. Like, my kids are usually at school when I'm writing. Maybe the dog's gonna keep me company, maybe not. Like, and so to be able to work on a book with other folks is really lovely and enjoyable. So kind of all the things that I have coming for the future and been working on proposals are all with other authors and other folks. And I also think, you know, like my book is a New York Times bestseller. Like, that's an accolade that people are like, it's really important for some people. And so I can like include authors who don't have that or who are up and coming and make space for other folks 'cause I shouldn't be the only one. And I get really frustrated when I see like authors like continually being like the only one. Because in our society, like we uplift a few without like looking at the collection of people behind them or with them that-- or that could be with them. And so I don't wanna be one of those people who like is always like, "Yes, I am the greatest and let's leave everybody else behind." And not even like thinking about that, but being lifted up, I wanna as many people to come as possible. And so that has been-- it can't just be me. Like-- and I also look at-- like, if you look at me, people are always like, "What are you?" Like, I'm so light. Black biracial. Like, that I will get things easier than folks who are darker than me too. And so recognizing like where my privilege and power is and like being able to redistribute that however I can is really important to me. I can't like write about solidarity and have-- for young people and not show them what it actually means. Like, that's totally unfair.
Roberto German 16:05
Yes. Yes. Oh, that's dope. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that, for being honest and also just encouraging others, right? Because we do see that. We do see where there are many individuals that are-- come across a big platform, huge opportunities, get a bestseller and then it's almost like, hey, you know, kind of stiff arming others in order to maintain this newfound fame, power, whatever, however we wanna frame it. Right? And I think it's critical for us to continue to come back to this notion of community. Because I think part of how we dismantle these systems is by not only remaining in community, but growing in community.
Tiffany Jewell 17:05
Roberto German 17:06
Right? And how can I-- how can we grow if we're not investing in each other? Supporting each other and opening doors for each other. Right? Each one teach one, right? I'm extending my arm, you're extending your arm. So part of the reason I created this platform is because I wanted-- I didn't want anybody to dictate what I'm doing. I didn't want anybody to dictate who I'm bringing onto my show. I wanna bring on whoever I wanna bring on, but part of it is that I wanna bring on and highlight individuals. Yes, I have individuals like you that, you know, have had great success and wonderful platforms. Right? And I'm using success very broadly, right? Because there are other individuals that have also had success and maybe not success defined by the mainstream, but have been successful in what they are doing, whether as classroom teachers or school leaders or whatever the case may be successful in impacting their community. Right? All of those things are important. And so we should be highlighting those individuals also. That's part of what I'm trying to do is like amplify the voices and stories of individuals that perhaps are not getting to shine amongst the masses.
Tiffany Jewell 18:22
Roberto German 18:24
But the people that see them, they know what time it is.
Tiffany Jewell 18:28
Right. And thinking too, like how can we do things differently? Right? Like, let's not do things the way they've always done because they're clearly not working for us. So why are we trying to like, fit ourselves in these, like, very specific tiny roles when we can be doing it differently and really like writing-- working with a bunch of people in a book like it's just something that I feel like is starting to become a way of doing things and publishing. And it's still super rare. You know, I think of the, like, The Blackout Crew and like Tiffany Jackson and Danielle Clayton and all of those, and they have written like beautiful stories together that come together. But like, where else do we have all of our stories collected if it's not just an anthology where like, we're actually like, I don't know. So I'm excited for future projects that I hope some publisher will wanna publish. And if not, we'll figure out how to do it on our own
Roberto German 19:28
That's right. That's right. That's what time we're on. So let's come back to what you're working on in the book. Well, not come back 'cause we are on it. We're on it. But I want us to talk about and think about this notion of all the things that you learned about racism you learned in schools. And it got me questioning like, were there-- was it all negative or did you have any educators or experiences that taught you about racism in a proactive manner?
Tiffany Jewell 20:09
Yeah. So I wasn't explicitly taught about racism.
Roberto German 20:13
Tiffany Jewell 20:15
Not that I can remember. It's like really hard for me to pull it out of a memory.
Roberto German 20:21
Like, there was never no lessons. No, "Hey, we're gonna stop and talk about this situation, current events and how it's--" Wow.
Tiffany Jewell 20:31
Not-- definitely not in elementary school or middle school. Pretty sure it didn't happen in high school either.
Roberto German 20:38
Well, of course. I mean, that's understandable. Racism didn't exist in-- when you were in elementary school, middle school or high school.
Tiffany Jewell 20:45
However, I always think of Enid Lee's book Letter to-- Letters to Marcia, which is a-an anti-racist teaching book. And it was published in 1985. And so I started school in 1984. So I'm like, it wasn't that. You know, like she wasn't coming up with something out of the blue. So sorry teachers. But maybe it hadn't come to Syracuse then? Like--
Roberto German 21:13
I think it was more than just Syracuse.
Tiffany Jewell 21:15
You know? And so part of like writing this book I've been doing, I did so much research and it was like reading through newspaper articles that reflected like school board meetings from like the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s and 1990s. And yeah, it's this like history just keeps cycling itself. So I had no teachers who explicitly taught me about racism, but I had a lot of teachers who like did it without trying to. Like, I-- so I wrote the one story in this book as anti-racist about my third grade teacher who was like very overtly racist in like the way she treated kids, the way she talked about our community. So there was her. But then there's also like, the ways I think of in fourth grade we learned about local history and we learned about like the Onondagas of the Iroquois Nation, right? Like it was called the Iroquois Nation, even though that's not what they called themselves. They call themselves the Haudenosaunee. And so one, like the ways that we learned to talk about people and then we learned about the Onondagas as if they were like people of the past, even though like we could take a bus to the reservation. When I was in middle school, we could ride our bikes to the reservation. Like, it wasn't that far at all. There was a school-- there is a school, right, on the reservation. Like, we could have had tribal council, you know, come into our classroom. We could-- not to like also recognize that like there were kids-- Onondagas kids in our school community living in our neighborhoods. Like, we knew that. We knew them. And so just like the ways we learned about people of the past. And I remember I was the kid who when we were asked to like, celebrate Columbus Day, I wrote a poem about how awful he was and my teacher was like, "Okay." Like they didn't know what to do with it. And then, you know, I can't-- it was either fourth, fifth or sixth. It was like upper elementary. And I was like, "Columbus, what did you do?" Like, "What did you think you were doing?" And so I had those moments where I would bring something up and my teachers just didn't know how to talk about it. And so because I was like a good quiet student, they would just be like, okay, 'cause I wasn't like rabble rousing. Right? Like I wasn't going to get everybody else, you know. I wasn't organizing like walkouts or anything. I would've if I had knew I could. And so it was doing those things and the teachers just like having no reaction to what I was doing, told me like that they didn't really know what was happening too. And like, it's not in the 80s and 90s. Like, we didn't talk a lot about racism until Rodney King. And then it was kind of like you couldn't not talk. You had to talk about it.
Roberto German 24:25
And the OJ trial.
Tiffany Jewell 24:27
And the OJ trial. Right. Like, in-- and I-- like, I watched a lot of TV, so I watched a lot. Like, I saw all those things happening and the same of the first Iraq war. Like, we watched that happen. And then we also listened to how people were talking about people from Western Asia and Iraq and like all-- like that whole region. And I, you know, like my teachers still couldn't talk about it even though it was like happening and then they were getting language. Like, they just didn't know what to do. And so their silence told me, you know, their silence taught me that like it was supposed to be okay to not, you know, to not talk about things or push them aside. To have a racist-- an overtly racist teacher in the classroom taught me like that was okay. To have like my-- and then there were like all the other things too like when I reflect and I write in the book about my AP European history teacher in high school, how he like posted our grades on the wall every week. And just really pushed us to compete against each other instead of working collaboratively. Right? Like, it would've been so much better if we could work collectively. And so all those things kind of led me to be like, oh my God. Like, everything-- like of course, I learned about racist stuff outside of school, but school was where we go to learn. And so we learned that it's either okay.
Roberto German 26:06
And where you spent the majority of your time.
Tiffany Jewell 26:08
Spent the majority of our time. My school was one of those schools that was considered racially imbalanced. And so we were-- had predominantly black and brown students-- predominantly black students in our school. It was like 53% black students. And the New York state mandate at the time is that you shouldn't have any more than 45%, which is a problem. Right. Like, they're like no school in the state should have a majority of black kids and families.
Roberto German 26:37
Tiffany Jewell 26:38
The mandate's different now. The mandate changed like in the late-- later 90s to reflect neighborhoods more. Like, schools should be reflective of the neighborhoods without addressing like redlining or any of those issues too. But it was like one of those things, I went to a racially imbalanced school. And when I looked up like articles about my school, like my school was also-- we weren't just racially balanced, but we were labeled as deficient because of our test scores. So like all of these things which had like our teachers and the news media, like believing our school was like worth less than the other schools that were racially balanced or had more white kids that had better test scores. Because I'm like, you know, in the ways that they talked about why we didn't have good test scores 'cause the parents didn't care because like the-- you know, like all those things and I'm like, or the tests just aren't made for us. Like, we don't understand tennis, you know. Like, to have a story about tennis or a story about like some white person from history that we're not familiar with, like, so.
Roberto German 27:54
Yeah. I play pickleball now, by the way.
Tiffany Jewell 27:57
Oh, who doesn't? I mean, I don't, but like my family does.
Roberto German 28:00
You know, but it's like I'm saying that because your point stands. Like, I didn't know anything about tennis growing up. You know, I know a little bit now 'cause the Serena and Venus.
Tiffany Jewell 28:12
Roberto German 28:13
And Coco. And Naomi.
Tiffany Jewell 28:17
We had Arthur Ash. Right. But I do not ever remember watching him play.
Roberto German 28:24
Nor did-- nor do I.
Tiffany Jewell 28:25
'Cause I didn't know who he was until like after-- afterwards. And the story I've only ever heard about him was about him having AIDS. Right. Like, I didn't hear about him being a great tennis star until it was like later.
Roberto German 28:39
Yeah. And it's funny 'cause I mentioned that because yeah, I know about pickleball now and whatnot and a bit about tennis, but it also reflects like my access at this stage of my life.
Tiffany Jewell 28:52
Right. Right. Right.
Roberto German 28:53
You know, but growing up in the hood, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, it was--
Tiffany Jewell 28:57
Without social media. Right. Like, we didn't have the internet or social media.
Roberto German 29:02
Right, right. And so, you know, it's interesting how you have people that will not acknowledge these things. Right. They won't acknowledge the disparities. They won't acknowledge how the disparities impact different people groups, different communities. Right. And yet we're offering real experiences. Our ex-- lived experiences. Let's speak directly to this.
Tiffany Jewell 29:32
Yeah. That are incredibly valid. Right. Like, our experiences are valid even if you as an educator don't relate to them at all as a white educator. I-- thankfully, we had a black principal and a black vice principal. And so they-- like, we had them, but all of our teachers were white. And so white. I think the only black teacher at our elementary school was the, like ISS lady, you know. And like she knew us all and we knew her.
Roberto German 30:02
And it was almost like, "Hey, you know, like send me to ISS so I can hang with her."
Tiffany Jewell 30:07
Roberto German 30:08
Sometimes you had that.
Tiffany Jewell 30:09
She showed love. Yeah.
Roberto German 30:11
Sometimes you had-- listen, I'm saying this from my experiences in the roles that I served in as school leader. And some of those roles, unfortunately, I was like, oversee, you know, dean of discipline or whatever, whatever. That wasn't the title, but knew what it was. And so sometimes, you know, kids wanna kick it with Mr. German. It's like, all right. You know, let's, you know, let's try to find some other ways.
Tiffany Jewell 30:35
You're like, "Come visit me when you're not sent to me." But that's a whole other problem. Like, teachers shouldn't be sending kids out of the classroom. That's like a whole other conversation for another day.
Roberto German 30:43
Yes indeed. Yes indeed. Yes indeed. As always, your engagement in our classroom is greatly appreciated. Be sure to subscribe, rate the show and write a review. Finally, for resources to help you understand the intersection of race bias, education, and society, go to multiculturalclassroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto German.