As part of the College’s commitment to anti-racism, we recognize the importance of elevating diverse voices of leadership within the profession, and the benefits of discussion and sharing of experiences, perspectives and reflections. This space is dedicated to RECEs who identify as Black, Indigenous or Persons of Colour. If you’re interested in contributing to this conversation, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Re-imagining Early Childhood Care and Education in a Post-George Floyd World: An Open Letter
Dear Colleagues and Friends:
I often wonder if I chose the right profession. I wonder if I am just a wheel in a vehicle that is mired in the institutional and systemic racism that I consistently challenge my students to unlearn? Is my voice being heard, or moreover the voices of my ancestors that came before me? Am I reproducing the same ideologies, and am I part of a system that I whole-heartedly believe is detrimental to young children? After George Floyd’s death, these questions are even more glaring.
As a Black woman, I wake up thinking about the killing of George Floyd and its aftermath, and I go to sleep thinking about it. Why did it take so much death and violence against Black bodies for the world to pay attention to the continuously relentless racism against Black people? Why suddenly am I being inundated with anti-racist resources, Black documentaries, Black authors, and literature that has been here all along? Why are you, my fellow early childhood practitioners, administrators, leaders, and faculty not outraged? Why are students calling me, to say what should be done, while many leaders in the field choose to stay silent.
This moment in our history is highlighting more than ever the need to reconceptualize how we think about and practice early years care and education if we are to move forward as a vehicle for social justice, equity, and human rights. In other places I have heralded anti-racist work, pushing for critical race theory in early childhood spaces, and I had once again planned to write an academic paper calling for a new theoretical framework in early years care and education, but instead I am sharing this open letter.
I write this letter with passion, as the matter at hand is not simply theoretical. Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of colour are at constant risk of racialized violence and death. I have always spoken out in my work with students, in my community, and in social spaces about this reality. I am compelled now to extend the reach of my voice to all of you. We can no longer continue to sweep the dust of reality under the carpet. There is no room left under the carpet.
We have a tendency in our field to want to protect children from the harsh realities of our world, and we justify this through the developmentalist discourse of children not being ready, able, or interested in race and racism. This could not be further from the truth. Children are immersed in the same world we are in, and they cannot help but absorb the values, beliefs, and practices that stem from the dominant ideologies around them. The most dominant of these ideologies is white supremacy. I know that term often sets people on edge, but we need to rip back the carpet and see what is under there. Look around you. Look in the mirror. Those of you engaged in hands-on care and education with children are diverse, but when we look at the leaders, policy makers, decision makers, department chairs, and teaching faculty, you are white. Is there anyone Black, Indigenous, or of colour at your table? Is there anyone non-white informing you when you make decisions that affect children and families?
Black and Indigenous people have the lowest academic outcomes and suffer the greatest health disparities in Canada, yet they are silent and invisible in early childhood discourse. We say the early years are so important and so influential in establishing the foundation for a good life, and yet we fail to discuss the ramifications of white supremacy and the racism it perpetuates.
Years ago, when I took up an interest in anti-racist work through the mentorship of past professors, I went to a meeting with a well-known white early childhood scholar and leader. This person said to me, “It is great you are so passionate about this, but until white people in the early childhood space decide to change and make space for you and this work, nothing is going to change.” This quote has haunted me ever since. With the lack of responsiveness by the early childhood sector to the killing of George Floyd, I realized that scholar was right.
You might be sitting there feeling uncomfortable, perhaps a bit defensive, after all, you might have attended a panel of Black people talking about their experience in early childhood education or you have asked for a free consultation with some marginalized groups about your initiatives. Maybe you have attended an antiracism workshop and so are giving yourself a pat on the back because you are of the good ones. Better yet, maybe you are sharing with your friends and colleagues book recommendations like: How to be an Anti-Racist, and Me and White Supremacy. Although such steps are helpful, we need to do more. Those who hold the power in early years care and education in this country need to act in ways that bring about antiracist theory, curriculum, pedagogy, and practice. The anti-bias valuing diversity approach that has been popularized since the 1980s is not good enough. If it was, this country and the world would not still be the racist mess that it is. We need to decidedly move to an antiracist theoretical and practical framework.
How do we do that? The action starts with you! You need to look deep within yourself and ask yourself the hard questions: Why do I choose to do nothing? What am I afraid of? Why do I think it is not my place to act? I suspect that for many people, equity for all will mean stepping aside and giving up some of your power and privilege. Let’s be honest, when you hold all the power, giving that up can feel like oppression. It is only when we all do this honest inner self-work though that change can happen. Change starts from within.
I always tell my students to take action against injustices that occur in children’s lives, as children cannot always advocate for themselves. This has to be the commitment of all of us. Silence, inactivity, ignoring the pile under the carpet is not an option. We have the opportunity to work together in ways that are transformational, not just for our field, but for all of society. Action needs to happen! Not tomorrow but today!
“Justice is what love looks like in public.” (Dr. Cornel West)
This letter to you is my way of showing love in public.
– Natalie Royer
Natalie Royer RECE has 15+ years working with children and families across Toronto. Her experience includes working in Volunteer Resources at Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, facilitating parent workshops at the Hospital for Sick Children and supervising academic programs serving marginalized women at the Toronto District School Board. Natalie also had the opportunity to participate in a two-year study, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council at Ryerson University, that focused on equity in early childhood education. Currently, she is teaching, consulting and providing professional development workshops for child care organizations across Ontario.