By Rashaad Thomas
Even though school was out for the summer, racial discrepancies and inequalities didn’t take a break. Students went to summer camp to specifically read banned books. A Black mother filed a lawsuit addressing slavery reenactments in the classroom, and a judge even had to block a governor-led law that aimed to prohibit race-based conversations in schools.
So, as administrators make excuses and justify their actions, it’s not difficult to see that racial bias is a problem on campus. But sometimes, parents are left second-guessing themselves — did a teacher sit their child in the back row of the classroom because of racism, or is it just chance?
Black parents have heard every justification there is for why their children are suspended more often and aren’t enrolled in gifted programs. But what if there was a script or a series of form letters parents and guardians could use to proactively check if their child is in a racist classroom or school — tactics like sending an email to a teacher asking, “How do you challenge your implicit biases that lead to discrepancies in classroom discipline?”
Education consultant Ernest Crim III has made just that — and he put his tips into an easy-to-understand video titled “How to check if your child is in a racist class and school. A former public school teacher’s perspective.” In the caption, Crim wrote that his “tips will help you weed out which teachers are for your kids.” The video also helps parents and guardians determine “if your school is making an effort to do better with this work.”
With such practical advice, Crim, a former high school history teacher living in the Chicagoland area, has gained a sizeable following — nearly 314,000 people on TikTok and another 31,000 on Instagram — for videos that, as his Instagram bio explains, use “Black History to empower, educate & eradicate racism.” Now, he’s using his teaching experience and expertise in Black history full-time to teach adults and children restorative justice and equitable practices in the classroom and in the community.
I talked to Crim on a day of new beginnings for him and his family. It was the first day of school for his daughter and his wife, who also is a teacher. But after 12 years in the classroom, Crim, like many other educators, resigned this summer from his position as a history teacher. We caught up with him to learn more about his tips to weed out racist teachers, and his commitment to teaching people about Black History and how to plan for an equitable future.
Word In Black: Why did you make the “how to weed out racist teachers” Tik Tok video?
Ernest Crim III: The Tik Tok video responds to a statement in the comment section. In the video, I reference a Yale study that recorded a video of Black and white teachers monitoring a group of kids sitting at a table. Their teachers monitor the kids and identify the misbehaving child. The video shows the teachers, regardless of race, looking at the Black boy in anticipation that he would act badly.
I created a video encouraging folks to check their teacher. Someone commented, “Check what?”
That’s when I thought I needed to break this down to help people out. Then I came up with three steps to help weed out racist teachers.
WIB: What if a parent is afraid to send an email addressing the teacher’s practices based on implicit biases without fear of retaliation against their child?
EC: That’s the trauma response based on not wanting to appear as the stereotypical Angry Black man or woman.
Think of it as if you are offering constructive criticism. Most educators go into education because they want to make a difference. Start the email with a compliment. Thank them for their commitment. Thank the teacher for spending time with your children, who essentially is helping to raise them.
Then express, as a parent, based on past experiences, you have to ask these questions to feel more comfortable with me as my child’s teacher. I like to look at the pros and cons. Think of it this way: if you ask teachers and administrators these questions, your child is on the teacher’s radar, and they will make sure to look after the child. Then they will more likely focus on working towards more equitable lessons and activities in school. But, if I don’t say something, it will be business as usual, and my child will end up damaged. At least now you have a paper trail for evidence if there is retaliation. You make it clear where you stand.
WIB: How did you become an educator?
EC: I’m from Southside Chicago. My mom spent her entire career as an educator and administrative principal in the Chicago Public school system. My grandmother was a social worker, and my aunt was an educator. I grew up in an environment where teaching wasn’t just teaching. My mom taught and really cared about the kids.
I didn’t have the inspiration to teach until I was in college. I almost flunked out my first semester. Then I took a Black history class because I’d never taken one before. I fell in love with Black history. It was like finding all the answers to your questions because you had a professor and books to read. For the first time in my life, I liked reading. Then I started buying and reading books from other Black history courses. I went from almost flunking out to making the dean’s list. So, I thought if I could relay this information to people in my neighborhood and others who look like me, it would change how we operate. It changed how I operated because it gave me more pride and dignity.
I thought about being a professor. But, I want to work with kids before they get to college. Teaching high school students was the perfect balance focusing not only on the education but the well-being of the students.
I wrote my book “Black History Saved My Life” because it saved me from going down the wrong path. I feel like my purpose is to serve. We all have different ways of doing that; for me, it’s teaching.
WIB: How do you teach students to use Black history to address today’s social issues?
EC: First, I tell kids that most of the history they learn is a fabrication. Your African ancestors built great kingdoms. Our future is about reclaiming the past and creating a better future.
Then I ask myself, “What’s going on in the world right now?” We may be talking about mass shootings or police brutality, and my goal is to connect it to something that happened in the past. For example, if addressing police brutality, I’d show a clip of Malcolm X. We talk about policing our community. Then I provide a video clip of the Black Panthers who policed their communities. It’s not about making kids read a book and answer questions.
WIB: What is restorative justice?
EC: Justice is balancing the scale. It’s reparations. We often want to be punitive because the system tells us our kids are bad. Our children act out based on the system’s design instead of acting out their destiny. Restorative justice says nothing designed to make it more likely our kids do recycle behavior. Kids cannot control where they are born or their background.
For example, a first-grade student comes to school one day acting out and yelling. Restorative justice practices wouldn’t suspend or kick them out of school. Once the behavior appeared, the teacher would ask the student questions. It’s about rebuilding the individual as opposed to tearing them down.
WIB: Why do schools not teach students about Black August?
EC: Black August focuses on Black liberation. It hasn’t been commercialized. The public school system doesn’t invest in teaching Black students about their ancestor’s fight for liberation. It’s about resistance. Black history saved my life. It kept me from choosing the wrong path. Our purpose is to serve others. We all have different ways of serving others. But, my purpose is to expose people to Black history. Because it’s about uplifting each other.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.