As we begin the work of educating ourselves about racism, bias, and best practices to meet the needs of all of our students we must keep in mind the process that is becoming anti-racist. Ibram X. Kendi has stated that saying one is "not racist" is not enough and that we must commit to being anti-racist. This shift in wording implies action and the chart to the left illustrates some of the first steps. As someone moves from the Fear Zone to the Growth Zone, they become more comfortable talking about racism, they have phrases at the ready to respond to implicit/explicit biases and racist remarks, and they are actively seeking more information and sharing that information with their peers, colleagues, and community.
Thank you for committing to this work!
This guide has been adapted and aggregated from public and private sources, and should be considered preliminary information for people seeking to learn about equity. Many of the concepts here that specifically discuss racial equity can be applied to equity for other historically marginalized groups, including people living with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ community, people living in poverty, religious communities, and others. Perhaps most important, equity measures often tend to benefit several of these groups at once, for several reasons: First, many people carry intersectional identities, so equity measures often touch those intersectional communities. Second, the same social, economic, and legal structures are often used to discriminate against various groups, so reforming those systems often has widespread impacts across these groups. The information contained herein is not exhaustive, and is reflective of policies that have been demonstrated to be successful in numerous jurisdictions and across political lines. (The Racial Equity Advisory Panel)
Like many states across the country, Minnesota has no formal, consistent professional development pathway for educators to enter and/or continue their journey of living equitably and in turn, authentically disrupt systems of racism and racial inequities in the classroom. In comes Education Minnesota.
The FIRE program leads and organizes Minnesota educators in a movement to live equitably and practice recognizing and responding to racial inequities and injustices.
This includes the Racial Equity Advocate program, plus a series of trainings (see box below) that help Minnesota educators develop an anti-racism mindset and learn how to interrupt and dismantle institutional racism.
The program appeals to educators for a variety of reasons. Carlson, for example, found a shocking lack of curiosity among most white people around race and was looking for a place where the perspectives of people of color were present, centered, and honored. (Alvarez, 2019).
Districts should continue to invest in professional developments that focus on implicit biases, but these trainings should not be a one day, one-hour training. Beliefs and biases are ingrained and developed over the course of a lifetime. A one-hour training is surely not enough to delve deep within oneself. Cultural competency training is the first step in the right direction. However, it is not enough to be culturally competent, we need to be actively anti-racist.
This article encourages readers to reflect on the following questions related to anti-bias anti-racist (ABAR) practices and policies in schools:
If this is the first time your school has focused on ABAR, why is it a priority now?
How will you ensure ABAR is not just a box to check, and that no one is able to opt out?
How will BIPOC be centered in this work?
How will BIPOC be supported in this work?
How are you working to create long-lasting change in your community?
As educators, we need to recognize our own positionality and its implications for how we teach. We may wonder whether young children are developmentally ready for multicultural education, yet few would argue with the idea that best early education programs are child-centered.
Let us start with NAME’s definition of Multicultural Education:
Multicultural education advocates the belief that students and their life histories and experiences should be placed at the center of the teaching and learning process and that pedagogy should occur in a context that is familiar to students and that addresses multiple ways of thinking.
A “colorblind” approach to early education may make diverse students’ strengths, knowledge and abilities invisible. Multicultural Education is a mandate if we are to provide equitable educational opportunity for all students.
WHERE DO YOU FALL ON THE ANTI-RACISM SCALE?
- 1. Have you acknowledged your White privilege?
2. Are you aware that your implicit biases play an integral role in the way that you teach, engage with and discipline your Black students?
3. Are you aware that your implicit biases can impact your ability to actively engage and partner with parents of your Black students?
4. In what ways do you incorporate the cultural diversity of your Black students into your lesson planning, curriculum work and instructional practice?
5. When determining learning resources (ex. books, articles) to use with your Black students, do you take the time to assess the historical accuracy or cultural validity of the content?
6. In what ways are you building positive relationships your Black students and educating yourself about the realities of your Black students’ lives outside of school?
7. Do you assess the intellectual capabilities of your Black students through a deficit-based lens or focus more on their potential to thrive academically? (Sarfo-Mensah, 2020)
By stating that one is “color blind” or that they “don’t see color” can be as offensive as saying a blatant racist remark. Even with the best intentions, these statements can be detrimental to a student's sense of belonging and the relationship they may have with their teacher. “When race and ethnicity are ignored, teachers miss opportunities to help students connect with what is being taught. Recognizing that a student's race and ethnicity influences their learning allows teachers to be responsive to individual differences. In some cases, ignoring a student's race and ethnicity may undermine a teacher's ability to understand student behavior and student confidence in doing well in a school culture where expectations and communication are unfamiliar. An individual's race and ethnicity are central to her or his sense of self but they are not the whole of personal identity. Moreover, how important an individual's race and ethnicity is to her or his identity will vary and teachers need to take that into account as they seek to learn more about their students.” (Teaching Tolerance)
The fear of appearing racist also throws up roadblocks. Ross recalled a workshop participant who said she’d been taught to ignore race when she’d gone to college in the 1950s. Now, the woman lamented, she was being urged to practice behavior she considered bigoted.
But claims of colorblindness really are modern-day bigotry, according to Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a sociology professor at Duke University. In his book White Supremacy and Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era, Bonilla-Silva argues that racism has become more subtle since the end of segregation. He considers colorblindness the common manifestation of the “new racism.”
“Whites believed that the Sixties was the end of racism,” says Bonilla-Silva, who is a Puerto Rican of African descent. “In truth, we have to admit that struggles of the Sixties and Seventies produced an alteration of the order.” (Scruggs, 2009)
But weaponizing whiteness happens in classrooms every day, and it’s not perpetrated only by educators who are openly racist or explicitly biased against students of color. As we’ve witnessed in viral videos, individuals who consider themselves progressive or non-racist also exhibit this behavior. White supremacist or anti-Black attitudes don’t belong to one ideology, one political party or a particular geographical location. Since both anti-Blackness and white supremacy are baked into America’s foundation, they often play out in our daily lives.
The weaponization of whiteness typically happens this way: There is a sense of entitlement, anger and need for retaliation, then feigned fear and, finally, white fragility.
Black students aren’t exempt from this experience. White educators must acknowledge this pattern of behaviors so that they won’t inflict harm on Black students. (Dillard, 2020)
Even well-intentioned teachers can perpetuate the structural racism built into the fabric of our education system if they are not conscious and do not take active steps to address their own biases, and recognize how those biases can affect practice and decision-making.
Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education is organized into four sections: Instruction, Classroom Culture, Family and Community Engagement, and Teacher Leadership. In each section, you can explore recommended practices, find helpful explanations and learn how each practice connects to anti-bias education. Drill down further for specific strategies you can try in your own classroom.
1. Engage in Vigilant Self-Awareness
Some questions to ask yourself include: How does your identity provide or prevent access to necessary resources? How does your power and privilege show up in your work with students, take up space, or silence others? What single narratives are you telling yourself about students, and how does that affect grading, behavior management, and other interactions? Do you and the academic materials you use uphold whiteness or lift up the voices and experiences of people of color?
2. Acknowledge Racism and the Ideology of White Supremacy
Acknowledging the social construct of race and racism and the ideology of white supremacy recognizes the problem so that we are not harmful in our ignorance and so that, together, we can strive for solutions. For educators of color, the work means continuing to call out racism and recruiting white coconspirators to join in antiracist work.
3. Study and Teach Representative History
No matter what subject you teach, history (including African American history, which is U.S. history) is important. Knowing our country's whole history helps us make sense of how our current education system perpetuates inequity.
4. Talk About Race with Students
To open up conversations with young people, use stories from history and literature as a starting point, and ask students to take on the perspective of a character about whom they are reading. Reading literature and role-playing enhance empathy and other social cognitive skills.
5. When You See Racism, Do Something
Most important, when we see racism—whether at the individual or policy level—we must have the courage to act. White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo provides guidance for engaging in gentle but firm conversations with offenders that prevents the defensiveness that race conversations inspire. (Simmons, 2019)
It is also important for adults to eliminate the taboo of talking about these important topics. Remove the “shhhs” and whispers around topics related to race, gender, religion, or family structure. If something is said that seems embarrassing, correct it, share facts, and ask questions. If you demonstrate that you are comfortable (even if inside you may not be), your children are more likely to be as well. (Roberts, 2020)
When children begin growing curious about the world around them, they usually look to their parents to explain. But, what if you honestly don’t know what to say? Benites says, “Parents need to know it’s okay not to know. It can be natural to want to have all the answers, but sometimes the best answer is, ‘I’m not sure. But let’s look into it and learn about it together.’” This way, you’re not just showing your children the importance of admitting when you’re uncertain about something, but also keeping the conversation moving forward in a positive direction. Additionally, it’s okay to return to a question if you don’t know what to say right away, Winkler says. There’s always time to loop back; we’ve never “missed the moment.”
Educators must recognize their students’ identities to avoid this. Christina Torres, who teaches seventh- and ninth-grade English, told Teaching Tolerance, “When I don’t consider intersectionality, I run the risk of oppressing my kids. When we stop seeing our kids as whole people—as nuanced people, with context to gender and race and class—we stop seeing them as real people.” This includes religion, too.
To my past educators who ignored my identities, aren’t I a whole person? (Asengua, 2019).
While I’m not suggesting that we start identifying people solely on race, I don’t think we have to fear it. Race is one of many facets that identify a person. We want to be aware. Not like comedian Stephen Colbert who says that he doesn’t see race, but people tell him he’s white and he believes them because police officers call him “sir.”
As a teacher, I have a lot to learn about the subject of race. Sometimes I’m afraid of how a conversation will sound, coming from a privileged white person. So I avoid it. At other times, I have wanted to skip immediately to the lesson for the day and ignore the students’ questions and ideas. But that is when I need to take a deep breath and be engaged. (Harris, 2012)
Racial Healing Handbook--Excerpt from The Racial Healing Handbook
You can see that becoming an antiracist is an ongoing practice and process, exactly opposite of color blindness. You want to be able to see and identify everything about racism. You want to know what your part in racism is. You continuously raise your race-consciousness. And you do this alongside a multitude of different types of people on the same journey. You expect the feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, rage, irritation, grief, and other emotions as you challenge racism, as we discussed in chapter 4.
White teachers must understand that there is a deep history of harm between children of color and the institution of schooling. Our schools have not done right by children of color; they have reproduced profound racial inequality. Our schools are vastly unequal. They are funded and staffed differently. Poor black children get the worst of the worst in those terms. The school-to-prison pipeline is a classic example of this; there's disparity in discipline rates, in who gets sent to special education, who gets expelled, and how we interpret curiosity versus disruption.
Parents of color are delivering their precious children into an institution that has consistently harmed them. White teachers need to understand that parents' distrust is rational and has been earned across history. Rather than demand trust, you need to earn it. You need to show them that you're different, not tell them that you're different. These parents are simply advocating for their children; find ways to work with them rather than refuse to engage with their fear and mistrust. (McKibbon, 2019)
Summer Institute on Education, Equity, and Justice: Uplifting Women & Girls of Color Through Antiracist Pedagogy, Practice, & Policy
American University's School of Education (SOE) is committed to equity and excellence in education. Our vision is to create meaningful impact by advocating for inclusive learning environments through our research, teaching, service and community outreach.
This year's theme is Uplifting Women and Girls of Color Through Antiracist Pedagogy, Practice, and Policies.
The institute's workshops, conducted by experts in the field, focus on educational, legal, and health implications for young people of color. Sessions are designed to change both mindsets and practices (i.e. alternatives to suspension/punishment; strategies to instill a culture of engagement). The overall goal of SIEEJ is to build a community of practice singularly focused on the strengths, challenges, and opportunities in the lives of young people of color and the communities in which they live.
Systemic racism affects every area of life in the US. From incarceration rates to predatory loans, and trying to solve these problems requires changes in major parts of our system. Here's a closer look at what systemic racism is, and how we can solve it.
Ultimately, words and books should not be the end of your child’s education about race and racism. “The best advice I can give parents is to be models for the attitudes, behavior and values that they wish to see in their children,” said Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. (Grose, 2020)
Milton Elementary School faculty participated in reflective circles after reading this article. Here are some questions we reflected on:
When are you most conscious of your race? Share an experience of being particularly conscious of your race.
- When are you most conscious of the race of others?
Is there a time where you avoided a question from a child about race or difference? If you could change your response, what would you say?
The purpose of The Antiracism Starter Kit is not to teach you the skills it takes to become antiracist. It is to help you navigate your next steps after answering the call to become antiracist. It is meant to be used as a blueprint as you find your own rhythm in this work that is sustainable and practice for how you learn as an individual. You should use the Starter Kit to guide your next steps as you explore education options to further your understanding of antiracism and what is expected of you. Read it thoroughly and revisit it often along your journey to see whether you’re in alignment with the goals you’ve set for yourself.
Below is a list of characteristics of white supremacy culture which show up in our organizations. Culture is powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify. The characteristics listed below are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. They are damaging to both people of color and to white people. Organizations that are people of color-led or a majority people of color can also demonstrate many damaging characteristics of white supremacy culture. (Jones & Okun, 2001)
In the meantime, skin color will continue to serve as the most obvious criterion in determining how a person will be evaluated and judged. In this country, because of deeply entrenched racism, we already know that dark skin is demonized and light skin wins the prize. And that occurs precisely because this country was built on principles of racism. It cannot be overstated that if racism didn’t exist, a discussion about varying skin hues would simply be a conversation about aesthetics. But that’s not the case. The privileging of light skin over dark is at the root of an ill known as colorism. (Tharps, 2016).
Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (from Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development, 2014). The first step in addressing microaggressions is to recognize when a microaggression has occurred and what message it may be sending. The context of the relationship and situation is critical. Below are common themes to which microaggressions attach.
To fight against systemic racism means to buck norms. Educators at every level must be willing to be uncomfortable in their struggle for black students, recognizing students’ power and feeding it by honoring their many contributions to our schools. Teachers need to insist on using their own power to consistently reveal and examine their practice, and seek input from black stakeholders; they must invite black parents to the table, listen to their concerns and ideas, and act on them. (McKamey, 2020)
What they do is never enough. This isn’t the time to circle up with other white people and discuss black pain in the abstract; it’s the time to acknowledge and examine the pain they’ve personally caused. Black people live and die every day under the burdens of a racism more insidious than the current virus that’s also disproportionately killing us. And yet white people tend to take a slow route to meaningful activism, locked in familiar patterns, seemingly uninterested in really advancing progress. (Johnson, 2020)
My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will. My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow "them" to be more like "us." (McIntosh, 1988)
To play a significant role, White teachers need to learn specific strategies of curriculum inclusion, culturally sensitive (relevant) pedagogy, and skills for promoting understanding, tolerance, friendship and respect for diversity in particular communities. Working in communities of color, White teachers need to hone these skills in close partnership with more experienced colleagues who have the community's best interests at heart. (King, 2000)
As a Black educator and instructional coach who has spent the past 10 years in the public education system, I have witnessed how white teachers and white students benefit from racism while many claim to not be a part of the problem. What is important to understand is that, at the very minimum, their presence is their privilege.
For white teachers of white students, conversations about race and racism live within an invisible cloak of privilege. From my perspective, it seems like many white people have adopted this idea of, “What we refuse to see, isn’t there, and if it is there, we simply do not need to discuss it because it doesn’t affect us.” But racism does affect them, it just affects them differently. How? Because they benefit from it. (Gross, undated)
Most people don’t want to confront their own implicit biases—the kind that drive unconscious discipline decisions, or class placement. “For a teacher, [implicit bias] might affect who gets suspended because ‘you need to be taught a lesson’ and who’s given a second chance because ‘all of us make mistakes,’” says Eskelsen García, “or who gets counseled into college-level courses and who gets tracked into remedial reading.”
Implicit bias also blinds us to institutional racism, “so that sometimes we don’t see what needs to be disrupted and dismantled,” she says. We have to seek the truth, see it, and talk about it—even if it is uncomfortable. And then we have to act. Information is fine, but “if it’s not a step to action, it doesn’t count.” (Flannery, 2019)
But Olsen Edwards, who also works as an anti-bias consultant for K-12 schools, likes to flip that last excuse on its head.
“Kids love to hear [that] bad things happen and people change it,” she said. “People can make injustice into justice. There are heroes — real heroes — in the world. ... And it’s that framework that makes it really useful to children.”
Dwayne Reed, a fifth-grade teacher in Chicago, said that as difficult as it may seem, educators need to have these conversations.
“Race and privilege and bias and prejudice — these are part of our life,” he said. “So, let’s talk about it.”
If you're willing to acknowledge that privilege exists, then it doesn't necessarily mean you should give up your advantages, but it does suggest you have the opportunity to help those who are disadvantaged. That could mean mentorship, sponsorship or advocacy on behalf of a Black employee to help them overcome certain obstacles when they are in -- and out of -- the room. It could also mean going as far as Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, who stepped down from the board of Reddit and urged the board to fill his seat with a Black candidate. (Pickett, 2020)
This article is mostly related to businesses and their systems but it the lessons are applicable to education. How might you embody these lessons in your practice or day-to-day interactions?