Anti-Racist Teaching Practices – Blog Part 1

My grandparents were both born in the 1920’s South where racism ran and currently still runs rampant in the streets and institutions of what is falsely called “The land of the free and the home of the brave.” And yet here we are, in 2020, still talking about racism in America. 

I do not have to tell you nor remind you of what ails America, nor do I have to remind you of the protests, the verdicts, the unrest. But what I do want to point out is that all of the aforementioned occurrences are sheer reactions to a broken justice system. Now our system, the educational system is just as broken. It may not be causing bodily harm to our students, but we, the educators, the leaders of this campus have said something, assigned an assignment or exam, or implemented a process/procedure that has created institutional barriers which prohibit our students from being their magnificent selves in the classroom, therefore truncating their growth and development as young men and women. We need to fix that; we need to fix us; we need to fix our classrooms. We need to fight for educational freedom. We need to change!

Bettina Love in her book, We Want to do More than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom defines abolitionist teaching as “choosing to engage in the struggle for educational justice knowing that you have the ability and human right to refuse oppression and refuse to oppress others, mainly your student” (11). She goes even further as to claim “Abolitionist teaching asks educators to acknowledge and accept America and its politics as anti-Black, racist, discriminatory, and unjust and to be in solidarity with dark folx and poor folx fighting for their humanity and fighting to move beyond surviving” (12). I want to point out that Love is calling all of us as educators to become abolitionists and set the minds of our students free in order to thrive and not merely survive. This will in turn set their bodies free – free to bring their full authentic selves to the classroom and to discussions in class. The great abolitionists both recognized and not put their lives on the line to ensure that those who were enslaved both mentally and physically were freed from a system that sought to hold them captive for the rest of their lives and the rest of the lives of generations after them. And we need to be emboldened and empowered to liberate our students from unclear graduation pathways, unclear and unrealistic assignment/exam requirements, antiquated classroom pedagogy and methodologies, and faculty and staff who make generalizations and tiny racist comments of our colleagues. We can make the change!

It is quite evident from the verdicts in the courts, the protests in the streets, the bodies in the streets that we have not been freed from the institution of racism that has plagued this country from its founding. It is evident when we continue to teach material in class that is not representative of our minority majority serving campus. It is evident when we facilitate discussions in class that empower and embolden the oppressive viewpoints of a few while harming the many. I know some of you who are reading this belong to ally groups both visible and invisible, and I thank you because we need your voices, support, and love. I know some of you belong to task forces, working groups, councils, and other leadership positions that are trying to work to see some of these systems dismantled and replaced with good meaning policies and procedures. So please, keep working, keep pushing, keep fighting. But have we seen anything change? Any real change? Any long lasting change? Love puts it best when she says “[We] must move beyond feel-good language and gimmicks to help educators understand and recognize America and its schools as spaces of Whiteness, White rage, and White supremacy, all of which function to terrorize students of color” (13). If you disagree with that sentence, I beg you to really listen to the responses of our colleagues as they respond to discussions of racism and students of color in meetings and FLEX sessions. Read between the lines of what is not written in email threads. Read what is on their syllabi. Look at the work that has not been done. 

As a campus, department, discipline, and district, now is our time to show our students and the students after them, and the students after them that they matter. We have the people in place, the money in place, the training in place to really transform RCC in the name of Educational Social Justice. We can do it, so lets do it!

I leave you with these questions as we start thinking about Ant-Racist Practices and Pedagogy:

  1. Is there racism in the educational system? 
  2. What is your definition of Anti- racist teaching or abolitionist teaching?
  3. Do you take into consideration students’ race or even your own when you enter a classroom?
  4. Why would educators be resistant to making changes in order to implement culturally relevant texts and pedagogy?
  5. Why are we still talking about race and racism in 2020?
  6. Bonus question (do not respond in blog). What are some biases, prejudices,  preferences, fears that you’ve had to admit you have as you’ve worked with faculty,  staff,  and students? 

This is Part 1 of a post on anti-racist teaching practices. To read Part 2, click here.

6 thoughts on “Anti-Racist Teaching Practices – Blog Part 1

  1. Janelle Arafiles

    Hello friend,
    Thank you for your thoughtful post and introduction to Love’s work. Even if one were to read those citations without regard for Love as a name by as a noun, I feel those statements would still ring true. Love calls us to be abolitionists for our students to thrive.
    This week, my 1A students are discussing Teju Cole’s work, “Black Body,” and it’s quite uncomfortable and confusing for them (we’re still working on being able to understand the entire picture, but we’re getting there with guidance). Beyond seeing the essay as a statement regarding the unfairness of judging one by their skin color, they are unsure of how to respond to Cole’s provocation: “What now?” Honestly, I think it’s something a lot of us are still trying to answer. What do we do now?
    The educational system is broken in more ways than one. Racism is alive and well. And as Cole puts it, has donned an “impressive camouflage.” I was brought up in the public educational system that bred the ideals that America is a melting pot — a place where we celebrate what makes us different, but also blend together in a way that the rest of the world doesn’t get to experience. I’ve felt some truth to that, but it’s not enough to cultivate freedom and reparation.
    I think a lot of educators refrain from integrating culturally relevant texts for fear of ruffling feathers. Differences can make people uncomfortable or contest what they were raised to believe. However, I think that’s the beauty of the collegiate experience. We have the opportunity to celebrate what makes us different and provoke a new, broader, and more intentionally kinder way of thinking. Broaching these subjects requires love for the individuals we serve and partnership for change.
    Humans don’t like change. It’s an uncomfortable process that requires real work and accountability. As George Santayana put it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Just as one would model proper methodologies for their class, we must model what real change looks like if we ever expect to see a break in the cycle. Just as conflict resolution in the home can make for an uncomfortable discussion, it’s the only way healing and strengthening of relationships can begin.

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    1. Hi Janelle,

      I appreciate what you mention about the fear of integrating culturally relevant texts. I think this is one reason why it’s so important for us to integrate such texts in this environment. You’re absolutely right that the beauty of the collegiate experience is that we get to broach these subjects while also creating a “safe space” for discussion, questioning, and eventually, change.

      My cousin just mentioned an article he read about all the banned books in the k-12 system. It makes me wonder how much students have missed out on because certain voices and experiences are considered controversial or “feather rufflers.” Now, I realize that some of those texts may not be appropriate for certain ages, so isn’t that even more of a reason to introduce them here in college? I mean, if not now, then when? If not here, then where?

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Audrey H.

    Thank you, Profhomegirl, for your post this month. I found myself focusing on your point about broken systems and the current system we are facing in higher education. Last month, I attended an A2MEND conference where Joyce DeGruy reminded the audience that the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. When we look at the history of the educational system, and its initial goals to serve young, white males for leadership roles (Giroux, 2018), it is no surprise to see the system still producing similar imbalanced results in a modern context. One can simply look at the data on Black and LatinX students and observe the ways the system has maintained its barriers by functioning in the same way to produce the same results. Add to that the emboldened expressions of white supremacist ideologies and discourses of prejudice, distrust of evidence-based scientific processes, and erasure of historical memory and marginalized voices. All contribute to the underlying structure of higher education contexts as a reflection of a larger macro-structure of oppression.

    However, this is not to say change cannot occur, but systems theory posits that a system functions towards its purpose when each unit within the system (in this context, faculty) serve to either uphold the system’s purpose or radically alter it. In this way, it seems to come down to changing hearts, especially from those who have privileges in the system that allow them to be largely unaffected by it. I am reminded of a sports coach on ESPN last month who quoted Benjamin Franklin as saying, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

    In this context, one way change can happen is through radical self-reflection, honesty, and humility. If I want to change the classroom, I have to change myself. I have to be honest with myself, acknowledging the blind spots created by my own racial positionality as a white instructor, and work diligently to listen, sit down, and take notes, or as Tim Wise says, practice “followship” in addition to “allyship.” For me, this has meant constant interrogation of my assumptions, a concentrated effort to research and inform myself of real history and truth, and time spent engaging with voices different from my own in order to cultivate understanding, compassion, and knowledge of the ways I can alter my role in this system to contribute to a radically altered purpose.

    Giroux, H. A. (2019). Authoritarianism and the challenge of higher education in the age of Trump. Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education, 18(1), 6–25.

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  3. Pingback: Anti-Racist Teaching Practices – Part 2 – Composing Possibilities

  4. Wendy L. Silva

    Thank you, Profhomegirl, for this much needed call to action. I have only recently begun thinking about abolitionism in the scope of today, and I’m really taken by the idea of abolition in the classroom. It makes me think concretely about what I want to abolish in my classroom, what I want to abolish in ALL classrooms, and what type of power it would take to enforce this kind of radical abolition. As Audrey mentioned, this is a super difficult task because of how all the moving parts within a system are meant to uphold the system. It makes me anxious to think I’m contributing to continuing racism or sexism or classism at the institutional level, but in reality, we all are, to a certain degree. However, I truly believe that changing the culture within a system is a great first step towards dismantling. For example, how can we hold our instructors and ourselves accountable for, say, committing racial microaggressions (aka racial abuse)? We need to develop a culture where that kind of behavior is completely unacceptable and shameful, and I think our discipline, at RCC at least, is moving in that direction, but how do we get the rest of the college on board? How do we get other college on board?

    For your 4th question, when I was working at the Community College of Aurora in Colorado, I witnessed this resistance firsthand, to the degree that I’d come from equity trainings fuming, ready to fight someone (and I’ve never fought anyone in my life!). I think there are a lot of reasons for resistance to anti-racist work, but a few I witnessed firsthand while helping to facilitate semester long equity trainings include 1) egos and insecurities, the idea that asking someone to change means we are telling them they are doing a bad job (white fragility goes with this…I saw several tears from white faculty when asked to reflect on their own practices) 2) not willing to accept that there is a lot they don’t know 3) entitlement 4) white supremacy. The last one is particularly powerful because even saying it exists in higher ed. spaces puts people on the defense. But it is there and it has always been there. Whiteness has shaped what is normal in higher ed., what is “right.” So for me, your idea of abolition ties directly to abolishing white supremacy in our classrooms because unless we are willing to make BIG changes, as a united front, (which will ALWAYS be met with resistance) our students will suffer, and honestly, so will we, because white supremacy harms us all.

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  5. robhyers

    Thank you so much for this post and conversation; it’s so important. And thank you all for the earlier antiracist posts and responses as well; I don’t know about anyone else, but while reading them has been amazing and helpful to my practice, the time necessary to construct adequate responses, for me anyway, has been stolen by the new demands of online learning. I have carved out myself a little time to write this one.

    I want to try to think about questions 1 and 2 together because I feel they are related and I want to explore them specifically within the realm of college writing. Education by definition, has to be racist, because its purpose is to reproduce the social relations needed for capitalism to continue which not only consist of class but also of racial inequalities. If we think about higher education, I think one of the facets of racism that persists can be illuminated if we think about what our purpose was traditionally for most of the twentieth century. In California, as what Mike Davis calls a “warfare/welfare” state, higher education was highly subsidized in order to create all of the necessary elements (scientists, technicians, professors, managers etc) which could rival the Soviet Union to win the Cold War. This system also worked well with the Keynesian view of economics, which believed that, in order to smooth out the bumps of capitalism, workers needed to have enough money in their pockets to also be consumers above and beyond what was necessary for survival. Of course, this welfare state was, as Robin D.G. Kelley argues “a whites only welfare state” where surplus from all workers was redirected to create a route for only white workers to enter the middle class. So essentially, you end up with a higher education system which values white bourgeois formations and expressions of knowledge above all else.

    These conditions no longer exist and we no longer have a majority of white students in our seats. But we are still acting like our mission is the same, but rather than reproducing a white middle class, we are now invested in (and the state with its new formulations are disciplining us to) expanding the Black and Latinx middle classes who can survive internalizing and/or miming those white bourgeois formations and expressions of knowledge. To me, this is one of the ways in which higher education is racist, and one in which we can control by reflecting on and changing our standards to value other formations and expressions of knowledge, and thinking about, in a real way, what our new role for society should be in the twenty-first century. This then would look, to me, like abolition teaching, in the tradition of Du Bois’ “abolition democracy.”

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