Anti-Racist Teaching Practices – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a post on anti-racist teaching practices. See the first post here.

My three friends and colleagues Dr. Kelly Douglass, Dr. Jan Andres, and Carolyn Rosales were gracious and brave enough to partner with me on this important venture. Here are their wonderful and powerful contributions to the blog.

Dr. Kelly Douglass, Ph.D

“We have come across faculty who resist examining the quality of classroom interactions between themselves and students who are not white by claiming that it is not their prerogative to assign identities to students” (McNair et al. 33).

Anti-racist and culturally responsive pedagogy teaches us that we must build trust with our students. If I am not considering the racial dynamics of my classroom interactions, then I am already not being trustworthy about what is happening in my classroom. Doing this is not “assigning identities to students;” it is acknowledging identities, those assigned and those claimed.

McNair et al.’s From Equity Talk to Equity Walk has me asking where I have been an obstacle to equity-minded solutions. To paraphrase Chana Joffe-Walt in the podcast, Nice White Parents, white parents in school systems aren’t asked to explain their behavior as a group in the way that parents and students of color are; they are allowed to make choices assumed to be individual and separate from systems. What choices, what policies, what attitudes have I, a nice white professor, adopted from educational systems that for too long have simply tolerated inequitable outcomes for Black and Latinx students?

Undoing this means that is not a rhetorical question. It means looking for what actually is getting in the way of students succeeding — reading about student needs, looking at college data and surveys, reading and talking about how to teach and grade differently, listening to MY students right now. I am the subject matter expert, but I am not the expert on the lives of students. What are my students telling me about how they need me to show up for them? What can I do to answer them? What could I do? What am I still tolerating if I don’t hear them and act?

Carolyn Rosales

In, How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi recalls witnessing various examples of racist abuse as a child, and describes one incident when a Black girl in his class was once again ignored by the teacher in favor of a White student. Kendi writes about how his fury and sadness welled up within his young body. With no other outlet for his emotions, he acted out, refusing direct orders from his teachers, and choosing instead to sit still and process the racist abuse he had just witnessed. In retrospect, Kendi wonders how the teachers would have responded if he had been a White student. Would they have sat with him and talked through his feelings rather than “chalked up [his] resistance to [his] Blackness and therefore categorized it as misbehavior, not distress” (48)

I had to pause here as a reader and ask myself: What would I have done in that same situation? But perhaps a better question that we can ask ourselves, is: What have I actually done in similar situations? After pondering this question and taking a very painful inventory of my successes and failures, I couldn’t help but wonder: if we don’t take the time to really look at our own shortcomings in our efforts to develop antiracist pedagogy, will we ever really get there?

We can talk all we want to about being equitable and antiracist, but until we are actually being antiracist, then we are not moving forward. And by not moving forward, we are damaging the voices and spirits of our students through our non-actions.

Dr. Jan Andres, Ph.D

“[T]here is no neutrality in the racism struggle, writes Kendi. “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist” (9). As teachers, this means that doing nothing is not an option, not when our students of color are fighting for their humanity. One cannot be antiracist without action.

For antiracist educators, action is not just about classroom practice but, crucially, how it translates outside the institution and into our communities. Kendi himself concludes that “educating for the sake of changing minds” is not enough – changing policy becomes his aim (230-31). In teaching, we can “channel… students’ energy against the very social conditions that undermine their existence” (Camangian 30). Encouraging our students to act – that’s the goal. And it’s not just about helping our students succeed academically or helping them develop the tools to recognize and fight injustices that threaten their survival and wellbeing – part of our work needs to be fighting alongside them, too. 

Here’s a small action that’s helped me remember the work that needs to be done outside my classroom. I’m teaching American literature, and partly because it’s a new class but also because these works, written by and about BIPOC and immigrants, are so relevant to our present, I’ve asked my students to write how the literature informs their day-to-day as citizens and humans. My students recognize their world through this literature; they are disappointed, angry, and scared that we are seeing these same injustices today. But they are also, it turns out, committed to change. Asking them to reflect is not enough on its own, but it’s a reminder that my students and I are fighting the same fights, and a reminder to keep working towards policy change while building mutual aid and collective care at RCC and beyond.

How are you fighting for your students in and out of the classroom? What are you doing in the classroom to prepare your students to change the world around them into a place they can thrive? 

As you continue to engage with us over these next few weeks, please take the time to read over both part 1 and 2 of the blog and really internalize what we are saying and what we are asking you to do. We are asking you to transform and not simply change.

2 thoughts on “Anti-Racist Teaching Practices – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Anti-Racist Teaching Practices – Blog Part 1 – Composing Possibilities

  2. Wendy L. Silva

    Thank you, all three of you, for such thought-provoking posts. Kelly and Carolyn, I appreciate your willingness to investigate your own practices to such degrees. Carolyn, I too remember that anecdote in Dr. Kendi’s book and can remember a few specific instances where I know I did not respond to similar situations in anti-racist ways, contributing to the problem. I think back to policies I had, like no late work allowed, or attendance policies that only allowed students a certain amount of absences before failing, and it honestly makes me feel ashamed, and sick to my stomach. How many students did those racist and capitalist policies of mine turn students away from education, from their ticket to success and, ultimately, wealth? These experiences can haunt me, but I use that to fuel my reflections today because I understand, now, the power and privilege I have as an instructor. I understand that my actions, my words, my policies, all make an impact.

    While participating in EILA (Equity and Instruction Leadership Academy) for a year, we did a syllabus deconstruction activity. And by deconstruction, I mean we ripped our syllabi apart, word for word. We were tasked with thinking about who are syllabi were asking students to become, what tone we were implementing, why, what the impact of that tone was, where we had deficit language vs. assent language, what policies of ours were inequitable, racist and classist, and what experience we thought our students were having by reading our syllabus. I overhauled my entire syllabus that year. I continue asking myself these questions as I prepare for each semester, and every time, I change something, because I know I’m still growing and learning too. I give myself permission to find my mistakes and learn from them, and I’m sure there are plenty of mistakes I am still making. I can always do better.

    Jan, I really love what you said about encouraging our students to act. I use Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” as the foundational text for my ENG 1A class because I want them to think about the damage silence can do, and the urgency of speaking out and doing something. I know with covid, options are very limited, but I’d really like to think more about how action can play a bigger role in my class, in my assignments, and in our classroom community. Do you have any activities that encourage action from your students? Higher ed. can sometimes feel like an endless conversation that goes nowhere, so I’m ready think about how my classes can, collectively, DO something to push for change. I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to find a way.

    Liked by 1 person

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