Antiracism in Education
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
In response to the recent tragedies that sparked global attention to racial inequality in our country, we asked Henry Turner to write this very important two-part guest post to help us learn and process. We know that this is not an easy topic for anyone to address. It requires that we are vulnerable and accept that we will feel uncomfortable along the way. However, as evolving learners, we stay committed to learning from kids, peers, and the world to be better. Better educators, better parents, better humans.
Guest Post by Henry Turner
Throughout the United States, there has become a rise of racial consciousness after the murders of Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks. Recent polls have demonstrated the recent rapid increase of white Americans identifying police violence against black people as a serious issue. Also, it appears, at least based on my Twitter and Instagram feeds, that many more white educators have become more aware of the systemic racism that exists in our schools, and they are now calling for antiracist education.
While I am energized by the commitment of so many white educators to stand up against racism, I worry that too many of them will move too quickly to act. For many, it seems as if they have entered a competition to prove who can be the most antiracist educator right now. At this rate, the term antiracist will get watered-down and become jargon, as so many other words in our education world. This term is too vital for it to be watered down. Furthermore, this sense of urgency to act among white educators reinforces white supremacy culture and will most likely reinforce racist systems and structures in our schools.
Understandably, many educators who are just entering this work towards antiracism are feeling the pressure to change quickly. But before they dive into action, these educators must better understand the definition of antiracism and reflect on their own contribution to hold up the systemic racism in our schools.
This post will share some thoughts on how the definition of antiracism connects within our classrooms and share some initial steps that educators can take as they look within.
What is an antiracist educator?
In his most recent book, How to Be an Antiracist, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi defines an antiracist in the following way:
The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist’.
To push how on how this definition impacts our work as educators consider this comparison:
One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. - Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
Furthermore, as antiracists, educators demonstrate this belief when:
Students of color know that we care about them.
Students of color know that our expectations of them are high.
Educators honor the individual cultures of students and not force them to conform.
Educators design instructional practices to meet the diverse needs of our students.
One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist. - Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. - Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
Learn and Reflect
Antiracist educators look to address one’s contributions to racism and dismantle the racist systems that exist in their school. Dr. Shawn Ginwright explains that addressing racial inequity requires individual responses that can be scaled to the organizational level. We need to do our individual work around antiracism to fix our racist systems and structures.
The best way to approach this work, in my opinion, is to follow the cycle of learn/read-reflect-take action. In line with the Learner Cycle of Inquiry framework described in Evolving Learner, following this cycle will allow educators to continuously grow in their antiracist work. Through this process, we can learn how to incorporate effective antiracist and culturally responsive practices. When we jump directly into action, we run the risk of harming students of color and reinforcing the inequitable structures we seek to dismantle.
Therefore, before educators jump into action next school year, they should spend the summer in deep reflection. They should check out resources such as How to Be an Antiracist, So you Want to Talk about Race, 13th, and Dena Simmons’s TED Talk. Most importantly, they should use these resources to reflect on their practice.
Questions to consider as you reflect: