Which acts by educators are "racist" and which are "antiracist"? How can an educator constructively discuss complex issues of race with students and colleagues? In Everyday Antiracism, leading educators deal with the most challenging questions about race in school, offering invaluable and effective advice.
Contributors including Beverly Daniel Tatum, Sonia Nieto, and Pedro Noguera describe concrete ways to analyze classroom interactions that may or may not be "racial," deal with racial inequality and "diversity," and teach to high standards across racial lines. Topics range from using racial incidents as teachable moments and responding to the "n-word" to valuing students' home worlds, dealing daily with achievement gaps, and helping parents fight ethnic and racial misconceptions about their children. Questions following each essay prompt readers to examine and discuss everyday issues of race and opportunity in their own classrooms and schools.
For educators and parents determined to move beyond frustrations about race, Everyday Antiracism is an essential tool.
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Mica Pollock is an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. An anthropologist of education, she previously taught tenth grade and worked in the civil rights field. She is the author of Colormute and Because of Race. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Defining Everyday Antiracism
Everyday things represent the most overlooked knowledge.
Don DeLillo, 1997
To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.
George Orwell, 1946
For this book, I invited over sixty researchers, many of whom are former
teachers, to boil down their school-based research into knowledge usable for
K 12 classroom practice. I wanted each author to suggest a school-based action
educators could take, every day, to help counteract racial inequality and
racism in schools and society. We call these actions everyday antiracism.
This book is not designed to convince you that you intentionally harm children.
Instead, it is designed to get you thinking about how everyday actions
can harm children unintentionally. It is not designed to get you to ask, Am I a
bad person?” Instead, it is designed to get you to ask, Do my everyday acts
help promote a more equitable society?”
We collectively define racism” as any act that, even unwittingly, tolerates,
accepts, or reinforces racially unequal opportunities for children to learn and
thrive; allows racial inequalities in opportunity as if they are normal and acceptable;
or treats people of color as less worthy or less complex than white”
people. Many such acts taken in educational settings harm children of color,
or privilege and value some children or communities over others in racial
terms, without educators meaning to do this at all. That is why this book
zooms in on ordinary acts taken by educators on a daily basis, and focuses
proactively on suggestions for everyday antiracism. We not only show what
acts inside schools and classrooms perpetuate racial inequalities, but we suggest
alternative acts that can help to dismantle such inequalities instead.
Educational policies and outside” realities of health care, housing, and
family employment have huge effects on the opportunities the children in our
schools need and receive. Stereotypes and inaccuracies about race groups”
circulate in society at large. But inside schools, everyday acts matter, too. In
schools, people interact across racial lines, distribute opportunities moment
to moment, react to outside” opportunity structures, and shape how future
generations think about difference and equality. Interactions in educational
settings help build or dismantle racial achievement gaps.” To a student, one
action can change everything. Everyday acts explored in this book include
how we talk with our students and discipline them; the activities we set up for
them to do; the ways we frame and discuss communities in our curriculum;
and the ways we assign students to groups, grade their papers, interact with
their parents, and envision their futures. Few of the contributors to this book
see such actions as small potatoes” efforts. Rather, we propose that such antiracist
work helps remake social structure one bit at a time.
I acknowledge that the word antiracism” can have a negative cast, for it
implies that the educator is constantly fighting against and reacting to racial
inequality, rather than struggling more positively and proactively to equalize
opportunity and create an egalitarian society. It also can be heard as suggesting
that some people are racist” and others are not. Yet this book
frames dismantling racial inequality and pursuing racial equality as two
sides of the same collaborative undertaking. It also sets forth to counteract
racial inequality and racism in society, not just inside bad people.” The
word everyday” is also crucial: it suggests that educators can, and must,
help counter racial inequality and racism in society at routine moments of
the schooling experience.
Pursuing racially equal opportunity and counteracting racism on a daily basis
in our classrooms and schools requires more than being a great teacher of
a subject; it requires particularly hard thinking about our choices in complex
situations. In a society where racism and racial inequality already exist, it is often
hard to figure out which of our everyday activities are harmful to students
or others and which are helpful to them. Blanket advice to be colorblind” regarding
our students, to celebrate” their or others’ diversity, or to recognize”
their race” and our own is not that helpful in real life. In daily life, sometimes
educators’ being colorblind is quite harmful to young people, since they live
in a world that often treats them racially; sometimes a particular celebration
of diversity can be reductive and stereotypic; sometimes seeing a person primarily
as a member of a race” detracts from recognizing our common humanity.
Antiracist educators must constantly negotiate between two antiracist impulses
in deciding their everyday behaviors toward students: they must choose
between the antiracist impulse to treat all people as human beings rather than
racial group members, and the antiracist impulse to recognize people’s real experiences
as racial group members in order to assist them, understand their situation
better, and treat them equitably. I ask the reader to keep a basic
question in mind throughout the book. In your practice, when does treating
people as racial group members help them, and when does it harm them? This
core question ties this book together. Academics who write about racism and
antiracism in education often neglect to answer, or even consider, this basic
question. But in a world that has been organized for six centuries around bogus
biological categories invented in order to justify the unequal distribution of
life’s necessities, some antiracist activity refuses to categorize people racially.
Other antiracist activity recognizes people living as racial group members in order
to analyze and transform a racially unequal world.
In countless daily ways, teachers, administrators, and program directors
hoping to protect and assist young people must decide which acts counteract
racial inequality. This involves deciding whether and how to see, treat, or talk
about students, parents, colleagues, or others in racial terms. Some ways of
recognizing students as black” buoy them up with confidence; others trap
them in reductive or stigmatizing notions of what being black” means. Many
colleagues may not consider it relevant that they or their students are white”;
yet ignoring their lived experience as white” people can miss a major dimension
of their reality. Some ways of framing students as Latino” make Latino
students feel welcome and safe; others make them feel excluded or likely to
fail. Some framings in curriculum of parents as Asian” or a community as Indian”
can be deeply inaccurate, yet ignoring people’s experiences as Asians”
and Indians” can prevent recognition of their struggles and joys. Specific ways
of highlighting or downplaying our own racial-ethnic experiences or identities
in conversations with students or colleagues can be dangerous or useful.
Really, everyday antiracism requires both addressing people’s experiences
in the world as racial group members and refusing to distort people’s experiences,
thoughts, or abilities by seeing them only or falsely through a racial
lens. This applies when educators interact with students in classrooms, design
and discuss curriculum, interact with students’ families, or even think about
ourselves and our colleagues. Educators must analyze, concretely, when,
where, and how it helps to treat people as racial group members, and when,
where, and how it harms. Above all, educators must keep analyzing which of
our everyday actions counteract racial inequality and which do not.
All of us, then, suggest specific, concrete ways educators can help equalize
students’ academic and social opportunities to learn and thrive in K 12 educational
settings, and more generally combat racism and racial inequality from
within schools and classrooms. We differ in the methods we suggest to move
in that direction. Some of the authors here measure helping” as getting students
to achieve higher test scores; others measure helping” as getting students
to believe in their own potential to become scientists. Some measure
harming” as actions that cause students to doubt their abilities, to lower their
career aspirations, or even to despise themselves or others. Some authors
analyze the treatment of students of color in particular; many essays’ recommendations
can apply to schools and classrooms of any demographic composition.
Educators with a range of personal styles, in a variety of school
situations, will find different suggestions useful and compelling.
These essays focus on things to do in our schools and classrooms, rather
than just on ways to think differently about ourselves or others. Antiracist
practice requires the intermingling of actions and ideas. The contributors recognize
that being effective at countering racism and racial inequality requires
us to develop skills as well as commitment. Many educators say they enter the
field seeking to improve opportunities for all children but end up either frustrated
or failing at this task because they cannot figure out how to navigate
race issues while doing this. So, each essay in the book asks educators to rethink
their ordinary activities and to try doing something differently in everyday
life. I asked each author to boil her or his recommendation down to one
sentence that I have used in the introduction to each section, forcing us all to
pinpoint strategies and principles of everyday antiracism.
We assume that readers are committed to helping children to learn and
thrive. We do not assume that readers will accept or agree with our analyses
of how the everyday acts discussed here might help equalize opportunity for
children, or combat racism and racial inequality in society. I asked each author
to support each of his or her claims with research and personal experience. I
also asked each author to clarify claims about race” and racism.” Finally, and
perhaps most importantly, I asked each author to walk the educator through
the minefields or pitfalls educators might encounter if they take his or her advice.
Educators work in a world of ever-changing complexity; we expect that
readers will modify and rework these ideas for their own purposes and contexts.
In Suggestions for Using This Book,” I suggest that as you read and discuss
these essays, you seek to name antiracist principles: core ideas about how
to pursue racially equal opportunity and counteract racism from within
schools and classrooms. To get us started, let me propose four foundational
principles. Everyday antiracism in education involves
Rejecting false notions of human difference;
Acknowledging lived experiences shaped along racial lines;
Learning from diverse forms of knowledge and experience; and
Challenging systems of racial inequality.
First, everyday antiracism in education involves rejecting false notions of
human difference and actively treating people as equally worthy, complicated,
and capable. In educational settings, antiracism entails actively affirming that
no racially defined group is more or less intelligent than any other. We can tell
students that racial categories have no valid genetic basis. Through our curriculum
and in our everyday interactions, we can challenge oversimplified notions
about racial-ethnic identities or group behaviors. We can remember that
any race” group is composed of individuals who have complicated identities
Second, everyday antiracism in education involves acknowledging and engaging
lived experiences that do vary along racial lines. Genetically bogus
racial categories like white,” black,” and Asian” were built upon genetically
insignificant physical differences (hair, noses, and bone structures). Racialized
categories like Latino,” Native American,” and Arab” lump together people
from countless regions and, in some cases, people who speak totally different
languages. Still, over six centuries of American history and even now, people
have been lumped into ranked races” by others and forged solidarity along
racial-ethnic lines themselves as a means of social empowerment. The Irish
became white” in the nineteenth century, and Jews became white” in the
twentieth, to gain opportunity in a system that already favored whites” of
European descent. Lumped together as a race” to be enslaved by whites,”
Africans and their descendants in America simultaneously forged deep solidarity
as black” people. People from a variety of Asian origins made alliances
as Asian Americans” starting in the 1960s. Latinos” converged at that time
as well, voicing the plurality of their origins and the unity of their agendas.
Distinct tribes of Native Americans recognized common experiences of displacement
and forced assimilation. Arabs” have shared many U.S.-based experiences,
particularly in recent years. All such racial” groups in the United
States today bring different historic and contemporary experiences to the table,
and after several centuries of opportunities being distributed differentially
along racial lines, racial group members still have differential access to educational
resources and opportunities for success. Everyday antiracism entails
engaging our own and one another’s experiences as racial group members—
particularly of this differential treatment, whether we have benefited from it
or been sabotaged by it.
Third, everyday antiracism in education involves learning from diversity in
human experience, and valuing equally the knowledge and activity shared
within various groups.” As Cornel West wrote, for example, being black” today
can involve both experiencing stigmatization, particularly from whites,”
and enjoying a community that has bonded through expressive practices and
political resistance in the midst of oppression.1 Respecting such shared experiences
and knowledge also involves appreciating the critical lenses that members
of groups can offer—even as we highlight the diversity within groups and
emphasize each person’s individuality.
Fourth, everyday antiracism in education involves equipping ourselves and
others to challenge racial inequalities of opportunity and outcome, rather than
accepting racial disparities as normal.
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