Let’s admit it. Talking about racism is tough. In fact, most people would rather avoid the conversation entirely to prevent potential offense, relationship damage and, in the most severe cases, lawsuits. Unfortunately, educators have also succumbed to ignoring the topic out of understandable fear of administrative and parental backlash. This means many teachers forfeit the opportunity to inform students about racism and some educators worry that students may endure emotional harm because of this.
Educators should be brave. They must be willing to carefully frame curricula to include racism and its history to shed light on its lingering impact today. This can be accomplished by infusing the idea of anti-racism whenever possible and appropriate. Ignoring racist ideologies does more harm for posterity than addressing the issue. Thus, working through the deep hurt, healing from it and practicing anti-racism is integral in today’s classroom.
So, what is anti-racism and how can it be taught? Anti-racism is the practice of opposing racism and promoting racial equity. Teaching this in the classroom can feel like a challenge at first, but it can improve with fidelity. The genesis of this lesson can start with a question of what racism is, how it originated and how it still impacts society today. Creating a safe space in the classroom to have these discussions can allow students to think critically, formulate questions and initiate their own research.
After anti-racism discussions, educators can maintain the lesson by developing agreements to encourage students and hold them accountable for anti-racism practices and attitudes within the classroom. Here are some ideas:
- Agreement 1: Admit, address and eliminate bias. We all have biases based on our upbringing, personal experiences, media influences and more. Discuss how these biases impact interactions with others and what the consequences are if these biases continue to manifest. Don’t be afraid to answer questions from students and finish conversations.
- Agreement 2: Absolutely no racial generalizations or stereotypes. Lead by example and use anti-racism language in the classroom.
- Agreement 3: Find ways to learn about all races and highlight their contributions to society. Students can take time to research contributions by different cultures and read more fiction and non-fiction texts that does not contribute to current stereotypes.
- Agreement 4: No comparing and contrasting the struggles that different groups of people have experienced. Comparing one tragedy to another maximizes the pain of one while minimizing the other. No one is in a position to minimize someone else’s trauma. This also opens the door to superior and inferior ideologies, which is the perfect incubator for racism.
- Agreement 5: No racial slurs of any kind. Racial slurs have all come from a place of hate. Using a racial slur can be harmful even if it is intended as a term of endearment. Always be mindful of the environment and note that words matter.
- Agreement 6: Get involved in racial equity. There are always initiatives that classrooms can get involved in on a local, state or national level. If not, the class can create their own.
Teaching anti-racism is no easy feat, but it’s a worthwhile effort that is necessary to create a generation that values diversity and equity. Healing can start in a classroom.
Explore more ways to elevate your teaching practice by enrolling in a fully online education program at American College of Education. You can even start by taking just one course.