5 Tips To Help Discuss (And Dismantle) Racism In The Classroom

In a powerful panel hosted by The Heinemann Fellows, authors Sara Ahmed, Sonja Cherry-Paul andCornelius Minor share their perspectives on racism and how to approach the topic in classrooms.

Here are some of the quotes that resonated with me, personally. To view the transcript in its entirety, click here.

1. Instead of saying everyone is ‘equal,’ talk about differences and why they matter.

“One way that we can define racism is going beyond this notion of racism being simply conscious hate. That it is individual acts of hatred or bullying. But to think about racism systemically and the ways in which it really is the fog over all of our lives, and making a list of those things.

For me, as an educator, racism looks like certain people’s stories being included in curriculum and in texts that we read, while others are being omitted. Racism looks like telling children of color or teaching children of color to celebrate and honor men, white men in particular, throughout history who were racist and oppressors.

Racism looks like teaching children that race doesn’t matter when in fact race does matter, to borrow from Dr. Cornell West.

When we teach kids these sort of canned narratives that race doesn’t matter, we’re all the same, we’re all equal, there really needs to be a paradigm shift where we’re teaching our children race does matter in this society. It shouldn’t, but it does.”

— Sonja Cerry-Paul

Love this. I think this is something we overlook so often in our classrooms. We think that by labeling everyone as ‘equal’ it’s removing the barriers, when it actuality it’s diminishing and writing off some students’ experience. In the classroom it’s not about making everyone the same, but celebrating differences.

2. Encourage all races to be accountable for the repercussions and effects of racism.

“Racism isn’t something that was created by people of color. It isn’t something that is perpetuated by people of color. It isn’t something that people of color benefit from.

When I think about solutions to racism, people of color can’t be the only folks doing the work. It has to be white folks doing the work.”

— Cornelius Minor

Another powerful reminder for me. Reminding students, of every race and color, that we all play a role in racism is important and necessary.

3. Help people see both their truths and the truths of others.

“One of those ways to just begin a difficult conversation is to say ‘I know my truths. I know my experience as truth, but I have to be accepting and understanding and listening to the experience of others. Also take those as truth.’ Your lived experience is also a truth, just as mine is. And until we can even do that, we won’t get passed a lot of that barrier, or a lot of that silence.”

— Sara Ahmed

There is no universal truth. One person may see something one way, and another will see it very opposite. Helping students bridge these gaps and see other perspectives is the only way to dismantle racism in the classroom.

5. Encourage responsibility for all.

“I think the onus is on all of us to do this work. We need to make sure that brown and black voices are heard and that they are at the center of that. But we also need white folks to educate themselves and to learn what they need to do to partner with everyone around them to tackle this problem and not just rely on the people who happen to be affected by it.”

— Sonja Cerry-Paul

Racism is not one person’s/one group’s problem; it is a problem for everyone. Once we start understanding others’ perspectives, ideas, feelings, etc. then we can create more unity, rather than divide.

6. Celebrate the difficult conversations instead of fearing them.

“To look at these conversations as hard conversations is one thing, but to look at these conversations that are going to solidify friendships, to look at these conversations that are going to strengthen professional bonds, to look at these conversations and say these are conversations that are going to sharpen my abilities to teach kids, I think that’s the win.”

— Cornelius Minor

I love this quote; it’s a great reminder that though conversations like this may be hard, in actuality, they are conversations that will strengthen – whether in a classroom setting or the real world. Instead of fearing these types of discussions, we should welcome them, as they change us and bring us together.

Photo Credit: Alexis Brown

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