After white educators begin to educate themselves about the history of racism and embark on their journeys toward anti-racism it is not only appropriate, but necessary to teach students about anti-racism. In the literacy classroom, this looks like incorporating stories about the histories of racism and helping students look in the mirror at ways that race presents in their lives.
As an educator, you have likely embarked on a journey toward anti-racism. Once you’ve educated yourself on the history of racism, it’s time to help your students discover how race enacts in their lives. Not sure how? Keep reading to find out!
Why Teach Anti-Racism?
First, why teach anti-racism? Well, Alvarez et al. (2016) pointed out how schools are rife with race-based traumas for students of color, yet teachers do little to stop it. Anti-racism will not occur naturally. In fact, according to New York Times (2020), kids can start experiencing their own racially biased thoughts between 2 and 4. I have a book for my baby called “Anti-Racist Baby” by Ibram X Kendi, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky. The very first page of the book states, “Anti-racist baby is bred not born. Anti-racist baby is raised to make society transform.” One of the most relevant of the nine tenets of anti-racist babies to the topic of anti-racist students in your classroom is number 2, “Use your words to talk about race. No one will see racism if we only stay silent. If we don’t name racism, it won’t stop being so violent.” This tenet is a great place to start. Begin by naming racism.
Naming Racism with Literacy Instruction
In the literacy realm, particularly with adolescents, begin with stories that help students see how race is a central factor in our daily lives, no matter what color we are. For younger children, one such book is “Not My Idea” by Anastasia Higginbotham. Older students may be comfortable reading a seminal article by Peggy McIntosh, written in 1990 titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
After you read those stories, consider assigning all students a self-study. For a self-study, students should attend to each time they make an assumption about another person. They can develop a list of those incidents. In class, you can support them in writing through the root of that assumption all the way through to its possible consequences.
Then, do work with students to develop alternatives to their assumptions and solutions. These often take the form of learning more about people to discredit assumptions.
Center Stories of Color
Next, always practice centering the stories of people of color. Help students learn the history of racism as well as the normal everyday lives of people of color. The goal with centering stories of racialized others is to move away from the traumatizing practice of misrepresentation of people of color in schools. Students need to learn the sociopolitical history of racism, particularly its entrenchment in our laws, to truly grasp how contrived, pervasive, and deliberate racism is. A great book for this endeavor is “Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Also, consider sharing with older students the second episode of the podcast “Nice White Parents.” (Listen to the whole podcast if you can.) After the history lesson, they need to have their assumptions disproven with normalized representations of people of color in stories. Centering stories of people of color should be a daily practice.
After the self-study and deliberate instruction in the history of racism, do a thought exercise with students. Have them compare their previous understanding of what race is and how it functions in their lives with their new understanding. Who is responsible for racism? How can they act in anti-racist ways? Make sure this work is ongoing and a central tenet of how you teach.
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.