In early 2020 we wrote a blog post in response to George Floyd’s death and police violence towards Black Americans (ie: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, etc). As we head towards a new school year, we want to support educators in creating intentional spaces for students and community members to engage more meaningfully in discussions about race and racism. 

Why is it important to more openly discuss race? Data shows that the majority of students in public schools are non-white, and teacher diversity remains stagnant. Of the 3.3 million teachers in the U.S. public school system in 2011, 84% were white. This means that many students and teachers are having different lived experiences because of their race. 

If we do not acknowledge racism with students, we essentially choose to ignore the pervasiveness of racist systems and ideologies. This denies the lived experiences of students of color, and implicitly suggests that their identities are taboo subjects that are not allowed to be discussed. A critical first step in creating an antiracist classroom – and an antiracist society writ large – is being willing to grapple with these topics constructively. 

Developing racial awareness within ourselves as educators and among our students can help us consider how our curriculum and pedagogy might promote a more equitable society and build stronger relationships between educators and students.

“The notion of care is the root of racial proficiency. I want to know who you are. You’re not fully caring for kids if you don’t know them. So race is something that we talk about. Culture is something that we talk about. Understanding that difference is an amazing, powerful plus that, if we nurture it, makes us all smarter than we can be separately.” – Melinda Anderson, When Educators Understand Race and Racism, Teaching Tolerance

Not only can educators use printed texts, but speeches, music, podcasts, and interviews can be highly engaging, accessible components of your lessons. Audio can humanize stories, encourage students to engage emotionally, and help to build empathy by celebrating many voices, languages, and cultures. Read more about the use of audio and find relevant examples in this Edutopia article: Using Sound Texts in Antiracist Teaching

Using high quality resources from Teaching Tolerance and The National Museum of African American History and Culture, we have curated a set of resources to help with raising racial consciousness among teachers and students.

Race, Culture, & Racial Identity 

In order to talk about race, we need to understand the history of race and the differences between race and culture. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a wonderful resource for definitions and teaching ideas. 

Teachers can explore with students how race is a social construct. 

  • What does that mean?
  • How does race shape your identity and your lived experience?

Listenwise offers stories that can spark discussions, and students can share their own personal experiences:

ASCD offers helpful resources for structuring conversations on race.

Bias (Examining Implicit & Explicit Bias) 

“Bias, (as defined by the National Museum of African American History and Culture), is a preference in favor of – or against – a person, group of people, or thing. These initial human reactions, which are often unconscious, are rooted in inaccurate information or reason and are potentially harmful.” 

It’s important to understand racial misconceptions, falsehoods, stereotypes, and unexamined biases. These questions from us and NMAAHC offer a helpful guide:

  • What are some of your own biases – positive or negative – that you are aware of?
  • How might our biases towards others affect how we shape our own lives?
  • How can students become aware of their implicit biases?

These Listenwise podcasts can also help teachers and students investigate such questions:

Systems of Oppression (Exploring Power) 

According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, oppression is “a combination of prejudice and institutional power that creates a system of discrimination against some groups, while benefiting other groups.” Systemic racism is a prominent example of a system of oppression, as there are numerous policies and institutions that reinforce discrimination towards people of color. A good place to start is to define and understand individual, interpersonal, institutional and systemic racism.

In order to understand more about contemporary issues related to systemic racism, we must understand the historical context and the intersectionality of various systems of oppression.  (You might invite students to explore what intersectionality is.) Understanding history, oppression, and racism can provide important context for discussing today’s current events. 

Here are some questions to consider in exploring these ideas: 

  • What are some examples of the powers and the privileges that systems of oppression  (i.e., systemic racism) grant to certain groups? 
  • How can those with power and privilege help to dismantle systems of oppression? 

These Listenwise stories can provide springboards for discussing systemic racism with students: 

Shaping an Anti-Racist Classroom 

In order to cultivate an equitable, antiracist society, it is critical that educators intentionally and actively confront racism in their classroom. As you review your curriculum, consider ways to weave in these important threads throughout the year, and ways to expand your curriculum where needed. Keep an eye out for future Listenwise current events to help you address these topics with your students. There are always more resources to explore and more topics to learn about in the ongoing work of being an antiracist educator.

“Being an antiracist educator – understanding racism and its roots, questioning our own privilege and biases, and slowly dismantling those systems and beliefs internally and in our schools – is a life-long process.” (The Urgent Need for Anti-Racist Education)

Look for an upcoming blog post on incorporating Listenwise podcasts into anti-racist curriculum.