Teaching Profession Opinion

Conversation Can Be Radical: Make Space for Discussions About Race

By Christina Torres — July 22, 2016 4 min read
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Earlier this week, there was some interesting dialogue in the “Twitterverse” around the possibility of discussing race and racism in an #edchat discussion. Patrick Larkin does a great write-up on his blog, which I encourage you to check out before you read on.

The discussion led me to two thoughts:

1. The questions José asks when he had an impromptu #educolor chat are essential questions that we should all be asking ourselves as educators. I encourage all teachers-- including those who think they are already addressing issues of race and racism in their classrooms-- to take a moment to sit with these questions before entering the next school year. I know I will (I’ll post the questions and the storify Patrick put together at the end of this post).

2. Here’s the other thing I loved about what José did that evening, and does with #educolor/@educolormvmt/EduColor in general: When José felt a conversation about race needed to happen, he made the space for it and made it happen.

When he felt that the conversation wasn’t actually having an impact, he disrupted the process for the sake of having a better conversation.

Here’s the thing, which I’ve said before: the system wasn’t built to support equality. The system was built to perpetuate orders of power and hierarchy that have historically disenfranchised groups of people.

So, when we talk about wanting to bring “equality” or “justice” to a system, that means having to disrupt the system. I’m not surprised when I go somewhere and find that discussions around race or oppression don’t have a space or are frowned upon: to discuss those topics would mean questioning the status quo.

Education should, if anything, make us question the status quo. We should be the ones igniting fires in our students to be agents of change, and we should be willing to dig deep into difficult conversations so we can not only make necessary changes in our classrooms but within ourselves.

We cannot keep running, though, simply because we’re scared or we think it’s not our place. While it might feel tempting to turn it off or turn away, the fact of the matter is that teachers and students of color don’t get to turn off or turn away from these conversations. To ignore that for the sake of our own comfort only makes us complicit in the discrimination that will perpetuate until we decide to look at the problem head on.

Questions for Discussion, via José Vilson:

Q1: What led you to this #edchat on race? Hint: We never talk about it unless someone from #educolor does. [I might ask myself, now, “Why do I think it’s important to talk about race?”]

Q2: How can we recognize our personal biases? Esp because we are a predominantly white teaching force w/ majority SoC in schools? #educolor

Q3: #BlackLivesMatter, so how do we make that matter in our pedagogy? What are our contributions to the school to prison pipeline? #educolot

Q4: Parents of color often feel ignored. How can we cultivate community relationships with our most disenfranchised members? #educolor

Q5: How can we move white educators from just being allies to co-conspirators in breaking down systemic racism in our schools? #educolor

Q6: Our Native American / 1st Nations children rarely have a voice in ed policy. Who can we highlight that can help us get better? #educolor

Q7: What is the difference between grit and self-determination? What are the implications of this for our most marginalized youth? #educolor

Q8: What does systemic racism look like in your schools? In your district? In your homes? #educolor

Q9: How does your classroom discuss religions? How does your school welcome religious diversity? Does it? #educolor

Q10: Given the inequity in social media for edus of color, how can we deconstruct SM norms to be more racially inclusive? #educolor

Q11: Given historic negligence, how can ed chat moderators be more responsive to questions of race, class, and gender? #educolor [I might ask myself, “How can I be more responsive to these questions in my classroom, at my school, and in my PLCs]

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The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.