Anti-Racist Pedagogy Part 5: Why is anti-racist pedagogy so threatening?

Anyone who was willing to click on this post is likely aware of recent and not so recent public policy attacks on critical race theory. A former President of the U.S. tried to order critical race theory into silence. State legislative actions continue to work toward banning discussion of white privilege, racism, and systemic white supremacy in educational settings. And make no mistake, attempts to ban and censor critical race theory (CRT) are direct attacks on anti-racist pedagogy (ARP).  *Please see my note below on why this is evidence for the need to protect tenure.

Why is ARP so threatening to the public?

If we really dig into the core of these systemic censorship efforts, we come to one simple truth. Fear. All of the work being done to ban critical race theory and discussion of privilege is based in deep-seated, likely quite unconscious, white fear. How can a theory spark so much fear and loathing? Beyond the widespread distortions and misunderstandings of CRT that clearly fuel the attacks, the idea that the tenets of CRT would inspire white fear is not surprising. 

Critical race theory asks us to analyze systems, policies, procedures, practices, and institutional cultures that perpetuate racism. CRT makes white privilege more visible and encourages an interrogation of whiteness itself. That sounds pretty scary to anyone who wants the current system of white power to remain firmly in place. 

For a list of anti-racism critical questions about policies and procedures within your higher ed institution, visit my previous post “Students are not the problem.” 

Why is ARP so threatening to educators?

Oddly enough, many educators who want to incorporate ARP into their courses share fear-based responses that we see in anti-CRT policy makers. Of course, these fears originate from distinct intentions, but fear as an emotion can drive behaviors in ways that no longer connect back to the original intentions of the actor. Fear is in the driver’s seat. And most often, we are unaware that this strong emotion is having an immense influence on our actions and lack of actions.

Both white educators and faculty of color grapple with fears, though not precisely the same fears, when considering ARP. 

  • What if the students are resistant and give me low evaluations that impact my promotion and career? 
  • What if students complain about me and my department chair/dean sides with the students or does not back me up?
  • What if students start a social media campaign to attack me?
  • What if my department colleagues view me as having a political agenda?
  • What if something happens in the classroom that I do not know how to handle “correctly?”
  • What if students and colleagues argue that data or discussion of systemics racism is not relevant to my course and should not be included?
  • What if I cause more harm to students of color?
  • Will students, colleagues, and administration view my ARP as simply my opinion rather than a legitimate pedagogical approach?
  • What if white students say harmful racist things during class?
  • What if I feel constantly alone, attacked, and exhausted from taking all of this on as a person of color?
  • What if I am not prepared or educated enough as a white ally to do this? 
  • What if an outside anti-CRT group makes me the target of a campaign to harass me and calls for me to be fired?
  • What if the students of color tell me I committed a microaggression or worse?

These fears are valid. I have heard every single one of these fears in consultations and faculty development workshops. Many of these I carry inside me as well. 

From my view, we are not going to move forward with more application and infusion of anti-racist pedagogy if we do not open communication about the fears associated with taking the first steps or taking new steps after years of teaching about race and racism. 

What is your biggest fear associated with teaching about
systemic racism, anti-racism, or critical race theory?

*NOTE- For anyone who still claims tenure is outdated and no longer needed, these attacks are all the evidence needed for why we must protect tenure. And by that I mean the system of tenure and what it stands for as a protection of truth and democracy. Of course, recent decades of eroding tenure and the tenure lines available has decreased protections for educators with unpopular approaches including liberatory, feminist, decolonial, social justice pedagogies and more. Faculty teaching critical race theory deserve such protections.

The Anti-Racist Pedagogy series

For more on anti-racist pedagogy, head back to the previous ARP posts.

Learn more about the White Anti-Racism and Action course I created for (aspiring) white allies.
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