For those of us who teach about systemic racism, white privilege, and white supremacy as culture, policy, and foundational to social institutions, the bulk of our time spent supporting each other and discussing pedagogy focuses on difficult moments, attacks on our teaching, and all kinds of ugly stuff that can occur (and has). It gets to be a lot. It can get depressing. For some faculty of color, it can be traumatic.
That said, I want to turn to something less depressing. My previous posts in this series on anti-racist pedagogy have likely been too focused on the negatives. So this post is going to be different. While speaking to my friend Dr. Brooke Vick this week, she mentioned hope as an important piece of anti-racist pedagogy. Her words reminded me why we do this in the first place. When I sat down to write this post today, hope was not the topic. But Brooke’s point is still whispering in my ear.
Note- I am not writing from a toxic positivity perspective here. Hope is not meant to replace or negate teaching about realities of oppression.
Where is the hope?
Educators and students benefit from hope, for both overlapping and unique reasons. Many students enter our classrooms either unaware they will be learning about race, systemic racism, and whiteness. They may be expecting a “race neutral” course or to learn about culture, food, and traditions. Among student who do expect to be discussing race and racism, they may expect to learn about individual prejudice and extremists groups. For a wide range of students, white and students of color, a multitude of less than pleasant topics lead to equally unpleasant emotions and reactions. I try to prepare students early on about common thoughts and feelings they may encounter as we navigate learning about subjects considered taboo and impolite in U.S. society. This includes having the urge to lash out at me as the person responsible for their experience of learning about deeply disturbing histories, systemic oppression and privilege of the present, and the overwhelming barriers to dismantling racism. We also discuss that they may have the urge to stop reading the materials, avoid attending class, or drop the course altogether.
When I ask them to predict what types of emotions may bubble up? They jump right in with the list: (white) guilt, depression, sadness, anger, frustration, helplessness. This list of negative emotions is usually what they predict. Most times, I must prompt them with, “What about positive emotions?”
Hope.Hope is the first thing they say.
Honestly, I do not typically see a lot of hope being intentionally incorporated into ARP practice. Syllabi tend to get bogged down with covering histories of racial oppression, the lived experiences of people of color, and white privilege. We must cover the realities of systemic racism. We must. And yet, educators quite typically throw in some information about action for social change or anti-racism in the last week of a course, if at all. The portion of the content most closely related to hope feels a bit shoved in at the end of the course. I am guilty of this very approach. And this section may get cut if course progress lags and something needs to go.
The benefits of hope
Hope is why my students and I designed the public education project (see my resources page). For this project, students choose some aspect of intersectionality (the focus of the course) and must develop and implement teaching that topic to a public audience. Many choose an intersection that involves racism: e.g., politics of hair and Eurocentric standards of beauty; mapping how food deserts impact Black communities in segregated Houston. In other words, this is not a research paper, essay, or project that only my professorial eyes will see. Nope. Each project will be consumed by people outside of our course learning community.
What I found with this project is that students develop new skills for taking action. Even as we tackled the most complex and difficult dialogues while learning about redlining practices, Japanese internment camps, and racial discrimination in hiring, students channeled their extremely valid feelings of anger and helplessness into their projects. For example, Amber Trevino crafted an art piece to represent her conceptualization of systemic racism and how whiteness encompasses all things and organized an interactive art display on campus.
Angela Miller created a teaching resource for intersectional pedagogy as her final project. She overcame her fears of sharing her resource with faculty at other universities and received extremely positive responses from several intersectionality scholars.
“It was extremely exciting and motivating! I will never forget the lesson I learned not to be afraid to exhibit my work, and I will always remember feeling that I can help make a difference in education. What a lesson in self-efficacy this class brought to my life!”
Angela’s words reflect the hope she took away from this experience. Students were able design their own paths for social change as a built-in component of the course, rather than being left to convert feelings of despair and overwhelm into action on their own. Students also reported that this formal pathway to taking action helped reduce feelings of helplessness.
Hope as a central tenet of ARP
Hope is a core value of critical pedagogies. Paulo Freire’s ideas in Pedagogy of the Oppressed aim to empower and center oppressed voices for social justice change. Liberatory pedagogy, as you can tell by the name, emphasizes teaching practice as the practice of liberation. bell hooks described her own teaching as the practice of freedom in Teaching to Transgress. These critical pedagogies are not critical for the sake of critique. They are critical for the sake of freedom, liberation, and the hope that such things are possible.
Without hope, anti-racist pedagogy leaves us without pathways for action and social change. That means hope must be taken seriously as an essential and central tenet of ARP. Fall courses grant us a new opportunity to find ways to infuse hope into our anti-racist pedagogies.
How might you intentionally incorporate hope into your own anti-racist pedagogy?
The Anti-Racist Pedagogy series
Learn more about the White Anti-Racism and Action course I created for (aspiring) white allies.
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