Anti-Racist Pedagogy Series Part 1: Do we even know what anti-racist pedagogy means?

As I mentioned in previous posts and my recent workshops, academic use of the phrase “anti-racist pedagogy” (ARP) has sky rocketed since George Floyd’s death. Summer 2020 brought a wave of white academics calling for curricular transformation, many in response to student demands, to infuse anti-racism. And yet, if I asked 50 people what they mean by anti-racist pedagogy, I would get around 40 different answers. This cycle is very typical of higher ed trends. We all start using a phrase without any deep and critical examination of what we are saying. 

“Inclusive” and “anti-racist” are NOT synonyms

Please. Let’s all stop using them interchangeably. One dangerous trend I am noticing is that faculty members and inclusive teaching experts are claiming the phrase anti-racist pedagogy without any responsibility to define, theorize, or practice anti-racism. Consider our patterns of DEI phrasing in higher education. Diversity was promoted then later critiqued as insufficient. Then we all turned to promoting inclusion and equity practices. Currently, some scholars demand that we throw out inclusive pedagogy and replace it with anti-racist pedagogy (and other critical pedagogies). But the relationship is more nuanced than we give it credit. To keep this simple, inclusive pedagogy and anti-racist pedagogy overlap, but cannot be interchanged.

Is inclusive pedagogy meeting our goals? Well, yes and no. First, inclusive teaching practices imply a broader coverage than race/racism. Anyone claiming inclusive teaching should be attending to ability, sexuality, gender identity, race, citizenship status, social class, and more. Obviously, anti-racist pedagogy would focus on racism (with an intersectional approach please). There is still great value in inclusive teaching practices that do a better job of diversifying representation within course readings and materials, increasing sense of belonging among students, attending to topics relevant to lived experiences of students, and creating a welcoming learning environment for marginalized students. 

Examples of inclusive (but not anti-racist) pedagogy

My Syllabus Challenge overall is a tool for incorporating more inclusive teaching practices, but not necessarily all points in the challenge speak to anti-racist pedagogy. For example, keeping up with current terminology such as the expanded use of “BIPOC” and “Latnix” might be inclusive, but not necessarily anti-racist on its own. Infusion of scholars of color and their works throughout a course is inclusive. A final paper that provides students of color the opportunity to address an issue of concern to their own communities may be inclusive. But we need deeper analysis to move to anti-racist pedagogy.

So what qualifies as anti-racist pedagogy?

I am white. I cannot pretend to be a perfect expert on anti-racist pedagogy. And I don’t believe there is any perfect definition. However, based on my own teaching about systemic racism and white privilege for over two decades and my scholarship on pedagogy and whiteness, I offer you some ways to think of ARP as quite distinct from diversity and inclusion teaching approaches.

Converting some of the above examples of inclusive pedagogy, anti-racist pedagogy requires us to:

  • Not only use anti-oppressive terminology, but also create a classroom space where students examine the history of labels, how words and rhetoric maintain white supremacy, and how terms may even contribute to dismantling racism. 
  • My inclusion of Black women social psychologists in the required readings is a positive step, but do the readings and videos I choose provide strength-based perspectives about communities of color? 
  • Do the course materials explicitly critique systems and policies that perpetuate racial inequities in education, employment, health, and more?
  • Are students of color and white students given the opportunity to develop their own learning goals and dream up course projects that have a real and immediate impact on dismantling racism? 
  • Do I continuously educate myself as a white instructor whose social location impacts the learning experience of my students? Can I maintain white humility in interrogating my own psychology of whiteness as a lifelong process and commitment? 

Upcoming ARP series

The next few issues of this newsletter will be a deeper look at specific aspects of anti-racist pedagogy. We have much to unpack to move beyond inclusive to anti-racist. 

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