Anti-Racist Pedagogy Part 2: Inclusive does not equal anti-racist

We all want to be “inclusive.

Nothing wrong with that. You may have picked up on the trend that diversity focuses on recruitment and maybe representation, but that we need to move deeper for inclusion. Same goes for inclusion being a wonderful shift in education, but we need a more critical approach to power and systems to get into the realm of anti-racist pedagogy (ARP). 

For example, inclusive practices encourage us to look more closely at how we increase sense of belonging for Latinx, Indigenous, AMENA, Multiracial, and Black students. If the AMENA acronym is new to you: Arab, Middle-Eastern, North African. 

What about Asian? We tend to not mention Asian and Pacific Islander students due to erroneous endorsement of the model minority myth and the belief that Asian students are overrepresented. But let’s be clear that this particular belief rests on the assumption that all Asian students are equally represented. Not so. For example, we might think of Chinese students as well represented in U.S. higher ed contexts. But what about Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian? Let’s also note the problematic assumption that Asian students, including Chinese students, do not experience marginalization and oppression in these contexts. They do.

Okay back to inclusion. With all the positive outcomes we can connect back to inclusive teaching, anti-racist educators must work with students to co-dismantle systemic white supremacy. Inclusive practices do not require this level of radical and critical inquiry and action. 

Diversity ≠ Inclusive ≠ Anti-racism

Diversity can be inclusive or can fail to be inclusive. Following this same pattern, inclusive teaching practices can infuse anti-racist pedagogy or fail to address anti-racism altogether. Diversity efforts are not automatically inclusive, and inclusive pedagogy is not automatically anti-racist. Again, we must get clear about these terms and serious about our theoretical frames if we aim to engage in effective and widespread anti-racist pedagogical praxis. 

My white* Girl Pedagogical Fail

*I avoid capitalizing “white” when referring to race. That’s a story for another time.

Those of you who have read just about any of my writing on teaching know I tend to share where I went wrong. The opening chapter of Intersectional Pedagogy (2017) provided a detailed trip down memory lane to my first time teaching Psychology of Women. The following excerpt paints the picture:

The first time I taught Psychology of Women as a graduate student, the textbook was extremely narrow in focus, lacking any hint of inclusion outside normative and privileged identities within the vastly diverse group called women. Due to this shortcoming, I created a supplemental packet with readings to address race, sexual diversity, poverty, and non-Western women’s experiences. This “solution” felt like a legitimate approach at the time to correct for the main book’s reinforcement of defining women via only white heterosexual middle-class perspectives. On the first day of class, a brave student raised her hand to point out that the textbook did not represent her as an African American woman and seemed focused exclusively on white women. 

She was right. My co-instructor immediately defended the text saying “no one book can cover everything.” I pointed to the packet as one way to include diverse viewpoints and avoid the idea that all women are white, middle-class, heterosexual, U.S. citizens.

I now view our supplemental packet and response to the student as an insufficient, dismissive, and insulting Band-Aid that essentially per­petuated the marginalization of women outside the mythical norm as described by Lorde (1984). Just as Bowleg (2008) critiqued her previous research as addi­tive in nature and lacking intersectionality, my original approach to teaching gender from a multicultural perspective served as a lesson in what not to do. 

At the same time, adding the packet allowed us to pat ourselves on the back as two white women instructors who believed we were acting as exceptional anti-racist allies.” (p. 2)

One could easily argue this was diversity pedagogy without inclusive pedagogy. We might even argue that this qualified as inclusive teaching practice. But clearly, this was most certainly NOT anti-racist pedagogy.

My “Inclusive” Response

The classroom experience described above was a moment of truth-telling by a Black woman student to her white woman instructor. Speaking truth to power. So how did I react to being told that my text choices were marginalizing? In my own defensive stance, I experienced some of the following internal reactions:

  • Students expect too much from me.
  • Can’t they see I am an ally?
  • Why isn’t she grateful that I included Black women?
  • I cannot help that all these textbooks focus on white women.
  • This is not on me.

You see the problems here, right? These reactions center my own feelings and pain while rendering my responsibilities to Students of Color invisible. These reactions could easily co-exist with an inclusive approach to teaching and learning. The above reactions rise from the belief that I could “add and stir” topics and authors more relevant to Students of Color as an effective way to counter the systemic racism of the textbook industry and of the entire canon of psychology. 

Responding with an Anti-Racist Pedagogical Lens

What if I approached this student’s feedback from a place of anti-racist pedagogy? How would that look different? Here are some internal reactions that would focus on ARP:

  • How can feedback from Students of Color improve my teaching?
  • I need to figure out a better approach to critique and challenge the white supremacy of psych textbooks.
  • Othering Women of Color by placing them outside the main text for the course is unacceptable. This sends a clear message that only white women are important enough to be the focus of legitimate textbooks.
  • What systems and power analyses can I bring to this discussion with students?
  • Maybe I can have an open conversation with students (white included) about the systemic racism of psychology curricula and what actions they/we can take.
  • What scholarship can I read on intersectional, liberatory, critical race, and decolonial pedagogies? And then what actions will I take?
  • What if we throw out the textbook entirely and co-construct this course together from scratch as we go?

And I will be the first to say that the anti-racist pedagogy points in the above list are not enough. 

In your view, what are the essential components of anti-racist pedagogy?

Continuing ARP series

Take a look back at Part 1 of this series if you have not had the chance. As promised, the next few “Enough Y’all” newsletter issues will sift through the academic noise. This is my attempt to move our conversation closer to pinpointing anti-racist pedagogy. Much work to do!

*quoted excerpts above were altered slightly for this newsletter.

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