How to Prepare Students to Talk about Race?

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How to Prepare Students to Talk about Race?

How to Prepare Students to Talk about Race?

Today’s Bite-Sized PD for Educational Equity was inspired by:

Five Things High School Students Should Know About Race | Author Lawrence Blum | Harvard Education Publishing Group

I once heard someone say that if you do not want your students to cheat on assessments, do not ask them questions that are Google-able. I have taken this concept and applied it to race. A few years ago, I served on a panel about race and said that I do not mind talking with white people about race, but please do not ask me things about race that are Google-able. A few minutes into the panel discussion, a white man, who has a black adopted daughter, asked, “What should I be reading and watching?” My response, “Google it.”

Placing the burden on people of color to teach white people about race is simply lazy. It also is not my job, nor how I wish to spend my time getting to know people. So, it is refreshing to see a professor, who is white, create and teach a course about race to high school students.  My hope is that people who identify as white will continue to take up the work of "racial literacy" so that the next generation of adults do not find this conversation as scary, awkward, and uncomfortable. 

How to teach students to talk about race?

Top 5 Takeaways for Equity in Education

1. “Race is a constant influence in our history, society, and relations with others and cannot be ignored.”

The creation of racial categories had a purpose, to ensure that white people had societal power. It is important to acknowledge that the systems that create inequities were designed to do so. This is why you hear people say that the system is not broken because it continues to best serve those for whom it was designed.

2. “The first step toward racial literacy is to understand the history of slavery.”

Slavery is a process that evolved overtime. It is important to explore this evolution so that students understand that rights were actively removed from African-Americans to create what became the type of slavery that often is taught in history classes. What can be learned from the history of slavery? What can be learned from the gradual elimination of white indentured servants?

3. “Race is fundamentally an asymmetric category.”

While people of all racial categories can experience interpersonal racism, racism experienced by African-American people is different, or asymmetrical. This is why when people compare the experiences of the African-American people to other people groups, it can be received as offensive. It is important to help students understand this early, as it serves as a lens for understanding the experiences of people of color more broadly.

4. “The historical study of race in the United States is not the same as multiculturalism.”

Grounding the understanding of race in its creation should come before multiculturalism. As the author, Blum, says, “It foregrounds the ways the dominant white group tried to keep other racial groups in an inferior status and how those groups fought back against that injustice.” This contextualizes the distinct histories of other racial groups, as well as their respective fight for freedom and justice. 

5. “Race is about more than skin color.”

It is important for students to understand race as a design element used to construct systems that privileged the well-being of whites over all other people groups. Framing the conversation around the notion of design allows students to see that other designs are possible and to commit to seeking out new structures that uplift everybody.

Americans, especially white Americans, don’t like to talk about race. And they generally don’t think they need to know anything about it, either.

~Lawrence Blum


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