How to confront racism in the classroom

In today’s class we talked about the importance of confronting racism in the classroom. This week’s seminar facilitation addressed this topic by using Jane Elliott’s model of the blue eyes/ brown eyes exercise. While we were provided with a more relaxed version of this exercise, the impact was felt, slightly. I’m not going to say that we understand the complexity of internalized racism, but the point was made. This exercise made me uncomfortable to be honest. I understand that was kind of the point of the exercise; but what made me uncomfortable was how the concept of racism was presented. Racism was presented as sentiment. While racism has a social dimension, the nature of racism is that it is a system. It goes beyond biases and hurt feelings. When we present racism in a way like this; it reduces a complex system to hurt feelings. During our course, the concept of the pedagogy of palatability was presented. I feel like this is a trap that teachers often fall into. We want to explain racism in a way that is accessible and developmentally appropriate. As a result, we perpetuate a narrative that isn’t true. As a result, people of colour, or anyone considered to be an “other” are expected to serve as learning opportunities to confront this shallow understanding of racism. This also perpetuates racism. To be honest, maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I’m missing the point of the course, but recently I’ve become very tired of identity politics. For the past few years I’ve been militant when it came to issues of gender and sexual diversity, treaty education, blackness in the west, etc. I’m no longer interested in explaining my humanity or the humanity of others. If teaching has taught me anything; it’s that we can’t teach people who don’t want to learn. We have to take people where they’re at. I feel like in this course, many of us are preaching to the converted; and that’s awesome. We should care about confronting racism in the classroom. But, we also need to committed to doing the inner work that entails. It’s not easy, or pleasant for that matter.

Confronting racism in the classroom is interesting. On the one hand, as teachers, we perpetuate many racist ideals that were designed to exclude. This is the consequence of being an agent of government. But, there is a silver lining. If we know who we are, and are willing to identify the humanity in others; that is a form of resistance. No one can take away that self knowledge.


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