Talking about racism can be awfully uncomfortable, particularly for white people since we so rarely have to think about race in our daily lives, and we certainly do not consider ourselves part of the problem. Racist people use nasty slurs, they dress up in blackface/white hoods/swastikas, they refuse to be friends with people of color (POC). I don’t do any of those things, so I’m not racist… Right?
If we view ourselves through the lens of a Racist / Not Racist binary, most of us will confidently partition ourselves as Not Racist. But what if the options were Racist or Antiracist? What evidence can you provide that you are the latter?
Simply avoiding racial slurs, or “celebrating diversity” is insufficient. To be antiracist, we must actively seek out racism and correct it. If you benefit from racial privilege, it is incumbent upon you to fix it. As international educators, we have a magnificent opportunity (see: responsibility) to promote antiracism by teaching racial justice in schools.
But aren’t children too young to learn about race? No. Children of color learn about race early on – they have no option otherwise. White kids can and should learn about race (and racial justice), too.
Talking about racism seems awkward – what about celebrating diversity? It’s super awkward (and dangerous) for POC to live with systemic racism. If the most uncomfortable race-related incident that’s happened to you is having to acknowledge racism (or being called a racist), then you can count yourself amongst the privileged. With that privilege comes the responsibility to uncover racism and correct it. Bonus points if you teach your students to do the same.
Keep in mind that most racism is not as overt as the recent, highly-publicized events in the United States, so I am not suggesting we show young children the video of George Floyd’s killing. Covert racism is far more common and insidious – it does not look like what we think of as white supremacy, and takes a trained eye to spot. Think: racist school mascots, treating children of color as older than they are, denying children of color the opportunities that come from learning from a teacher that looks like them, prioritizing white voices in curriculum, and perpetuating the myth of the bootstrap theory.
I don’t live in the United States, and racism isn’t an issue where I work. It can be more comfortable to decry racism happening far away, as it allows us to believe that we are not part of the problem. However, racism exists everywhere, including at your school. In fact, that’s the racism you are likely best positioned to confront and influence.
Others have written about this before me and better than me (see resource bank below), but I use this particular platform to ensure that international educators understand that we are not exempt from confronting institutional racism.
But I’m just a math/science/PE/etc. teacher. What can I do? Racism is baked into schools – our curriculum, our policies, our hiring preferences, the overwhelmingly white voices we feature as experts and leaders, students’ hierarchical social experiences – it’s everywhere. Regardless of your role in the school, there is no shortage of material to examine under an antiracist lens, and to correct.
Antiracism resources to get you started: