Race Talk: Why is it Lacking?

chalk on a tray at the bottom of a chalkboard

Our education system and schooling curriculum lacks transparent information regarding the country’s racial history and lacks the general knowledge of how to have race talk. Some teachers, who should be educating and pushing the barrier, still frequently ignore race talk or are visibly uncomfortable when racism is discussed. These classroom dynamics are crucial, and teachers and educators set the tone. Teachers need to be able to preach inclusivity, create a positive and productive classroom dynamic, and have or create a sense of comfort when it comes to discussing “uncomfortable topics”.

Teachers need to lead by example. Many students, especially young children, mimic the language and behavior of their role models. Some students and children may not realize that what they say is racist, that they are excluding others, or why disregarding race is problematic. Teachers need to create this space to learn and grow. If teachers themselves are not comfortable discussing race or creating a space to discuss race, how will the students and children feel comfortable? If they do not feel like they have a safe space, how will these meaningful conversations take place? How will they learn? Yet, do teachers have the ability to teach honestly, and from their heart and their feelings? School curriculums are so strict that teachers may not have the ability to teach outside of it and push that barrier. It is so important that teachers are prepared and trained and ready for this work, since they do have a big influence on their students and their socialization.

What happens when you have a white professor, many white students, and a few students of color? The conversation should not fall back on students of color. Many white students naturally feel uncomfortable talking about race and they face a fear that they will be wrong or will appear racist. Additionally, many teachers/administrators also have their own implicit biases so discussions of race tend to fall on those students of color, possibly because the teacher does not want to be wrong or uncomfortable, or due to the fact that race talk is not engraved in their curriculum. Teachers should be expected to learn about their biases so they can grow and develop, and be able to foster a safe and productive learning environment for ALL students. ALL students should be able to attend school without a fear of discrimination. They should be able to open their classroom doors and know they will not be undermined or belittled by their educators or peers. This does not necessarily fall completely on teachers, however they do have a big influence. For this reason, teachers and administrators need to be open and have meaningful conversations. Should educators have additional training? Maybe they should take a race course and learn about their biases and how to be actively anti-racist. They need to learn how to set a good tone and lead by example for their students. Maybe it isn’t teachers and maybe it’s the set curriculum? How can teachers educate their students about important topics like this, if they are required to follow a set guideline? How can we push the barrier and educate others and recognize that this is something that should not be limited or ignored in an educational curriculum? Something that should be discussed is aversive racism. Why are most teachers at schools white? Why are they not hiring more people of color? What example does that set for the students? Is this due to the societal influence placed onto schools and our education system? Schools and teachers have the potential to create a lasting impact on their students. This impact should be positive, productive, meaningful and safe.            

How do we create environments for race talk? Having a space to speak freely and grow and learn is incredibly important. Is it possible to create such a space in schooling environments and how do we ensure that the societal influences and curriculums do not get in the way of this? Even then, are these conversations in schools and educational settings going to create change or will they be a band aid or a cover up so individuals can say they learned and did their part? An educational environment is one of the primary modes of socialization so how do we ensure that these important conversations are not lacking?

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