Have you ever been sitting in a packed room full of White folx discussing race and racism as higher education professionals or as K-12 educators? One of the first questions we ask as White people –White educators– is “what can we do to dismantle racism in our classrooms or on our campuses?” The answer is always: do the work. This answer has various levels of depth associated with it. At the most basic level (a “step one” if you would), most often refers to the need for White folx to be aware of how racism exists and how they/us/we as White folx perpetuate it through our daily lives and professional work. Step one in other words is the needed self-reflection and awareness of your own role in racism and racist structures.
At this point in the conversation, White folx are most often still eagerly awaiting the answer about how they can aid in the dismantling of racism in their spaces…They have their pencil in hand waiting to write down the quick fix answer to solving racism. Then, the facilitator stops speaking and they realize the answer is over. They ask a follow-up question, “We get it…self-awareness…but what more can we do?” [Please [insert long pause and a little bit of side eye.]
We point this out not to ostracize those who are in this place. We [re: White folx] have all been there. We all have wanted to help and to be a part of the collective movement before we really understood what that meant (or means for us folx who are there right now).
It is important to note that raising our own personal awareness and the action piece can happen simultaneously. But, as educators, we caution White folx who are eager to enact change without approaching ‘step one’ first. [And, to be clear…step one (self-awareness/doing the work) is not a process or step where the end sight has rainbows and balloons or even a finish line for that matter. There is no final destination. It is time-consuming, heartfelt work that walks, talks, and breathes with you every moment of the day. It is hard work; but, that is the point.]
So, where do you start? We have provided a list of questions below as a means to help folx who are in need of a little more direction than just “google it” or “be more aware” sentiments. The list below is our “short list.” For a more expansive list of questions, please scroll down below and download our three-page resource packet full of questions.
Doing the Work through Self-Reflection (Individual):
What identities do I have as a person (race, ethnicity, national or regional location, religion, gender identity and expression, political affiliation, socio-economic status/economic class, sexual identity, ability, age, etc.)?
What role does my race play within my sense of self? How often do I think about my race? What specific ways have I gained or lost benefits due to my racial identity? What have I gained or lost due to other identities?
How are my concepts of time, professionalism, traditions, values, and behaviors influenced by my identities?
Who makes up my friend group? What are their identities? Who do I interact with socially, professionally, and spiritually? What are the identities of those who I interact with in these ways?
What assumptions do I make about people of various identities such as folx who may be poor, disabled, trans, gender nonconforming, queer, Black or Brown, undocumented, speak a different language, have an accent, etc.?
What ways do I define success? How is this definition influenced by my identities? How have my achievements been influenced by my identities?
What is whiteness? How does whiteness impact my life?
What behaviors do I exhibit when I engage in conversations about privilege, discrimination, and oppression that may derail the conversation?
Doing the Work through Self-Reflection (Educator):
As an educator, what are the core learning themes or learning objectives that I hope my students achieve?
How do you incorporate social justice values and anti-bias work in your role as an educator?
As an educator, how have you generated a curriculum that is responsive to current issues and appropriate for changing demographics?
Some questions adapted from:
Herman-Sparks, L. & Ramsey, P.G. (2011). What if all the kids are white? Anti-bias multicultural education with young children and families. NY: Teachers College Press.