Are You An Anti-Racist Educator? Here Are Seven Questions to Help You Decide.

Jun 24, 2020 11:47:00 AM


Last week, something in my spirit told me to create an Instagram post on Canva that stated the following: 

Okay people, the jury is out!  What’s the verdict? Are you ANTIRACIST or AUNTIE RACIST?

I must admit that the use of the term “Auntie” was a comical, yet intentional move. To calm my Black rage, I needed to incorporate a dose of comedy to help balance the weight of the increasing racial tension that has shaken our nation to its core. 

As I created the post, I couldn’t help but think about the stories of Lisa Alexander, Amy Cooper, and countless “Karens” in the recent past who have used their White privilege to dehumanize and belittle Black folks. [pullquote]The harsh reality is that we have “Karens” in our school system who traumatize young Black students and, too often, are not held accountable for their actions.[/pullquote]

This all-star educator roster of “Karens” includes student teachers, lead teachers, principals and superintendents. And I would be remiss if I didn’t include the head coach of the squad who certainly needs no introduction, Secretary Betsy DeVos.

As with every successful team, the chemistry between the players is key. In this case, the chemistry that binds these women together is grounded in a foundation of racism, White supremacy and White privilege. It is with this championship formula that they are able to keep the school-to-prison pipeline running. 

Conversely, we have another group of White female educators who are well-intentioned in their efforts to build strong, positive relationships with their Black students. However, their efforts to connect may come off as positioning themselves as White saviors or "White teacher heroes." For those who need a crash course on the “White savior,” I strongly recommend you watch Dangerous Minds, which is arguably the greatest White savior teacher movie of all-time!  

The women in this group subconsciously allow their implicit biases to dictate their instructional and disciplinary approaches toward Black students. As a result, it’s no surprise when they’re in denial about their actions and make unsubstantiated claims about colorblindness and equality. 

The “Karens” I mentioned earlier in this piece are clearly a lost cause, but this particular group is worth saving. And that is why I’d like to provide them with seven key questions to help them determine where they fall on the anti-racist scale.

Where Do You Fall On the Anti-Racism Scale?

  1. Have you acknowledged your White privilege?
  1. Are you aware that your implicit biases play an integral role in the way that you teach, engage with and discipline your Black students?
  1. Are you aware that your implicit biases can impact your ability to actively engage and partner with parents of your Black students? 
  1. In what ways do you incorporate the cultural diversity of your Black students into your lesson planning, curriculum work and instructional practice?
  1. When determining learning resources (ex. books, articles) to use with your Black students, do you take the time to assess the historical accuracy or cultural validity of the content? 
  1. In what ways are you building positive relationships your Black students and educating yourself about the realities of your Black students’ lives outside of school?
  1. Do you assess the intellectual capabilities of your Black students through a deficit-based lens or focus more on their potential to thrive academically?

To the White female educators who are reading this post: I ask that you review the questions and please be honest in your responses. Also, keep in mind that you all make up approximately 80% of the nation’s teacher workforce. Therefore, the fate of Black students in this nation is very much in your hands. They need you more than ever!

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, "Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the Teacher in You" and his latest, "From Inaction to 'In Action': Creating a New Normal for Urban Educators". Throughout his 14-year career as a middle school math educator, author, and entrepreneur, Kwame has been on a personal mission to uplift and empower educators who are committed to reversing the ills of the public education system in America and around the world. As a staunch ambassador and advocate for teacher empowerment, Kwame has spoken at numerous national education conferences and worked diligently to support the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in the education system. In January 2019, he was one of 35 Massachusetts teachers of color chosen by Commissioner Jeff Riley to be in the inaugural cohort of the InSPIRED (In-Service Professionals Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity) Fellowship, an initiative organized by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for veteran teachers of color to recruit students of color at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels to teach in targeted districts within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As an InSPIRED Teaching Fellow, Kwame facilitated professional development workshops for aspiring teachers at universities such as Boston College, UMass Boston, and Worcester State University and has served as a guest speaker for non-profit teacher pipeline programs such as Generation Teach and Worcester Public Schools’ Future Teachers Academy. A proud graduate of Temple University, Kwame holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in education. He was honored as the 2019 National Member of the Year by Black Educators Rock, Inc. for his unwavering commitment to the advancement of the teacher profession.

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