June 14, 2021

The Journey to Being an Antiracist Educator

Written by Lizbeth Bayardo Cardenas PFF Fellow and Doctoral Student in the School of Community and Global Health, Claremont Graduate University. Assistant Director of Leadership Equity, California Primary Care Association    

The pandemic era has unveiled racial inequities and social injustice and has sparked an awakening for systemic changes needed in our economic, healthcare, and educational systems. These changes include dismantling policies, procedures, and priorities that uphold systemic racism.  

As current and aspiring educators, we have the power to shape the future of society by enacting meaningful change – but one may ask, “Where do I begin?”. This blog post will share some ideas from antiracist leaders that can serve as a north star as you embark on this important journey to being an antiracist educator. 

Acknowledge racism: An important first step is to acknowledge racism and the ideology of white supremacy. Dena Simmons notes, “Failing to acknowledge racism not only erases histories, cultures, and identities but also ignores ongoing differential treatment based on race.” Therefore, claiming color blindness in the classroom is not a statement of tolerance but a refusal to acknowledge the white privilege that has been long embedded in our educational system. In an Edsurge Interview With Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist Educator, Kendi notes that when one says “No, no, I’m not racist” one usually identifies with policies that lead to inequities. Instead of claiming neutrality, Kendi challenges us to admit to, reflect on, and seek to change racism.  

Listen actively and cultivate self-growth: to enhance opportunities to learn new ideas, perspectives, and opinions by participating in workshops, webinars, and reading that support antiracist pedagogy. It is also important to be willing to be uncomfortable and unfamiliar with new ways of doing things. Attend to and speak about your own experiences, listen actively to others, and avoid expressing assumptions about others’ experiences. Click here for a reading list on antiracist pedagogy by Andrea Aebersold.  

Practice self-vigilance:  As Ibram X Kendi notes, we need to realize that the term racist is a descriptive term describing what a person is in any given moment, which means at one moment a person can be antiracist when expressing that the racial groups are equals and next moment can be expressing racist attitude or belief.  Dena Simmons calls for “engaging in vigilant self-awareness” to build social and emotional learning, culturally responsive practices, and equity in her article at Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), How to Be an Antiracist Educator.  

Finding your path:Anneliese A. Singh suggests there are different pathways to be an antiracist. For example, for a white individual, becoming an antiracist means taking responsibility for your power and white privilege. It also may mean cultivating a desire for understanding and growth in antiracist attitudes and actions. For a person of color, becoming an antiracist means recognizing that there are important class differences between people of color, understanding that all racial groups are struggling in some way under White supremacy.  

 “What if we realized the best way to ensure an effective educational system is not by standardizing our curricula and tests but by standardizing the opportunities available to all students?” ― Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist