Schools need to teach anti-racism better

The recent fatal shooting of 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket by a young, self-proclaimed white nationalist is the latest evidence of a growing concern: the dangerous adoption of the “great replacement theory” – a plot touted by white supremacists and the far-right television. hosts.

Unfortunately, the theory that an influx of immigrants and people of color will lead to the extinction of the white race is gaining traction among Americans who fear that the changing racial mix of the United States will ultimately alter the power base of the country: Nearly one in three Americans say they are extremely or very concerned that native Americans are losing “economic, political and cultural influence” in this country due to the growing immigrant population.

Dylann Roof, the young white supremacist who killed nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, believed in GRT. In his manifesto, Roof showed concern about the loss of white dominance in America and Europe. “I saw the same things happening in England and France, and in all the other countries of Western Europe”, he wrote, “the homeland of the white people”.

Although GRT has been around for a while, I believe pre-K-12 educators have failed to consider the extent to which some young people will champion “whiteness. History indicates that violence is a tool of white supremacy: from the massacre of Native Americans to the lynching of black Americans in the Jim Crow era, racial violence has been used to defend the status quo of white supremacy and racism in the USA.

If our students continue to have access through social media to unchecked racist propaganda and misguided history, they will be vulnerable to racial violence.

Therefore, I believe the only way to combat racial violence is to teach young people to be “anti-racists,” which includes studying the history of American racism and global colonization. However, teaching this content has become a flashpoint: Many parents and school board members argue that teaching about racism in schools is itself divisive and drives kids to hate white people.

Right-wing groups have begun to describe anything in schools that focuses on racism, diversity, or equity, or acknowledges our country’s racist history, with the catch-all term “critical theory of race” or CRT. The term has been used by white supremacists to scare people into believing that Blacks, Hispanics/Latinx, Asians, and Native Americans threaten their power or “whiteness.”

But CRT is not about creating divisions or hating white people. Rather, it is an academic concept that emerged from the study of how race and racism are integrated into legal systems and government policies. And as a result of learning about racism, I believe students reflect more on their actions and are more likely to accept differences.

Related: Banning Critical Race Theory Ignores Truths All Students Need to Hear

Nonetheless, this fear of white supremacy and the perceived threat were the driving factors behind the murderer’s actions in Buffalo.

If our students continue to have access through social media to unchecked racist propaganda and misguided history, they will be vulnerable to racial violence.

So how do we fight white supremacist ideology and propaganda like the GRT? There is only one way: to teach anti-racism. We must counter racist ideologies with the truth, facts and reality of American and world histories. We must effectively teach students of all ages the history of racism and its impact on current systems (health, education, criminal justice), policies and structures.

Related: What Are Classroom Conversations About Race, Identity & History Really Like?

Classrooms must embrace racial and cultural diversity and become spaces where students learn the ramifications and long-term consequences of hate. And teachers must be equipped with an understanding of extremist propaganda such as GRT.

Adrienne Stang and Julia Jeffries, educators at Harvard University, provided five useful guidelines for teaching the history of racism:

  1. Create a classroom culture that values ​​students’ multiple social identities (e.g. race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender).
  2. Use primary sources. The exact words of people described in history textbooks can help students relate the material to the present day.
  3. Ensure content is age and developmentally appropriate, and provide support for emotional processing.
  4. Highlight individual stories of success and struggle.
  5. Include the whole school. All teachers, not just history teachers, need to understand and incorporate the history of racism into their lessons.

Experts also advise educators to become more aware of their race and culture before teaching tough stories about racism. Here at the American University School of Education, we have introduced an anti-racism teacher professional development program in which “self-inquiry” is a major component of teacher training.

We found that teachers also need training on how to apply their knowledge of racism and anti-racism to their actual classroom practices and strategies.

Ultimately, if we fail to teach the history of racism and its impact on today’s society, we are doing our students a great disservice. Essentially, we leave them open to radicalization by white supremacists.

Perhaps if schools had paid more attention to teaching truths about America’s history of racism rather than banning books about American slavery, we could have prevented the inspired violent act. by racism in Buffalo.

Cheryl Holcomb McCoy is dean of American University School of Education.

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