Creating the Space to Talk About Race

Racial Justice is Education Justice

Our education system is intended to uphold equal opportunity, but too often it also entrenches racial disparities by its design. We are engaging educators, students and allies to foster real dialogue around issues of racial justice in education, to examine policies and practices in our school systems and our communities, and to mobilize and take action for education justice.

CREATING THE SPACE TO TALK ABOUT RACE IN YOUR SCHOOL

Racism is complex and contentious. Many of us are afraid to even broach the subject. It often feels easier and safer to avoid the topic altogether.

But silence and inaction reinforce the status quo. And avoidance speaks volumes — it communicates to students of color that racism doesn’t matter enough to warrant attention and, by omission, invalidates their experiences, perspectives, identities and lives. White students, on the other hand, often see racism being accepted and normalized, without acknowledgement or accountability.

To advance real solutions, we need to address real problems. As teachers, we have “teachable moments,” or opportunities to constructively and productively address race. But these opportunities need to be thoughtfully created, seized, planned and managed.

The following tips can help you make race conversations normal, constructive and successful.

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  1. Create a Welcoming Classroom and School
  2. Root Out Biases and Barriers
  3. Encourage Self-Expression
  4. Be Open Yourself
  5. Engage, Don’t Avoid
  6. Create Opportunities for Discussion
  7. Talk About Racism and Racial Equity
  8. Establish and Enforce Group Norms
  9. Process is as Important as Content
  10. Model Your Values and Vision

Download the Full Resource Guide:

This comprehensive NEA resource guide includes tools & resources for talking about race, conducting racial equity assessments, strategic planning, ideas for capacity building and action, FAQs, and a directory of web pages, documents and allied organizations focused on racial justice in education.
Download the PDF >  

“Creating the Space to Talk About Race in Your School” content on this web site and in our "Racial Justice in Education" resource guide © 2017 National Education Association, in collaboration with Race Forward.

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Young Activist Explains Institutional Racism in Under 2 Minutes

Marley Dias already knew that racism and other built-in barriers were “keeping kids like me from reaching our full potential.” Tackling racism, she says, begins with a conversation. In a national video on institutional racism, Dias looks to educators across the country and asks:

“Do you care enough to look closer, to talk to each other. To your students, to your communities?… To change the dialogue?”

 

 

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Two Children, Two Zip codes, Two Outcomes. Time for Change.

A student’s chances for success should not depend on living in the right zip code, winning a charter lottery, or affording private school. Every child deserves access to a system of publicly funded, equitable and democratically controlled public schools. When we short-change some students, we short-change our nation as a whole.

 

 

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NEA activists launch series of video “primers” for anti-racist white educators

Luke Michener and Terry Jess are both white, male educators who teach at Bellevue High School in Washington state. They feel they have little to add to conversations about race with students and colleagues of color that those students and colleagues don’t already know themselves, based upon their own experiences in the classroom, and, more broadly, living in the United States.

On the other hand, Terry and Luke feel they do have a lot to offer other white educators who are committed to racial equity in education, but may not know where to begin.

Inspired by their own experiences working with students trying to reconcile their own identities with the realities of the world around them, as well as conversations they had at the 2017 NEA Conference on Racial and Social Justice, Terry and Luke created a series of YouTube videos they hoped could provide other white educators with ideas, insights and tools to better engage in racial equity work in their own schools and communities.

Terry now has more than 80 short videos on his YouTube channel, anchored around a 10-part series co-hosted by the pair titled “Primer for anti-racist white educators.” Read the full blog post about their video project.

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Terry & Luke’s Video Primers for Anti-Racist, White Educators:

 

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SEVEN HARMFUL RACIAL DISCOURSE PRACTICES TO AVOID

Harmful racial discourse practices are found throughout our society. They are used by the media, by public officials and their staffs, by lawyers and judges, by advocates of various political backgrounds, by cultural and entertainment figures, and by others with power and influence over public perception and behavior.

When these harmful racial discourse practices prevail, either individually or acting collectively within a single narrative, they stifle the general public’s understanding of systemic racism. They also reinforce the common misconception that racism is simply a problem of rare, isolated, individual attitudes and actions, and most damagingly, that as a significant barrier to the success of people of color, racism is a thing of the past.

In the “Seven Harmful Racial Discource Practices to Avoid” section of our “Racial Justice is Education Justice” report, we provide definitions for seven harmful practices and describe the specific negative effects they have on racial discourse and dialogue. In addition, we provide everyday recommendations that offer insight and tools to help overcome these harmful racial discourse practices.

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In This Section:

  1. Individualizing Racism
  2. Falsely Equating Incomparable Acts
  3. Diverting From Race
  4. Portraying Government as Overreaching
  5. Prioritizing Intent Over Impact
  6. Coded Language
  7. Silencing History

Download the Full Resource Guide:

This comprehensive NEA resource guide includes tools & resources for talking about race, conducting racial equity assessments, strategic planning, ideas for capacity building and action, FAQs, and a directory of web pages, documents and allied organizations focused on racial justice in education.
Download the PDF >  

“Creating the Space to Talk About Race in Your School” content on this web site and in our "Racial Justice in Education" resource guide © 2017 National Education Association, in collaboration with Race Forward.

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Muslim American educators driving change in the classroom, across the country

Nagla Bedir and Luma Hasan, both social studies teachers in New Jersey, co-founded Teaching While Muslim to help address some of the challenges and frustrations they experienced as students growing up as Muslim Americans.

Trying to articulate a complex identity when faced with peers and educators who have a limited understanding of what it means to be Muslim often left Nagla and Luma on the defensive, responding to micro-aggressive questions and bigoted accusations that would not be necessary if school curricula were fully inclusive. Now as educators, they are driving the change to address this lack of inclusion.

Bedir and Hasan took a few minutes to talk about their efforts and where they see their work headed. Read the full Q&A. 

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Additional Resources

Want to help reduce racial bias, tension and/or harassment in your school community? Check out the following resources, lesson outlines and blog posts.

 

 

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What is your truth? How do you see the issue of race play out in our country?, community and schools? What experiences have you had growing up and as an adult that have informed your view of race? Has that view shifted over time? Why? Why not?

Before we started any dialogue, it’s important to check in with ourselves and understand what experiences (both positive and negative) we are bringing to the discussion. This is our lens through which we see and understand our world. When our core truth is clear to us, only then can we evaluate our understanding and begin to ask more questions.

 

What do you value? How do your beliefs about your students, your culture and/or your faith influence what you value? What results do you want to see for our nation’s students and our public schools? How do these values influence your perspectives on race?Our values form the core of how we relate to our nation’s problems and opportunities. When we understand our own values and priorities we are better positioned to enter sensitive discussions with a set of shared beliefs.

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What is your truth? How do you see the issue of race play out in our country?, community and schools? What experiences have you had growing up and as an adult that have informed your view of race? Has that view shifted over time? Why? Why not?

Before we started any dialogue, it’s important to check in with ourselves and understand what experiences (both positive and negative) we are brining to the discussion. This our lens through which we see and understand our world. When our core truth is clear to us, only then can we evaluate our understanding and begin to ask more questions.

 

 

Lead with your values. It is easier to find common ground on values statements than on prescriptive solutions. Don’t try to persuade people that their beliefs are wrong. Instead, find a value focus that is equally dear and compelling to them. The one value that research shows as promising is “opportunity.” This allows us to discuss the policies, programs, and practices where access to opportunities are lodged. Additionally, this mutes either-or debate about whether responsibility or systems are to blame, since opportunity goes hand in hand with personal responsibility. Since this debate is off the table, the focus can be on barriers to opportunity, and the evidence can highlight how similarly situated individuals encounter very different circumstances in terms of opportunities. For example, white children with college-eligible academic performance enter colleges are higher rates than African American and Latino children with college-eligible academic performance.

 

Keep it Results Focused. Keep the conversation focused on the results people want to achieve (e.g., all children graduate from high school) rather than who’s to blame for present inequities. Of course, figuring out how to get the desired results will require a focus on what’s to blame’ that discussion can be directed to policies, programs, and practices that need to be changed.

 

Narrative before Numbers. If people see numbers that don’t fit the model they use in thinking about race, they’ll reject the numbers. For example, suppose you present statistics about disparities in juvenile detention that show that even when youth of different racial groups behave the same way, African American, Latino and Native American youth are disproportionately detained compared to their white counterparts. People wed to the dominant model of the self-making person will still attribute the explanation for those numbers to some unspecified fault of the youth of color themselves. Their dominant narrative trumped your well-researched numbers.

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Take Action

Building Power in Our Communities

Ready to get active and be the superhero our students deserve in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education? Then join the NEA EdJustice League!

Join us!

Resources

Resource Guide

Download the NEA resource guide: "Racial Justice in Education." Includes tools & resources for talking about race, racial equity assessments, strategic planning, taking action and more.

Download PDF

Restorative Justice

Download the NEA guide for educators: "Restorative Practices -- Fostering Healthy Relationships & Promoting Positive Discipline in Schools."

Download PDF

Student Poets Playlist

Now is a good time to listen to young people as they speak out on what they want the future to hold.

Listen to the Poets