Making Space for Productive Conversation on Race: Focus on the Racially Conscious

When I first started teaching about race, I spent a lot of time focusing on the resistant students. Some of these students thought we spent too much time talking about race, espousing the colorblind (and inaccurate) view that if we just talked about it less, it would go away. Others took offense to the idea of white privilege, even suggesting (again inaccurately) that society privileges people of color and whites are the victims of racism now. By focusing on those few students, I was focusing less of my energy on the majority of the class, most of whom were not as overtly resistant. As a class, we were spending a lot of time on confrontation rather than engaging in more productive conversations. I was also creating a classroom space where racist arguments could be made publicly and where my students of color had to witness them. By validating racist views as fair points of discussion, I was given those views more weight, not less.1

I have since changed my pedagogy on race. Instead of focusing on my most resistant students, I now focus on my most racially conscious students and on my students of color. I unapologetically explain how racism and white supremacy continue to be major, systemic issues in the country. By doing this, I augment the views and experiences of the more racially conscious students in my class. Of course, I still have resistant students but no more than I did before. And by being more direct and unapologetic about systemic racism, I have actually been able to engage all of my students better. Their questions are more directed about how to address inequity. Their analyses of examples of racism are sharper.  And my racially conscious students and students of color are more vocal (not to mention more appreciative). It has even created a more productive space for the more resistant students. They get to witness and be a part of more productive conversations on racism and learn from their peers about how to challenge it.

Benjamin Blaisdell
Teaching Associate Professor
Department of Special Education, Foundations, and Research

1To read about the importance of addressing racism directly in research, see my article, “Exorcising the Racism Phantasm: Racial Realism in Educational Research” here: https://www.academia.edu/21514581/Exorcising_the_racism_phantasm_Racial_realism_in_educational_research._The_Urban_Review_48_2_._2016_

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