Part of being an antiracist educator is calling out racism. Here are some guides to help you have those conversations with colleagues and students.
Conversations With Colleagues
These conversations are ones I have had (or have seen) within online art teacher forums. It is such conversations that served as the catalyst for this anti-racist art teacher guide and site. These comments highlight the importance of including anti-racism in our teacher training and curriculum. We encourage you to talk to other colleagues and art educators. Individuals are more receptive to having these difficult conversations when they have an established relationship. A future without racism begins with you.
Similar comments to this are “I treat all of my students equally” and “I don’t see color.” These phrases are counterproductive as they diminish the unique differences and experiences racial groups face. We all see color and to say you do not is untrue and dismissive. Ideally, we would live in a society where skin color was not a factor in our decision-making, but the unfortunate reality is that it is. Racism has not been eradicated and skin color is not something that is easily ignored. Acknowledgment is crucial, accepting this reality will allow us to recognize the stereotypes we have adopted and normalized. We have to first recognize that each of us have preconceived notions and expectations about different racial groups. It is this acceptance that will allow us to make conscious steps towards changing our own unconscious biases.
By definition, systemic racism is embedded deep and wide across American communities and institutions. For too long communities and institutions have been denying this truth. If art teachers think speaking up is too much trouble, then they have been silenced. If art teachers think standing up is too risky, then they have been minimized. If art teachers think it won’t make any difference, then they have already decided to lose. We can not wait any longer for our families, communities, and institutions to be "ready." Now is the time to address these disparities so that we can work towards creating a more just and equitable future for our students.
Many teachers view issues of race as political, and therefore do not feel that those discussions belong in the classroom. It can be helpful to re-frame it for those educators that we aren’t teaching politics- this is a matter of humanity. Debating Black Lives Matter or whether systemic racism is NOT up for debate. Presenting these ideas as opinions or political view points creates a dangerous and false equivalency.
Art is so much more than teaching medium and technical form. Art is about creativity and expression. Art is an excellent way for students to visually respond to topics that impact their lives and society. Whether or not you recognize it, racism is something students will encounter. By definition, systemic racism is embedded deep and wide across American communities and institutions. For too long communities and institutions have been denying this truth. In a letter written by Dr. James Haywood Rolling, Jr. (President-Elect of the National Art Education Association) he states “What if art teachers taught students not only to make the world more beautiful, not only to express their ideas and emotions, not only to ask provocative questions, not only to solve problems creatively—but also to design an anti-racist world? Like Harold and his purple crayon, perhaps it only starts with an unbounded imagination. Using my own purple crayon at leverage points suggested by Donella Meadows to “change the structure of systems to produce more of what we want and less of that which is undesirable.”
"Differences shape who we are and what we know. Life, history, society and power cannot be understood from a single perspective; we need multiple viewpoints to truly see the world. Because of this, inclusive classrooms must function as learning communities built on shared inquiry and dialogue. Dialogue is more than conversation. It is also different than debate, in which someone wins and someone loses. Dialogue requires openness to new ideas and collective learning. This is not an easy practice; for students (and teachers) to engage in dialogue, they must build and exercise specific skills." -Teaching Tolerance. (follow link for more)
Multiculturalism can often be approached in an appropriated manner, this cultural appropriation is a real occurrence in many art rooms. Another art teacher mentioned this in a comment, and I think they are excellent questions to consider. “If the only artists of color you're teaching are a) from another country and b) from the past, you are presenting art history through a lens of white supremacy (artists of color as "cultural," "diverse," "historical" figures--totally othered--rather than living, working, joyful members of your community).” Representation is a starting point in making students feel affirmed in their learning so we must look critically at our curriculum. How many artists of color do we expose our students to? How often are we including these artists in our art lessons? Representation can be used to provide new perspectives and affirm a student's identity, by providing both “mirrors and windows” to look through. But we need to make sure we are doing so in an authentic and respectful way.
"Start with living artists, culture is alive and changing. It is important to not give students the impression that culture is something of the past or something other people have. We all come from a cultural context. I find it helpful to do Cross-Cultural comparisons and also to connect directly with my student population first, give them a voice. Avoid assignments that direct students to recreate cultural artifacts, sacred, or ceremonial cultural patrimony. Many traditional cultural art forms are made by cultural makers who have specific respect or initiations from their communities that give the permission to make these art forms. For example, children from The Hopi nation do not make kachina dolls therefore it would be wrong to ask other students to make them." - Lori Santos
Anti-Racism in education is critical, it should not be considered radical. It is paramount in the journey to deconstruct the racist systems we have. The average teacher affects over 3,000 students during their career. As the teacher, you are the decisive element in a classroom. It is your personal approach that creates the classroom climate. As a teacher you have the power to inspire your students. Do you allow your students to demonstrate understanding beyond paper and pencil? In the end of the day students will likely not remember what art techniques they used but they will remember how you made them think and feel. As a teacher you need to reflect on your curriculum and teaching practices. Infuse anti-racism into your everyday teaching to ensure that all of your students feel seen, heard, and respected.
An anti-racist curriculum can not be developed over night. It requires deep work and reflection from the teacher, at this moment we have to be urgent but also responsible. Take your time to really listen, learn, and reflect BEFORE you begin to reform your curriculum and teaching. It is not about adding anti-racism to your curriculum, it is about infusing and integrating varied perspectives. It is about working towards removing biases, stereotypes, and false narratives in your everyday teaching practice.
As teachers ourselves, we must be teachable. We must be willing to be wrong, to throw out new ideas, to live in an uncomfortable place of not knowing, and to be humble and admit when we are wrong and need help and support to figure out a way to do better. Pushing forward into the discomfort doesn’t just apply to private, everyday life. We need to be here, be vulnerable and share. As art teachers we need to be receptive and respectful in return. Self-awareness and training for teachers to confront their implicit biases and unconscious/self-justified racism in art is essential.
Acknowledging that you do not feel comfortable is the first step. You can not be expected to help your students discuss or process racial inequities if you yourself are not able to do so. Take the time to first really listen to BIPOC. Take your time to learn and understand the history of racism and systemic racism. Be prepared to really sit and reflect on your personal life and professional practices. Eager teachers risk causing harm to students if they do not fully understand and unpack their own biases first. This will take time.
Anti-racism involves deep work and reflection on the teacher’s part first. However, many teachers simply do not know where to start. We have created a starter guide and have been compiling a plethora of resources to encourage art teachers to first listen and learn before reflecting and reforming their curriculum.
Simply hanging up these posters is not the same as doing the work, they were simply a message we created to help encourage other art teachers to begin this journey. Anti-racism involves deep work and reflection by the teacher. We encourage all art teachers to start by listening, learning, and reflecting first before taking the time to reform their curriculum and teaching.
Just not being actively hateful does not mean that you do not contribute to systematic racism and may even unintentionally pass racist ideas through your art class. Anti-racism requires action. A reflection of your own thoughts and biases that may inform your ideas of your students, your subject matter, etc. And eventually a change in your actions to achieve equity in your classroom.
This is a collaborative project and we welcome any and all advice you have to offer, in no way do we feel that we have all of the answers. Please let us know how you think we can improve the site and resources we have. This work is constant, we all need to continuously self-reflect in order to learn and grow.
Resources to help you respond to racism in the classroom.