Friday, August 26, 2011

How to Talk About Race: Expert #1

On October 18, I'll be presenting two sessions at the Friends School of Portland, Maine: "Mirrors & Lenses: Racial Identity Formation in the Classroom," an afternoon workshop for educators, and, with Bates psychology professor Krista Aronson, an evening community event, "Books as Bridges: Children's Literature and Anti-Racism Education."

In preparation for the event, I'm reading a stack of books on these topics, seeking out the latest research and theory. I began with one of our best thinkers on the topic of race, Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" and Other Conversations About Race.

Her newest book, Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation, isn't as much about how to talk about race as I'd anticipated from the title (a large section addresses the implications of school resegregation), but there are valuable teachings on what needs to be included in conversations about race, especially in schools.

I found the most useful information in the "ABC Approach to Creating Inclusive Learning Environments." Tatum argues that children need environments that "acknowledge the continuing significance of race and racial identity in ways that can empower and motivate students to transcend the legacy of racism in our society even when the composition of their classrooms continues to reflect it."

The ABCs are Affirming identity, by allowing children to see themselves reflected in the environment around them; Building community, in which everyone has a sense of belonging; and Cultivating leadership, preparing citizens for active participation in a democracy.

I was particularly interested in Tatum's thoughts about educating white children, who she says need schools that are "intentional about helping them understand social justice issues like prejudice, discrimination and racism, empowering them to think critically about the stereotypes to which they are exposed in the culture."

Tatum notes the essential work of white parents and teachers in understanding Whiteness: "When White adults have not thought about their own racial identity, it is difficult for them to respond to the identity development needs of either White children or children of color." "The good news," she goes on to say, "is that those who have engaged in a process of examining their own racial and ethnic identity, and who already feel affirmed in it, are more likely to be respectful of the self-definition that others claim, and are much more effective working in multiracial settings."

Her message is clear: the ability to navigate race is an essential skill for all students of all races in the 21st century.

The book has extensive footnotes from many sources - more resources to explore.

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