Anti-Racism and the Writing Classroom:

A workbook for FYW teachers.


The questions and answers (the “hesitations”) in this section arise from the context of our first-year writing program, and the concerns about pursuing anti-racist practice as voiced by our instructors and administrators. We include questions that any anti-racist ally and/or co-conspirator must consider. We acknowledge the well-meaning but often reluctant instructors’ responses to the perceived ‘charge’ of antiracism. Often, there is a willingness to act, but one does not know where or how to begin. So we begin here, by speaking back to these hesitations, and while our responses are rooted in the specific locale of our own institution, many of these ideas have valence for institutions elsewhere.

Self-reflection on one’s own positionality is complex and hard, and making mistakes is simply unavoidable. When we think of our own teaching practice, doubtless we can think of similar moments of difficulty and complexity. The point, though, is to recognize and take responsibility as best we can, not to browbeat ourselves for something well-intentioned that went wrong. Discomfort or regret can help us learn to do better, or it can press us into retreat. To be anti-racist requires us to understand that we have inevitably done harm, given the small power of our authority with the context of being raised and educated within racist cultures and interlocking, oppressive systems. We can then reckon with this reality, and do better. How might we assess what we have done clearly, and so change our practices for the better?

Before you read…

A note on the voice and tone of this section: we, the contributors, have opted to use “we” as a way to invite our colleagues into the type of reflection we understand as foundational to engaging anti-racism. The “we” invoked throughout the responses changes for different audiences and is different implicated depending on the nature of the assumption/objection/hesitation. For example, the we in “​​I can’t practice antiracism because I’m white…” was written by white contributors for other white colleagues in our program. We think it important to note this because the contributors come from different positionalities and, while we strive for invitation, we want to note that different people have different reflective work to do. Figuring out where you stand and what this means for your individual practice is an important starting place and we believe this section can aid you in figuring out and addressing what obstacles you have to overcome.

Before you consider the assumptions, objections, and hesitations, if you haven’t already, please use the following three questions to spend some time reflecting so that you may surface which hesitations you might want to review.

  • What do you see as the obstacles preventing you from engaging in anti-racist practice?
  • Do you consider yourself to be anti-racist?
  • Do you consider yourself to be an antiracist teacher? Why or why not?

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