Anti-Racism and the Writing Classroom:

A workbook for FYW teachers.

Why wouldn’t a curriculum that is student-centered in the stories our students tell automatically be anti-racist?

As the continuum suggests, inclusivity and anti-racism can overlap, but they are not identical.  There’s also an assumption that a curriculum that centers itself in students telling their own stories is automatically inclusive and therefore anti-racist.  While inviting student to share their stories is inclusive, such invitations do not themselves prevent microaggressions from occurring in the classrooms; indeed, one could argue that a pedagogy based in everyone’s story does not ensure that everyone’s story will be seen as equal by others, or be equally respected, or even that everyone will feel they have the right to tell their story. Some stories may be told at the expense of others, or in such a way so as to cause harm to others; and even if done unintentionally, students may end up asking questions about one another’s stories that can cause harm or signal misunderstanding. 

Take the stories of:

  •  the Muslim student who shares his prayer rug as his cultural object (for an assignment), and another student asks: “But …”  
  • the student who mocks (and/or “corrects”) another student’s writing, when that student is employing aspects of their home language (be this Vietnamese or African-American Vernacular)  
  • the student who volunteers an in-the-know comment about police in “certain neighborhoods” (“Well, we all know why the police might be needed there”)  
  • a group of students who ignore the work and potential contributions of a classmate who is connected with the disability office, and requires extra processing time – often as long as 10 seconds per sentence—to respond to the comments of others  
  • students who believe that racism no longer exists, and say so in class  
  • the Chinese student who presents her parasol to class as representing her home cultures, and when a student asks: “Why do you use them, even when it’s not raining?” She cavalierly responds: “To keep my skin white” – completely insensitive to how that statement might land on the ears of the 3 BIPOC students in class

So here are some questions: 

What kinds of microaggressions might our teaching of a curriculum bound in students sharing their own stories allow?  What microaggressions can occur in our classrooms despite all of our best intentions, and how might we respond?  What might we notice, and when and why might we not?  What steps can we take from the start to help ensure respect for all, to the extent possible?  How might we teach our students to consider others’ perspectives and stories, as they craft and share their own?  How might we ask that they anticipate how their stories might be read / received by others, who come from different places, and/or have different identities? 

How can we encourage our students to recognize the potential harmfulness of their own assumptions, biases, and blindnesses?  (Or even, of their own words – employing words that may carried charged meaning for certain student populations, as in: “My mom would lynch me for that [a white student talking of how his parents would respond, if they learned of his speeding ticket]”).  When and how do we “call in” rather than “call out” such a comment, especially if the remark is unconsciously made? When and how do we ourselves as a teacher ‘check in’ with a student whom we believe has been thus harmed, without drawing unnecessary or unwanted attention to them, or otherwise causing further harm?

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