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Advice From the Experts

TT answers your tough questions.

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Illustration by Andrea Pippins

Q: What are my rights and responsibilities as an educator confronting racism in my school?

At a minimum, our role as educators is to provide students with adequate educational opportunities in a healthy learning environment. We are responsible for creating a classroom environment that is conducive to the learning needs of all students. To allow all students a safer environment, we are responsible for interrupting racist speech, practices and policies in our classrooms and school communities. While teachers have the right and responsibility to discuss and address learning conditions, there are potential risks to practicing accountability with our students. Some educators fear or experience administrative or family backlash when confronting racism. TT encourages educators to take this intentional risk. In our guide Speak Up at School, we offer tools to support this necessary practice, including tips for working within challenging power dynamics.

 

What is cultural appropriation?

The use of the term “cultural appropriation” began in the late 1970s in academic discussions of colonialism and Western imperialism. Contemporary uses of this phrase often pull from this historical critique of colonial power and oppression of the Global South, but what is and isn’t cultural appropriation can vary depending on the context. A helpful starting place comes from Everyday Feminism, which states that cultural appropriation is a “power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.” In the classroom, educators and students can utilize resources such as the PBS Origin of Everything episode on cultural appropriation to discuss and understand what is and isn’t cultural appropriation. Additionally, self-reflective guiding questions can support a nuanced and thoughtful understanding of the cultural appropriation power dynamic. For example, does the dominant culture receive praise for an element of culture while the non-dominant culture is villainized or discredited for it? Cultural appropriation is an evolving and expansive term to describe the relationship of power between dominant and non-dominant cultures. Ultimately, we should follow the lead and respect the needs and wants of the people whose culture is being accessed by those outside of their cultural group.

 

What is anti-racist curriculum?

The terms “anti-bias” and “anti-racist” are often used interchangeably. However, clarifying and understanding the difference between these curricular models and their practices is critical to creating an equitable learning environment for all students. Anti-bias curriculum helps students recognize, understand and accept race, class, gender and other differences. Anti-racist curriculum invites both educators and students into a practice of disrupting white supremacy and structural oppression in their classroom, school and community. A quote attributed to abolitionist scholar Angela Davis summarizes the importance of anti-racist curriculum: “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist; we must be anti-racist.” Anti-racist education equips educators and students with the necessary tools to transform the conditions and outcomes in their community. 

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