September 16, 2020
The Importance of Challenging Teacher’s Microaggressions
Larry Ferlazzo in Education Week asks me and others, “How should teachers respond when a colleague says or does something—knowingly or unknowingly—that is racist?”
The full article is here. My contribution is below:
Felicia Darling, Ph.D., says…
“Many of us who are not persons of color, who do not personally experience discrimination on a daily basis, have this tendency to think that racism occurs out there, away from us, in the media. We have this erroneous idea that racist acts are these dramatic or violent behaviors that are captured on video and posted on Instagram. However, racism is ubiquitous. It happens every day through small, almost invisible acts, in our classrooms, in our parent-teacher conferences, in our tenure-review meetings, and in our faculty meetings.
Also, racism does not just happen. We do it. In any given day, white colleagues interrupt colleagues of color during meetings; leaders take up the ideas of faculty of color less frequently than those of white faculty sitting at the table; teachers have lower expectations for students of color; students disproportionally use words like “aggressive” more frequently on teacher evaluations of Black women; and Black students are suspended more frequently than white students for the exact same behaviors.
We are the agents of racism. Therefore, the responsibility for disrupting systems of inequity falls directly on our shoulders. When a colleague says or does something racist, we have to speak up. While the specific thing we say or do does matter, what is most important is that we say or do something. If we do nothing, we are complicit in the racist act.
We cannot place the burden of speaking up onto people of color, either, given their precarious position in the existing power structure. White people are uniquely positioned to exert significant influence to disrupt the existing inequitable systems, and they must speak up. Here are some things that are better than doing nothing when encountering racist comments or acts among your colleagues. They are listed somewhat in order of increasing potency: Be loudly silent by frowning and glaring; tell the offending teacher privately that their speech or behavior is not OK and why; give the teacher anti-racist readings; publicly express your dismay about the comment or behavior in the moment or later; ask an administrator to provide a schoolwide training, submit a written complaint to your supervisor for repeated or egregious offenses; privately communicate empathy to those who might have been slighted by the remarks or acts; procure funding for a community of practice around equity to transform campus discourse and behavior; and solicit funding for ongoing equity education. Responding in more than one of the above ways is even more powerful.
The important thing to remember is that if we do nothing when someone acts in a racist manner, we are complicit in the act. Stopping racism is the responsibility of each and every one of us.”