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Reflecting on Racial Identity and Building Antiracism Mind-Sets

By Autumn M. Dodge
 | Jun 08, 2017
Reflecting on Racial Identity

More than 80% of U.S. teachers are white, as are 80%–90% of students enrolled in U.S. preservice teacher programs.

Meanwhile, students of color compose more than 45% of the U.S. pre-K–12 population; by 2023, students of color will represent more than 50% of the U.S. student population. There is a significant divide between the demographics of the students in our classrooms and their teachers.

For decades, multicultural education and culturally relevant pedagogy have been fostering approaches to educational equity. Culturally relevant pedagogy, for example, aims to create inclusive instructional techniques and materials that align with students’ funds of knowledge—to make adaptations to a curriculum that is inherently not as relevant to students of color and those whose cultures are different from the white mainstream.

Culturally relevant pedagogy is a way to bridge the gap between the dominant, white mainstream culture of schooling and the diverse students who aren’t members of that culture. In doing the important work of culturally relevant teaching, teachers don’t often consider the systemic workings of our dominant white society that continue to make schools a place where instruction, materials, and curricula have to be adapted in order to meet the needs of diverse learners. Critical Whiteness Studies suggests that meaningful change for equity in our schools can come about only when we dig into the entrenched issues of race, racism, and white dominance that undergird schooling in the United States.

Carrying the Critical Whiteness Studies mantle is no easy task. It requires white teachers to reflect on their own racial identities in a society that systematically privileges their race. It requires examination of how schools are included among institutions in the United States that maintain and replicate a hierarchy of power that benefits whites.

These are not easy or comfortable topics to discuss. Building understanding about these issues should be part of ongoing professional development and learning for both preservice and inservice teachers. According to ILA’s Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017 (currently in draft stage and available 2018) professional development on issues of race, racism, and educational equity can help teachers challenge “their own cultures, belief systems, and potential biases” and engage in “reflective practice” with other teachers.

One approach to Critical Whiteness work is forming antiracism professional book study groups. These book groups can be facilitated in a variety of contexts and formats and can use a range of texts, including nonfiction, fiction, and multimedia resources. Book groups offer a space for in-depth and ongoing learning, reflection, and discussion that creates possibilities for meaningful change. 

Autumn DodgeAutumn M. Dodge is an assistant professor of literacy in the Department of Education Specialties at St. John’s University in Queens, NY. Her teaching and research interests include Critical Whiteness work through studying white teacher identity and antiracism pedagogy, leveraging literacy for LGBTQ+ advocacy, disciplinary literacy, and literacy and pop culture in education.

Autumn M. Dodge will present a session titled “Antiracism Education Through Teacher Book Study Groups” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.

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