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Uncomfortable Conversations About Race For Teachers and Students

As teachers, we know all of the buzz words:

  • Culturally responsive classroom

  • Equity and Equality

  • Cultural awareness

  • Diversity

But what the hell does that actually mean? How do teachers create a culturally responsive classroom? How do we have cultural and racial equity in our classrooms? How can teachers be culturally aware? How to we celebrate diversity?

I think one key things that PD forgets to tell us is that we have to check ourselves, open our minds, and practice checking our biases daily.

Yes, even me. I too have to do the same. Not just white teachers.

I came across a YouTube video entitled "What I Am Learning From My White Grandchildren."

Now, I'm not a grandparent yet, but as a parent and teacher-- this video resonated with me so much. It left me thinking about myself, my students, my children.

I'm not sure if the world realizes how aware children are. Since we work with them daily, we know the crazy things they think-- and say. But I suppose we need to think deeper about why they think and say the things they do. In short, we say, "it comes from their parents," which is true-- but it also comes from their teachers, classmates, siblings, media, their favorite cartoon.

Well, honey, buckle up because you're in for a wild ride of self-discovery and cultural enlightenment! As a seasoned teacher, black and white mixed woman, and parent of multicultural children-- I'm here to guide you on a journey of what this man says he is learning from your white grandchildren. Get ready to expand your horizons, challenge your perceptions, and perhaps even learn a thing or two about yourself in the process.

I understand conversations about race can be uncomfortable, but they must take place.

Here's the video if you wanna check it out.

Why do some people avoid uncomfortable conversations about race with children?

There are a few reasons why some people may avoid having uncomfortable conversations about race with children:

  1. Fear of saying the wrong thing: Adults may worry that they will say something inappropriate or offensive when discussing race with children, which can be a sensitive and complex topic.

  2. Lack of knowledge or understanding: Some adults may not feel confident in their ability to explain race and racism to children or may not fully understand the complexities of the issues themselves.

  3. Concerns about upsetting children: Adults may worry that discussing race and racism with children could be upsetting or overwhelming for them, particularly if they are young.

  4. Desire to shield children from difficult topics: Some adults may believe that shielding children from difficult conversations about race is the best way to protect them, even though this approach can contribute to a lack of understanding and perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

However, avoiding uncomfortable conversations about race with children can be harmful as it can perpetuate systemic racism and leave children ill-equipped to understand and navigate the complex racial landscape of our society. Having honest and open conversations about race can help children develop critical thinking skills, empathy, and a deeper understanding of the experiences of people from different backgrounds.

What Can this TedTalk Teach Educators and Students?

Anthony Peterson, highlights that a five-year-old is asking if he's black or white. At such a young age, thus kiddo already attached value to race and knew it mattered. This begs the question, why do children as young as five already know that race matters?

The answer is simple - because we tell them it does. Think about that. Our students think race matters and it's various grown ups who have imbedded those ideas in their mind.

He tells us that race is a social construct, not a biological one. Anthropologists long ago rejected the idea of races connected to skin color. The amount of pigment in our skin, particularly melanin, determines our skin color. There are no cultures, physical abilities, character traits, values, or vices connected to skin color. However, from a very early age, children pick up that skin color is different and this is where race starts to matter.

We tell children that race is real but that it doesn't matter. The reality is, race isn't real, but it does matter. Our skin color is determined by the amount of pigment, melanin, in our skin. Anthropologists have long rejected the idea of races connected to skin color as there is no culture in color, no mental or physical abilities, no character traits, no values, connected to melanin.

Despite this scientific fact, from a very early age, children are taught that skin color is different from all other colors and that different skin colors have different names. This is where the notion of race goes beyond skin color to physical traits and abilities. We believe that race is connected to bloodlines and that bloodlines trace back to pure races, but again, science doesn't back this up.

Here's 5 Ways to Have a Culturally Responsive Classroom

  1. Promote diversity and inclusion: Encourage diversity and inclusiveness in the classroom by exposing students to different cultures, races, and backgrounds.

  2. Use culturally relevant teaching materials: Select and use teaching materials that reflect the cultural backgrounds and experiences of your students.

  3. Encourage student-led discussions: Encourage students to share their perspectives and experiences in discussions, helping to foster a culturally responsive classroom.

  4. Foster cultural self-awareness: Encourage teachers and students to reflect on their own cultural biases and beliefs, helping to build cultural understanding and empathy.

  5. Provide opportunities for cross-cultural learning experiences: Offer opportunities for students to learn about and interact with different cultures, such as field trips or cultural events, to broaden their cultural awareness and understanding.

As teachers, we have a responsibility to educate our students on the truth about race. We must be vigilant in our language and not perpetuate harmful stereotypes. We must challenge the notion of pure races and instead, teach our students that we are all human beings with more in common than not.

I hope that other teachers will join me in making a conscious effort to educate our students and to create a safe place for all students to be seen, heard, and valued.

If you think this video would be interesting to your students, show it to them! I also have this free Google Form to use as a viewing guide or formative assessment.

After the video-- talk to your students. Their little brains are full of ideas and insight beyond out wildest dreams.


Hugs, love, and lots of kisses


Ty Tiger | Kinda Sorta Teacher



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