Monday, February 17, 2014

Let's Talk About Race

Source: Let's Talk About Race by Julius Lester
February is African American History Month.  We celebrate the amazing men and women who contributed to the cultural fabric of the United States. It’s a time to reflect on their struggles, accomplishments, and contributions. As teachers, we make every effort to weave the importance of this into our curricula regardless of discipline. Yet, as educators, do we get to the heart of the matter and talk about race? Isn’t African American History Month as much about race, as it is about heritage? We think so.

Michael I. Norton and Evan P. Apfelbaum published The Costs Of Color Blindness in the Harvard Business Review last year. The companion video to this article offers a detailed insight into this research. It invites the viewer to participate in an activity to illustrate the reluctance to identify individuals by race. The study found, with the exception of young children, most people are uncomfortable with making a direct reference to race.

Interestingly, when color is reduced to black and white dots for each image, the responses changed. Participants had little trouble with using a dot to identify color, as opposed to identifying race based on black and white faces.

Source: The Costs of Racial Color Blindness
This inherent reluctance indicates a greater social dynamic surrounding the issue of race. Instead of avoiding the topic, we should openly acknowledge it. The more we integrate this into the conversation, the easier it is to discuss it without racial implications. We need to take the lead. This video resource is a good place to start. It could be used with middle or high school students, at a faculty meeting, or as a professional development workshop.

We need to be more straightforward and candid in our approach to educating our learners and talking about race and social attitudes. Especially when high profile cases such as the George Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin, and the more recent shooting of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn over loud music, have racial overtones based on biases and stereotypes.

Source: The Costs of Racial Color Blindness
We want our learners to be a nation that believes individuals should  “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. To do that, we need to be open and frank in our discussions about race.

Implicit bias lies in us, like it or not. We all have thoughts and feelings that occur outside of our conscious awareness or control. Raising awareness about it is where education comes into it. There are many resources available to delve deeper into implicit social cognition.

Source: Project Implicit
One is Project Implicit. It investigates the gap between intentions and actions. It provides a host of research and demonstration websites to try tests on a range of topics. It also offers education and training services on implicit bias, diversity, inclusion, and more.

Source: TCP
For our younger students, we recommend the lesson by Nina Miller using Julius Lester's book, Let's Talk About Race, on the Teaching Children Philosophy website. It offers guidelines and questions for a philosophical discussion using story, race, and equality.


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