Part of our mission at the learning code is to empower you to advocate for system transformation in honor of the next generation of learners. The process of transforming the college education system starts by identifying and acknowledging problematic policies in your classes, institutions, and governments. From that perspective, I can think of nothing more pernicious for learning in college than the historical and living legacies of racist ideas and racist policies in the United States. When we engage in the struggle to re-design our higher education systems by centering antiracist policies, we work to make learning achievable and meaningful for every student who wants to earn a college degree. Learning how to be antiracist and how to advocate for antiracist policies does not happen automatically. To grow these skills, we must engage in deliberate effort. In this post, we explore a few antiracist learning practices.
A great place to start when thinking about antiracism is with the idea that racist policies hurt almost everyone in society. This is a truth captured eloquently by Ibram X. Kendi when he writes:
“Antiracists should stop connecting selfishness to racism and unselfishness to antiracism. Altruism is wanted, not required. Antriracists do not have to be altruistic. Antiracists do not have to be selfless. Antiracists merely have to have intelligent self-interest, and to stop consuming those racists ideas that have engendered so much unintelligent self interest over the years. It is in the intelligent self-interest of middle- and upper-income Blacks to challenge the racism effecting the Black poor, knowing they will not be free of the racism that is slowing their socioeconomic rise until poor Blacks are free of racism. It is in the intelligent self-interest of Asians, Native Americans, and Latina/os to challenge anti-Black racism, knowing that they will not be free of racism until Black people are free of racism. It is in the intelligent self-interest of White Americans to challenge racism, knowing they will not be free of sexism, class bias, homophobia, and ethnocentrism until Black people are free of racism. The histories of anti-Asian, anti-Native, and anti-Latina/o racists ideas; the histories of sexist, elitist, homophobic, and ethnocentric ideas: all sound eerily similar to this history of racist ideas, and feature some of the same defenders of bigotry in America. Supporting these prevailing bigotries is only in the intelligent self-interest of a tiny group of super rich, Protestant, heterosexual, non-immigrant, White, Anglo-Saxon males. Those are the only people who need to be altruistic in order to be antiracist. The rest of us merely need to do the intelligent thing for ourselves.”–Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning, Epilogue p. 504
The above quote highlights a much larger theme running throughout his award-winning book Stamped from the Beginning. Specifically, racist ideas are tools used in an Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy to enact, maintain, and rationalize policies that most benefit a tiny group of White men at great expense to the larger society. The sooner the rest of us come to terms with this reality, the sooner we can join the struggle to create more equitable outcomes by replacing racist policies with antiracist policies. Kendi argues that such changes directly benefit anyone who is not part of the very tiny group of ultra-rich white men that he describes.
So… How does this relate to our work at the Learning Code?
Our community is designed to help you develop habits of strategic deep learning. We do so by engaging in dialog about learning principles and practices. We also work to highlight the power and wisdom in your lived experiences. We believe that you can learn anything and thrive in any college classroom. We want to be part of a team of people that help you develop sophisticated learning practices. Our hope is that you can leverage your learning skills to achieve your academic, career, and personal goals in college and beyond
However, while we dedicate lots of energy to support your individual learning, we recognize that all learning exists within the larger social contexts in which you live. In the US, racist policies have huge implications on every aspect of learning in college, including but not limited to:
- Access to college preparation
- The high cost of college tuition and rising student debt burden
- Housing costs and affordability
A good test to figure out if your college experience has been adversely effected by racist policies is to ask yourself the following question:
Has my work in any of my college classes ever left me feeling isolated, deficient, uninspired, or incompetent?
If your answer to this question is yes, I contend that some part of those feelings arise in response to your struggle to navigate a system that is implemented via racist policies. If your answer to this question is no, I want to know where you go to college and which teachers you are taking classes from so I can share your story with my students. In either case, I encourage you to hold the following question in your mind:
How do racist policies adversely effect my learning in college?
There is no easy answer to this question. To develop and refine your insights into this conundrum, I encourage you to make a commitment to seek out information about racism, racist ideas, and racist policies. Every action you take to educate yourself about racism and racist policies moves us one step closer to transforming our college education system. I can imagine a world in which:
- Tuition costs and fees at public institutions are $0.00 for all students.
- We provide housing and food at no cost to any student who needs it.
- We provide enough financial support so that every college student can focus as much energy as she wants on her studies without having to work part-time to pay the bills.
- We redesign our college classes so that students can learn at their own pace and engage in mastery-based learning.
- We create a flexible system that allows for a 5- or 6-year path to graduation so that students can study slowly and deeply without being overwhelmed by stress.
- College classes have no more than 20 students.
- College instructors are paid to develop rich learning experiences and rewarded with career advancement and prestige for their work in education.
- Every academic department with more than one full-time faculty has at least one (hopefully more) tenured professors who is Black.
- We design colleges to be willing and able to meet a student where she is rather than a system that measures all students via a predefined metric of success that has nothing to do with the lived experience of students.
- We create classes, departments, institutions, and governments that routinely achieve graduation rates of 100%. In other words, our college systems are able to provide high academic rigor with enough support so that any student who wants to earn a degree does so successfully.
- We invest institutional resources in helping students develop a value-based vision for their career and connect that vision to the courses they take to complete their degree.
Can you envision such a world? How would the way you engage in your classes change if your world looked like this? How would these changes effect your learning?
When you engage in antiracist learning, when you seek out information and education about racist ideas and racist policies, you begin the process of liberating your mind. And the moment you begin to engage in that process, you join a centuries-long fight to replace racist ideas with antiracist ideas. That is a necessary struggle in order to transform our college education system so that the next generation of learners is provided a more equitable environment than you are. Large-scale system transformation necessitates that each of us re-educate ourselves about the reality of race and racism in our society.
With that struggle in mind, I share a few of my favorite antiracist learning practices. These are practices that I use to identify racist ideas that were implanted in my mind without my permission and to replace those with antiracist ideas that more closely align with my beliefs, values, and lived experiences.
|ANTIRACIST LEARNING PRACTICE: Explore your identities.|
Your identity is a multifaceted set of behaviors, characteristics, and relationships that help you define who you are. In the process of constructing identity, it can be helpful to distinguish between your social and personal identities.
Your social identities arise from your connection with other people. These types of identity focus on characteristics you share in common with others in a specific group. Example of social identities include race, gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, religion, education level, or political affiliation.
On the other hand, your personal identity is what makes you unique: these are your individual preferences, experiences, quirks, and interpersonal relationships. For example, statements in the form ‘I like math,’ ‘I enjoy running,’ or ‘I love the taste of strawberries’ all hint at your personal identity. These are attributes of yourself that define you independently of your relationship with other people.
Each of us uses our personal and social identities to filter information and make meaning of our lived experiences. As we engage in the world, our identities help guide our actions and consciousness. These aspects of our self effect what we pay attention to and how we perceive the world. Our identifies also influence how other people communicate and interact with us.
It is within this context that racist ideas swim. A racist idea suggests that there is a hierarchy among racial identities. Such ideas proclaim that someone from one race is inherently better than someone from another race. These ideas lead to dehumanizing treatment. Racist policy makers use these ideas as a tool to rationalize policies that benefit a very small collection of people at the expense of targeted racial groups. In contrast, antiracist ideas suggest equality between racial groups, noting that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group. Antiracist ideas center respect for and reverence of the equality and diversity among people from all racial groups.
A cruel reality of the historical legacy of racism in the United States is that anyone who exists in our society is effected by racists ideas and racist policies. Even if we do not consciously consent, our society imposes a large collection of meanings unto our racial identities that have drastic implications for how we live our lives. One way to come to terms with this reality is to spend dedicated time over many years thinking about our various social identities.
The good news is that a whole collection of scholars and educators have invested years of their lives to empower you on this journey of self exploration and discovery. One benefit of this work is that we have access to a tool called the social identity wheel that we can use to reflect on our various social identities. When we engage in this type of thinking, not only do we deepen our understanding of ourselves but we unlock pieces of our mind that make us more effective learners.
I filled out my first social identity wheel in June 2018 and have been intermittently updating my personal draft since then. In my journey of coming to terms with how racist ideas and racist policies effect my life, the practice of naming my social identities has been instrumental. As a White man, my ability to recognize and acknowledge how Whiteness impacts my life is directly related to my understanding of how my social identities function in society.
When I am being honest with myself, I recognize that I first became aware of my white privilege (aka white immunity) sometime in elementary school, maybe around 4th or 5th grade. Many of my school friends at the time were children of color. I have vivid memories of these friends telling me that our experiences in school were not the same. As children, we did not have the vocabulary to describe this phenomena using academic language. But I got the message clearly: they felt that my whiteness had a positive impact on my schooling that they were not afforded by their non-whiteness. It’s taken me far too many years to engage in a serious study of what my school buddies shared with me in those early years. One powerful step for me has been to explore my social identities and reflect on what those mean within our larger society.
|ANTIRACIST LEARNING PRACTICE: Read, read, read.|
When it comes to learning how to be antiracist, your ability to read broadly and deeply is a very powerful tool you have. Author Beverly Daniel Tatum urges each of us to engage in this learning process at the conclusion of her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria when she writes:
“I have heard many people say, ‘But I don’t know enough! I don’t even recognize most of those names. I don’t have enough of the facts to be able to speak up about racism or anything else!” They are not alone. We have all been miseducated in this regard. Educating ourselves and others is an essential step in the process of change. Few of us have been taught to think critically about issues of social justice. We have been taught not to notice or to accept our present situation as a given, ‘this is the way it is.’ But we can learn the history we were not taught, we can watch the documentaries we never saw in school, and we can read about the lives of change agents, past and present. We can discover another way. We are surrounded by a ‘cloud of witnesses’ who will give us courage if we let them.”–Beverly Daniel Tatum, Why Are All the Black Kids
Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, p, 340.
One focus of The Learning Code is to help you develop your own personal reading systems. As you create and refine your systems, I encourage you to intentionally seek out work written by Black authors, writers, and scholars who explore the topics of race, racism, antiracism, and social justice. If you’d like suggestions, you might take a look at Amazon’s list of Best Sellers in Discrimination and Racism. If you’re on a budget, search for your desired title at your local library.
At this point in my learning, I dedicate a large portion of my reading diet to learning how to be antiracist. I recommend every book I’ve read on the subject in the last 12 months. I am still very young in my own re-education and I have a long list of books on my queue just waiting for my attention. The good news is that I have the rest of my life to explore, reflect, and grow. I feel so blessed to have, at my finger tips, hundreds of thousands of hours of work by dedicated scholars and deep thinkers who have sacrificed so much to help me learn. And I feel responsible to listen from a space of humility and to develop courage, fortitude, and resolve on this journey, especially when I stumble.
If you have even a slight interest in or curiosity about antiracism, I encourage you to create an open invitation to yourself to read more about racism and antiracism. You might start your own book list and team up with friends to work through your reading together. One way to get your feet wet is to rent or buy audio books on the subject. As you go about your day, listen to your chosen audiobook during the time you might otherwise spend listening to the radio or PodCasts.
You might also enroll in college courses that grant formal academic credit for engaging in antiracist learning. Check your school’s course offerings for any classes on racism, antiracism, social justice, Black studies, Chicana/o studies, Asian American Studies, or ethnic studies. Also, engage with your academic counselor about how to satisfy some of your degree requirements by taking such courses. In addition to more general knowledge about racism in US society, I encourage you to seek out classes about anti-Black racism and pay close attention in those classes. If you are White, look for classes that focus on developing racial literacy and make a special effort to engage in those classes.
|ANTIRACIST LEARNING PRACTICE: Maintain and develop a list of antiracist terms.|
A third practice that I find very helpful is to curate a list of antiracist terms. One of the ways racism functions is by infiltrating our bodies and minds without asking for our permission. A great analogy of this phenomenon is that of second-hand smoke. When we are in a room and someone is smoking, it’s impossible not to breath in that poison. We are not granted the choice of whether or not we want that inside our body.
I find that the habit of developing and refining a list of antiracist terms helps me identify and speak about racism. This does not stop the poison from being in the air around me nor does it stop me from internalizing some of it. But it does give me tools to more quickly identify it’s existence and mentally disassociate my ideas about my own identities from the racist ideas projected upon me.
Truth be told, I am still in the early stages of my development for this practice. My current draft document of antiracist terms draws most heavily from the book How to be an Antiracist. I have plans to integrate ideas from at least five other books I’ve read recently. Like all things, that process takes time. The important feature of this practice is not that my list is complete. Instead, what matters most to me is the habit of searching for clear definitions about racism, racist ideas, racist policies as well as actively working to understand antiracism, antiracist ideas, and antiracist policies.
- Work through the readings, videos, and worksheets on the social identity wheel activity page. Fill out your first drafts of your own personal and social identity wheels. Think critically about which of those identities represent privileged groups and which represent marginalized groups.
- Work back through any or all of the links in this article. Explore the author’s webpages, listen to the PodCasts, and watch the videos. After exploring each link, write a 1 paragraph reflection: what did you learn from that link? What does that link make you want to learn more about?
- Choose a book focused on racism, antiracism, or social justice. Make a commitment to read that book from the first page to the last. As you read, make notes on what you are learning. How is what you read related to your experience trying to learn in your college classes.
You are the future. You are part of the next generation of leaders, scholars, intellectuals, and professionals that will be responsible for the future of our society. One way that racism and racist ideas propagate from generation to the next is by passing into the hearts and minds of young people without ever being challenged by critical analysis. Each and every moment you spend thinking about race and racism in our society, you take a small step towards developing the type of collective consciousness that has the potential to transform systems. Like all meaningful learning in life, I encourage you to move slow and steady: step-by-step.