What We’re Reading: Building an Anti-Racist Teaching Practice

illustration by Clare Reid

Becoming an anti-racist educator, as Kyoko Kishimoto emphasizes in her 2018 article “Anti-racist pedagogy: from faculty’s self-reflection to organizing within and beyond the classroom” (Race Ethnicity and Education) is a lifelong process. It’s a process that asks us to examine ourselves and the structures that surround us, and to involve students in doing the same.

Kishimoto organizes an anti-racist educator’s responsibilities into three broad areas of emphasis: building a focus on race and inequality into course content, adopting a pedagogical style that is actively anti-racist, and advocating for change in the larger institution within which one teaches.

“The first component of anti-racist pedagogy is to challenge Eurocentrism by including racial content into the syllabi, course materials, course activities, and curriculum,” writes Kishimoto. This can mean studying racism in the world and/or in the discipline at hand, emphasizing both the severity of the injustice and the agency (rather than victimhood) of the people struggling against those forces. It can mean making racial identity formation a topic in the course. However you incorporate the material, Kishimoto makes the important point that it shouldn’t be treated as token material, limited to a single class session, but should instead be an integral and pervasive aspect of the course. In addition to this article, you can find more ideas on making your course content inclusive and anti-racist in our Inclusive Pedagogy Toolkit.  

But anti-racist education demands attention not just to what we teach but also how we teach. This kind of pedagogy “seeks to (1) challenge assumptions and foster students’ critical analytical skills; (2) develop students’ awareness of their social positions; (3) decenter authority in the classroom and have students take responsibility for their learning process; and (4) empower students and apply theory to practice; and (5) create a sense of community in the classroom through collaborative learning.” Kishimoto offers additional detail on these elements in her article, and you can find more ideas on inclusive and anti-racist pedagogy in our Inclusive Pedagogy Toolkit.

Finally, Kishimoto emphasizes the need for institutional change. Changing our courses is important, in other words, but incomplete without shifts in the larger culture and system around those courses. Given the limits of an individual faculty member’s power, Kishimoto sees this as a potentially “bottom up” effort, both modeling and organizing for justice and equity in the school as a whole. Kishimoto also sees this as countercultural in academia: “Anti-racist organizing involves sharing, helping, and collaborating rather than competing and taking from others.”

The approach advocated by Kishimoto is comprehensive and deeply balanced. She challenges us to engage in self-examination without losing sight of structural causes of racism, and to analyze those structures without ever forgetting the role and agency of individuals to perpetuate racism or to push toward justice. Her arguments constitute a compelling and in fact rousing call to make sure that we are each on the lifelong path to becoming increasingly anti-racist educators.