Race & Racism

Cross-Cultural Dialogues… Where do we go from here?

or White Educators Talk about Race – Part Deux

In my last post, I discussed the ways White educators tend to handle cross-cultural dialogues. This is especially important now. In an effort to make our schools more emotionally and physically safe, many schools are encouraging teachers to talk about race with students.

Overall, this is a good thing. Nonetheless, some conversations further racial understanding, empathy and healing, while others actually reinforce harmful narratives.

How is you child’s school talking about race?

Using DiAngelo’s Framework to Talk about Race

If we use DiAngelo’s “discourse of violence” framework, we can make some basic predictions about the ways White (and White identifying) teachers lead conversations about race in racially-mixed classrooms. Analyzing the dynamics of power and privilege in our classrooms, and the role we play as educators, can inform the ways we structure and support cross-cultural dialogues about race.

[I’ve included an image of the abstract of her research. You can read the full research here.]


5 Tips for Educators in Guiding Cross-Cultural Dialogues on Race

Elevate Black/Brown voices

If we know we are more likely to favor comments made by White students (white solidarity), we can make a dedicated effort to elevate the voices of Black and Brown students. Come up with a strategy to manage talk time. Set and reinforce clear classroom rules to insure marginalized voices get more time. Also recognize that some students may need more “think time” or other encouragement. Using Think-Pair-Share can be a good way to ensure marginalized students have the support they need in order to fully participate.

Name micro-aggressive behavior, language, and stereotypes

If we know cross-cultural dialogue in diverse spaces tend to center around “safety” for White students, we can be intentional about having conversations about what it means to have a “safe space”. When setting ground rules for conversations, ask students, “Does “safe” mean not talking about hard topics? Is “emotional safety” the same as “discomfort”? What agreements can we make to be respectful while still honoring and supporting others in expressing diverse and sometimes challenging points of view?”

.Also what  If we know we are less likely to challenge micro-agressive comments made by White students (based on the assumption of “racial innocence”), we can make a point to call out racial stereotypes and dismissive behavior when they occur. Remember, always focus on behavior, not individual students. And where possible, implicate yourself when making examples as a way to show we all harbor biased beliefs.

Cultivate empathy for targets* of racial aggression

If we know we are more likely to characterize comments made by Black and Brown students as aggressive (perpetrators of violence), we can challenge ourselves to view Black and Brown students as the targets of racial aggression. We can make a concerted effort to validate and acknowledge their anger, sadness, and pain. Don’t underestimate the power you have as a teacher in giving legitimacy to a child’s lived experience. Conversations like these are great opportunities to recognize qualities we want to cultivate in all our students; qualities like courage, perseverance, resilience, and personal strength.

(Marginalized people are not helpless. Thus, it’s better to use the word “target” not “victim”.)

Look for systems of power/privilege. Don’t shy away from diverse perspectives.

If we know we are more likely to focus on individual experiences (individualism, we can ask questions to uncover divergent perspectives. If we know we are more likely to make generalizations which apply to all races (universalism), we can look for patterns of power and privilege in our world. Link individual experiences to systemic racism. Acknowledge the ways that our racial (and other) identities informs our perspectives, challenges and our choices. Don’t forget to remind students we are all a part of many intersectional communities. Most of us are members of both privileged and oppressed groups at the same time.

Don’t move dialogue toward “happy endings”

And finally, if we know we are more likely to want to move conversations about race to a “happy resolution” (ideal imagined community), we can make a conscious decision to sit with discomfort. We can let cross-cultural dialogues get “messy”. Having a growth mindset means being able to stretch ourselves, to not know everything, to be open to new ideas.

Remind students that “really smart people” can entertain complex and often contradictory ideas at the same time. Encourage them to have the emotional courage to explore the cognitive dissonance we feel when exploring racism in our world.


In Closing…

The goal of talking about race isn’t to feel comfortable, it’s to expand our empathy and understanding for others so we can work together across racial divisions to create positive change. And, any meaningful change isn’t going to feel “safe” all the time. In fact, feeling “safe” is a pretty good indicator we aren’t doing much to change anything.

Remember… When it comes to cross-cultural dialogues about race, if it feels comfortable, you’re doing it wrong.


So, what strategies are you using to ensure cross-cultural dialogues encourage empathy, understanding and positive change? Share ideas in the comments below!

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