Inclusivity and Identity / by Jack Viere

The readings for this week made me think back to my undergraduate focus on a sociopolitical philosophy approach to race and racism. One of the books I read was Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race.  (Check out the chapters/reviews--they're as revealing as the title!) In terms of addressing implicit biases and identity in the classroom, I think that this is a must-read.

One of the overarching themes in Tatum's book is narratives. Narratives are also present in the Heinemann Podcast on Dismantling Racism Racism on Education. Heinemann Fellow Sonja Cherry-Paul says, "When we teach kids these sort of canned narratives that race doesn't matter, we're all the same, we're all equal, there really needs to be a paradigm shift where we're teaching our children race does matter in this society." Narratives shape identity. I think that canned narratives coincide with the growing acceptance that race is socially constructed. Unfortunately, socially constructed attitudes like race and racism are thought of as "not real" if they aren't biologically real. (But thanks post-positivism!) However, people's identity are shaped by these attitudes, sometimes willingly or unwillingly, despite not being real in a biological sense. Consequently, a socially constructed concept of race seems to be erasing the opportunity for students to share their narratives of identity. 

Shankar Vedantam offers advice to this dilemma between a socially constructed idea as not real and identity formation. "Our hidden brains will always recognize people's races, and they will do so from a very, very young age," Vedantam says. "The far better approach is to put race on the table, to ask [children] to unpack the associations that they are learning, to help us shape those associations in more effective ways." In other words, putting race on the table allows for students to recognize that a socially constructed racism is quite influential in shaping people's identity narratives. I think Dr. Kwame Harrison embodied what this looks like when done well in a classroom setting a few weeks ago.