13 April 2016

Why it's okay to say Black

I went to a training last week put on by facilitators from Challenge and Change Consulting entitled "Why can't we say Black?"

The point of this session was to explore and challenge "the notion of colour-blindness through the exploration of stereotype threat assessment, anti-oppressive pedagogies, and culturally relevant and responsive strategies". As participants, we were invited and challenged to use the term Black as it spoke to and attempted to realize the experiences of Black students, faculty, and colleagues. The thought was to prattle on about "not seeing colour" and thinking "I treat everyone the same way" was a quick path to not acknowledging one's own biases, past and contemporary inequalities in society (institutionally, systemically, and systematic prejudice), or attempting to make real change.

I cover this topic in my courses on Reconsidering Race and Oppression (and other such 'light' topics) and try to make my students answer uncomfortable questions (in as comfortable a space as I can create), such as:
1. Are you comfortable using the adjective 'Black'?
2. Are you comfortable using the adjective 'White'? See this link for a brief overview of White and whiteness
3. Can you use colour to describe any other group of individuals? For example, is Brown okay? Why or why not?
4. What colours have been used in the past that are no longer (publicly) acceptable); Why do you think this is the case?

What came out of the aforementioned session was that instructors were hesitant to get involved in such conversations as they felt ill-equipped to handle all the possible answers and outcomes from their students and feared that they'd be doing more harm. The facilitators told us that not addressing such topics when they arose could be more harmful than if you at least tried.

They left us with this advice: while it may be awkward and although you may have to acknowledge a lack of expertise, not saying anything was thought to be tantamount to being a party to such an act. When in doubt as to how well you discussed this topic, have the diversity and equity office come and speak in your next class.

Discussing how racism and inequality might affect your student body, for example, students not wanting to work together in groups with "others", not listening to certain individual's ideas based on their perceived "race", not acknowledging the privilege of being a university student and/or being White, and other such like topics, are MORE important than your content - regardless of what you're teaching.