Principles of Antiracist Teaching & Reflection

This is an ongoing antiracist teaching guide collectively curated by members of MRECC. The principles emphasized here can be applied to courses both in translation (e.g. mythology, history, culture) and in language (e.g. Greek, Latin, Sanskrit). This guide is relevant for educators at all levels including primary, secondary, and higher education. The purpose of this work is to strengthen the link between antiracist practices outside of Classics and efforts ongoing within the field. References are provided to encourage deeper dives into the theories and methodologies currently in antiracist education. We hope this helps Classics educators develop and further their antiracist curriculum. The order of the principles is not hierarchical. The principles are provided in a way that invites educators to reflect and think deeply about how they are engaging in antiracist pedagogy no matter what teaching approach they maintain (e.g. reading, grammar/translation, spoken, or mixed methods). Bolded words indicate important terms that we encourage everyone to learn more about and be comfortable using. We welcome suggestions via email to multiculturalclassics@gmail.com.

Key terms: race, racism, antiracism, positionality, critical race theory, critical race feminist theory, disrupting texts, embedded teaching, critical language awareness, reflective practices, anticolonialism, restorative justice, deficit perspective, interest convergence, antiracist pedagogy, community building, community organizing

What definitions of racist and antiracist do you align with?

There are many definitions for terms such as race, racist, racism, antiracist, and antiracism. In 2020, Kennedy Mitchum, a Black woman and recent graduate of Drake University, emailed Miriam-Webster to request the definition of racism be changed to include the systemic realities (listen to her interview with the Waiting on Reparations podcast). Prior to this change, their definition of racism treated the noun as an expression of individual mentality and did not address the systemic truth. The definitions you align with serve as a guide to how you enact antiracism and antiracist pedagogy. Action-oriented and systemic definitions encourage followers to take action and dismantle the system in ways that are more likely to affect societal change. For example, notice the action-focused definitions for the terms racist and antiracist presented in How to be an Antiracist (Kendi, 2019, p. 13):

  •  Racist – “One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.”
  • Antiracist – “One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.”

What is your positionality and how do you express it? 

The term positionality refers to the complex realities of your identity and how these realities may impact the ways in which you interpret the world around you. In education, positionality includes considerations of your own racial, gender, and sexual identities in your research, curriculum design, and classroom teaching (Adu-Ampong & Adams, 2020; Moore, 2012). Positionality considers the micro and macro implications of your identities including your unique connection and how the groups that you are part of may have shared experiences. The purpose of exploring, discussing, and acknowledging your positionality in your teaching and research is to dismantle the false notion of objectivity and neutral knowledge which promotes white supremacy and educational gatekeeping.

  •  How do you identify with yourself and others around you?
  • What texts do you focus on and why? How does your identity impact your teaching? What authors are you drawn to? What are the benefits and drawbacks this may have on your students? 
  • How do you connect to those texts? In what ways is this connection unique to you? In what ways might the connection. be shared?
  • What do you do to recognize how your experiences shape your connection to the texts you teach? What do you choose to share with your students? Why?
  • What do you do to recognize how your students might connect to the material differently than you?

What is your understanding of and engagement with critical race theory?

Much like racism and antiracism, there are many branches and definitions of critical race theory (Bridges, 2019; Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). Often, people take a broader understanding and include any activity or discussion that addresses race. However, this general conception can lead educators to enact a sanitized and watered-down version of critical race theory. In contrast, many scholars have in mind a very specific theory and associated methodologies. For example, critical race theory has evolved over the last two decades to birth a new perspective known as critical race feminist theory (Wing, 2003; Crenshaw, 1996). Other incarnations include LatCrit (Latinx critical race theory) and AsianCrit (Asian critical race theory). Understanding and accurately engaging with the complex branches and definitions of critical race theory is more likely to support and amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). 

  • There are many methodologies associated with practicing critical race theory in the classroom. One of the most popular and effective methods for engaging in antiracist pedagogy through a critical race theory lens is the inclusion of counternarratives to the white voices that are traditionally centered in the classroom. How do you embed counternarratives in your curriculum? How do you welcome and engage with the counternarratives your students may share?
  • In addition to counternarratives, disrupting texts is another active part of critical race theory methodology? What do you do to #DisruptTexts? What texts do you seek to incorporate that are not part of the traditional set of texts taught in Classics classrooms? 
  • What is your understanding of the canon of classical literature? Do you challenge this understanding? What topics do those texts address? How do you incorporate them?

How are you embedding antiracist teaching?

When race and racism are discussed only in isolation as designated activities in the classroom, the systemic reality and ever-present importance of these discussions can be lost. For example, if students in your classroom are only welcomed to discuss race and racism the week of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America, the continued systemic realities become easier to deny. Instead, engaging in embedded teaching can integrate topics of history and antiracism into your curriculum more deeply and organically in a way that fosters continued discussions and reflections throughout the semester.

  •  How do you interweave explicit and implicit opportunities for students to learn about identity, race, and antiracism in your curriculum throughout the year? How do you embed materials that discuss current movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Black Civil Rights Movement?
  • How can you embed these topics in your assignments regularly including reflection papers and short essays that will invite your students to engage on their terms? It’s important that students of color especially have options for engagement that don’t force retraumatization and racism. This is another reason why offering multiple choices to students regarding texts they read and questions they’re asked is important. 

How do you practice critical language awareness?

Critical language awareness is the practice of examining the function and purpose of linguistic elements such as word choice, syntax, and language usage (in all contexts including images and gestures). This approach encourages reflection and critical thinking skills that are transferable beyond Classics. One popular example of critical language awareness in antiracism contexts is the community-sourced Google Doc titled “Writing about slavery? Teaching about slavery?” that has been curated by P. Gabrielle Foreman.

  • What verbs and adjectives are used to construe the events and characters in the text you are reading?
  • What is the meaning and significance of these terms and their arrangement? 
  • Who is the agent and what might that say about their power and how they are interacting with others in the text?
  • How are you getting your students to consider these questions regularly?

What role does reflection play in your curriculum design and execution?

Reflective practices in the classroom help to decenter you as the educator in the classroom and make space for your students’ interpretations and connections to the material. Reflection can also expand your understanding of your students and identify gaps to be addressed in later activities and discussions. Reflective practices (Geng et al., 2019) can be embedded in your curriculum in the classroom, homework, and assessment (i.e. anticolonialism in action that pivots away from traditional exams and standardized tests).  

  • What do you do yourself now to reflect on your teaching practices? 
  • How often are you embedding reflection opportunities for your students? Assignments? Classroom discussions? 
  • What do you do to give your students choices in the texts and essays?
  • How can you increase opportunities for students to analyze texts through reflection and considerations of their positionality and perspectives?

What are you doing to practice restorative justice?

Restorative justice in education refers to intentional actions to heal and repair harm caused by educators and school systems including white supremacy in the classroom. Hollweck et al (2019) identify restorative justice in education as the “creation of a restorative school culture in which people and relationships form the cornerstone of safety, belonging and learning” (Hollweck et al., 2019, p. 247). Restorative justice includes building relationships, maintaining relationships, and repairing relationships (Hollweck, 2019; Hendry, 2009). Methods of restorative justice include peer mediation, reflection essays, and the inclusion of counternarratives in the curriculum. In this way, restorative justice methodology overlaps with common antiracist practices including the practice of critical race theory.  

  • What do you know about the history and purpose of restorative justice? How is it related to the prison system? How has it changed in educational contexts?
  • How have you practiced restorative justice in your classroom?
  •  How can you make more space for restorative justice in your curriculum and how you respond to your students?

What are you doing to combat deficit perspective?

A deficit perspective (Perkins, 2020) views those entering into a discourse of any nature as coming from an inferior position. Deficit perspectives are racist and fail to respect people of color. A statement such as “studying Classics will improve the lives of students of color” is an example of a racist deficit perspective. A counternarrative (antideficit perspective) to this would be a statement such as “Classics has benefited substantially from the presence, voices, teaching, and research of people of color for millennia.” 

  • Where do you see deficit language in your department? On the website? On your personal pages? On your syllabus?
  • On a related note, what role is oppression playing in your curriculum? There is a movement now in education and beyond to make much more space for celebrating Black joy, BIPoC happiness, and ingenuity. When oppression and white supremacy are consistently the focus, students are further traumatized. This also fails to value BIPoC experiences on their own separate from whiteness and racism. 

How do you handle interest convergence?

Interest convergence is the intersection of goals between different individuals and groups (King & Williamson, 2019). It is a rhetorical device often used to affect change in a community or society. Although there can be strategic benefits from this line of argument, it can also cause serious harm and stand in the way of equity. For example, a professor may advocate for the addition of a race & ethnicity course in their Classics department but find push back from the chair. In response, the professor argues that it will up enrollment and racial diversity. In making a misleading argument in this way, the lives and experiences of students of color are not valued. This type of argument does not make space for systemic and long-term change.

  • What motivates you to be antiracist? Why are you doing this work?
  • What do scholars and educators of color say in regard to motivation for this change? How aligned are you with their words?
  • Do your colleagues share your motivation and/or the motivations of scholars and educators of color? What about your institution?
  • How do you respond to push back on your antiracism efforts? How can you frame your position in a way that does not compromise on antiracism nor engage in interest convergence in a violent and harmful way? 

How are you communicating your antiracist pedagogy?

Antiracist pedagogy includes many theories and methodologies that have a variety of definitions that have changed over time. The ability to express which theories and methodologies you are engaging in will attract more colleagues and students to support your work and even join in. In addition to what you are doing, it is essential to be able to share with others why you have chosen to practice these particular theories and methodologies.

  • How are you communicating your antiracist pedagogy to your students, colleagues, administrators, and the public? 
  • What language are you using to express your work and how comfortable are you in using this language? Who do you know and trust with whom you can practice expressing your work and your “elevator speech” on antiracist pedagogy?

What are you doing to support community building and community organizing around antiracist teaching?

Community building is the facilitation of connections between individuals with shared interests (e.g. starting a conversational Latin club or forming a bowling league). And community organizing focuses on getting members of the community to work together toward a common goal (e.g. Sportula’s crowdfunded mini-grants, petitioning for Shelley P. Haley to be considered for president of SCS, or campaigning to get laws passed or rescinded in your town).

  • Who do you know personally right now in and outside Classics that is committed or beginning to embrace and learn about antiracism? How do you communicate with them? Can you strengthen your ties and share ideas with one another?
  • How do you build community organically or help build a community already in progress? What is your knowledge of tokenism and how do you address it?
  • What causes related to antiracism are you most concerned about right now? Or how can you support the ongoing organization of your communities around a cause such as a change in policy or removal of a textbook (e.g. letter-writing campaign to publishers)? If there is not an ongoing effort in your community right now, can you can become the organizer around a cause from an informed position? If you do not feel informed enough but you care about a cause, who can you connect with who has a better understanding of the issue and can help you organize?

SELECTED RESOURCES

Adu-Ampong, E. A. & E. A. Adams. (2020). “‘But you are also Ghanaian, you should know’:  Negotiating the insider-outsider research positionality in the fieldwork encounter.” Qualitative Inquiry, 26, 6, pp. 583-592. 

Bridges, K. M. (2019). Critical race theory: A primer. St. Paul, MN: Foundation Press.

Crenshaw, K. (1996). Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement. NYC: The New Press. 

Geng,  et al. (2019). Reflective practice in teaching: Pre-service teachers and the lens of life experience. Singapore: Springer. 

Hendry, R. (2009). Building and restoring respectful relationships in school: A guide to using restorative practice. London: Routledge. 

Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. NYC: One World.

King, L. J. & J. Williamson. (2019). “The African Americans’ revolution: Black patriots, Black founders, and the concept of interest convergence.” Black History Bulletin, 82, 1, pp. 10-14.

Levad, A. (2012). Restorative justice: Theories and practices of moral imagination. El Paso: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC.

Moore, J. (2012). “A personal insight into researcher positionality.” Nurse Researcher, 19, 4, pp. 11-14. 

Perkins, C. (2020). “Rewriting the narrative: An anti-deficit perspective on study abroad participation.” Frontiers, 32, 1, pp. 148-165. 

Wing, A. K. (2003). Critical race feminism: A reader. NYC: New York University Press.