In a follow up to our post on Christian education and social justice from Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness to Washington, D. C., we offer this timely piece from The Advocate archives, Summer, 2007.

Creating Anti-racist Educational Communities

By Adele Halliday

I define myself as an anti-racist educator. It was a journey to get to this point. Growing up as an African Canadian child in a multicultural suburb of Toronto, I only occasionally felt connected to classroom activities, and I rarely saw myself reflected in the curriculum. The stories told were always about someone else; the experiences shared seemed alienated from my own Caribbean heritage; only some forms of cultural knowledge were accepted as valid. Even in church, the ways that the stories were told, or biblical interpretations that heavily inserted a leader’s North American analysis onto the biblical narrative, made it very difficult, at times, for me to enter into Bible stories. Classroom experiences, it seemed, were both irrelevant and disconnected to my own life experiences as a young girl whose race and ethnic culture differed from that of the majority culture.

Later in life, I began to analyze these educational experiences. I wondered about an alternative educational strategy that would facilitate dialogue among diverse cultural groups, enable multiple voices to be heard, honour diverse races, and challenge broader systemic inequities. This educational approach, to me, became critical anti-racism theory. Different from multiculturalism— which tends to emphasize a superficial offering of the food, festivals, and folklore of diverse cultures—critical anti-racism theory is an action-oriented approach that challenges racism.

Before going deeper into anti-racism education, it is important to define the ways in which racism can manifest itself in classrooms, even when we don’t intend it. The most obvious forms are racial slurs and personal attacks against a person. But there are other kinds of racism:

  • Institutional racism manifests itself in the policies, practices, and procedures of institutions, which may promote or sustain differential privileges or advantages of some individuals.
  • Cultural racism, embedded in a society’s value system, is a network of beliefs and values that justify discrimination, and is maintained through the socialization of individuals through schools, media, and families.
  • Systemic racism involves the rules, regulation, and laws of society, which are woven into the whole societal system and which result in unfair treatment, discrimination, unfair access to jobs, housing, schools, and healthcare.

Critical anti-racism theory attempts to combat each of these types of racism; an anti-racist educator will create a community where these types of racism are challenged.

The theory of critical anti-racism education involves transformation and social change. It examines structural barriers and systemic inequalities entrenched in structures and institutions. It enables multiple voices and multiple experiences to be heard. It encourages non-hierarchical discussions of social oppressions. Anti-racism education includes analysis of power and privilege, and interlocks with other forms of oppression. It is concerned with equity and justice, and how we can transform our curricula and classrooms to engage all students in learning and discovery.

The role of the anti-racist educator is to put this theory into practice in order to create anti-racist educational communities. Anti-racist educators, therefore, need to:

  • analyze their own cultural and racial assumptions when interpreting biblical texts.
  • create a climate in the classroom where stereotypes and racist ideas can be discussed.
  • examine the source of information (interpretations, secondary texts, church school curriculum) for inaccuracies and distortions; query how value-laden the information is.
  • explore the unequal status of diverse groups within the classroom so that diverse students can connect to the biblical material.
  • connect students’ lived experience with the materials.
  • include community and world events in the classroom studies.
  • work with other colleagues to confront racist behaviors.
  • select work written from within the culture of the students.
  • ensure that materials provide realistic, authentic, non-patronizing, and non-exotic voices.
  • strive to understand one’s own identity as educator, and the power of that identity in the classroom.
  • continue learning about racism and anti-racism, interrogate one’s own assumptions, study scholarship and pedagogy.
  • challenge power and privilege in church and society.

As educators, I recognize that we cannot do all of these things at the same time. Becoming an anti-racist educator is a journey. I would encourage you to choose one thing that you can implement into your own church or classroom context as you strive to create an anti-racist educational community. Do that one thing, and then try another.

The role of an anti-racist educator is always changing, always evolving; we are always learning. We are always discovering new things about ourselves, our societal contexts, and our assumptions. By doing this, we become better educators, and by doing this, we will come closer to creating communities that better reflect God’s reign.


Author Image

Adele Halliday

Team Leader for Discipleship and Witness at the United Church of Canada’s General Council Office; she is an anti-racism educator, a writer, a parent, a theologically trained layperson, a lifelong Christian, and a Black Canadian. (Photo: Michael Erdelyi)