How Teachers Can Form and Lead Anti-Racist Working Groups

“White teachers, even those with experience and compassion, can unconsciously cause pain to students of color in their classrooms.” This fact is the guiding force behind Building Anti-Racist White Educators (BAR WE), a Philadelphia-based group dedicated to equity in the classroom. 

With teachers of color still representing just a small portion of independent school faculty, White educators are tasked with defining and promoting anti-racist work to ensure they and others treat students fairly. One way to advance this effort is to join or start a group of “accomplices” dedicated to opposing racism and intolerance, such as BAR WE.

Before becoming an accomplice, White educators need to acknowledge their own unconscious biases and address them to improve their teaching. Accepting one’s own implicit bias can be painful, but everyone is exposed to and unconsciously learns prejudice and bias during their lifetime. Once White educators understand their own biases, they can help combat racism. Harvard University created a test for hidden bias that can be found at implicit.harvard.edu/implicit.  

Educators can take a number of approaches in establishing a group aimed at addressing unconscious bias and improving the well-being of students and colleagues of color. Below are a few ideas.

Join #BARWE215 Inquiry Series Discussions
During the 2018-2019 school year, BAR WE will distribute a monthly Reading & Inquiry Series “intended for White educators to use with their peers to develop anti-racist identities and practices.” Each month, the organization posts a different discussion topic for groups to explore together. Questions posted so far include the following:

 ● Why are teachers of color so important for our schools and how can we increase their numbers?

● How does Whiteness affect our practices, relationships, and expectations in the classroom and the school community?

● How can our curriculum challenge dominant and oppressive ideologies?

The full discussion series can be found at barwe215.weebly.com.

Start a Summer Book Club
The Caucus of Working Educators is a group of diverse educators who advocate for racial justice, among other issues. The organization operates a summer reading series for its members to “deepen our relationships with each other, expand our political analysis, and inform our organizing and teaching in the upcoming year.” Among the books the club read for the 2017 series were the following:

● The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
● Discipline over Punishment by Trevor Gardner
● Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal by Aviva Chomsky
● Raising Race Questions: Whiteness and Inquiry in Education by Ali Michael
● The group kicked off the series with a happy hour and celebrated the end of the summer with a raffle.

Start a White Anti-Racist Affinity Group
Faculty at Grace Church School in New York City meet in small groups to discuss their work and the school’s overall diversity, inclusion, and anti-racist goals. Educators there operate a White Anti-Racist Affinity Group for learning and collaborating. Faculty from all backgrounds in the anti-racist group meet twice a month to discuss the impact of White identity in education.

Christine Chapman, who started an affinity group at the Boston offices of online retail giant Amazon, recommends the following tips for establishing one at your organization: 

● Find initial stakeholders.
● Come up with a vision.
● Include majority voices when appropriate.
● Promote with email blasts, posters, and other materials.
● Partner with community groups or school leaders to build the group
● Let other members help lead the group.
● Ask for funding when the time is right.
● Celebrate with social events or even a thank you note.