Learn or Leave; When anti-bias training is too much

image: istockphoto.com

I’m writing this on Friday, September 4th, the first day of school in my district, and I want to acknowledge the trauma everyone is experiencing right now, particularly educators who are tasked with such a monumental, unprecedented job right now. I see you not receiving the support and training you need. I see you being blamed for the ineptitude of district administrators. I see you. I see all of you, and my sights are locked in on educators of Color. I see the added layers of stress and trauma you’re dealing with because systemic racism has been flayed open for everyone to see, but you’re not just looking at it. You’re inside it, surrounded by it, suffocating in it. I see you and I love you. Hold on.

This brings me to my topic today. We are dying, emotionally and literally. White peoples’ reluctance to learn and act is killing us. White people and the people of Color who aid and abet them are killing us. You are killing us. Here’s what that looks like: 

Imagine this: You ask a group of educators if they’ve ever engaged in anti-bias training. One-third of the group responds, “No.” That’s about right (white). You were kind of expecting that. What you didn’t expect is for a quarter of the educators to respond, “I don’t know.” How does an educated person not know if they’ve engaged in anti-bias training? Here’s a list of reasons I brainstormed:

  • One quarter of the educators surveyed have some kind of memory loss issues.
  • They had the training and then were neuralized.
  • Their dog ate the homework for the anti-bias training so they didn’t retain what they learned in the training.
  • The training was so completely watered-down that the anti-biasiness was unrecognizable and the educators weren’t quite sure what they were supposed to be learning about.
  • The training was not applicable to their every day experiences or their practice, so it didn’t make sense and didn’t “stick.” 
  • The language used in the training was not clearly defined, leaving the educators wondering what they just participated in.

Ok, ok… the first three are just me being silly, but the scenario is something that actually happened, and the last three bullet points are totally plausible, especially in very white spaces. Which reminds me, when’s the last time I mentioned Washington State is above the national average for percentage of white educators? Cuz it is. We’re about 90% white, while the national average is about 85%

What happens in these very white spaces is what Paul Gorski calls the Pacing for Privilege detour. Another infamous phrase that could be used to describe this phenomenon is “meeting people where they are.” That phrase, along with “it is what it is,” are the bane of my existence when it comes to anti-racism. Children? Students? Yes, we should meet them where they are, but educators and decision makers? Nope. They need to catch up or shut up. But when we take the pacing for privilege detour, we coddle and maintain the status quo. The language and approach using this strategy are so tone-policed that they are less than useless. It’s easy to understand how someone might not be sure what they were being taught or why. This strategy gives people the impression they’re doing something – at least the people who recognize it to be an anti-bias training. For the other 25%? Who knows what it’s doing for them. 

I understand the argument that if we go into white spaces full steam, we run the risk of people shutting down and not hearing our message, but WE ARE DYING. And I haven’t even mentioned anti-racist training. We’re talking about anti-bias training, which is remedial learning. I always say it’s for the people who don’t know they’re white, yet. (Yes, many white people can’t even handle conversations about them being white.) Ijeoma Oluo says if your anti-racist practices centers the needs of white people, it’s actually white supremacy. Dr. Martin Luther King said we want freedom now, not gradually. We have to start with action-oriented, anti-racist education and training with specific, measurable goals imbedded. Not anti-bias, not equity, not even racial equity – anti-racism. 

I recognize we won’t reach everyone, and that’s not my goal, but in acknowledging that, I must be willing to push those we can reach farther and faster. We don’t have time for them to wait to figure shit out. I’m willing to do some remedial work and study some vocabulary, but only if it starts with, “Shit is fucked up and we gotta get to work.” Bias? Yes… that’s a given. Racism? Yes… that’s a given. Anti-racist trainings should be the place we start and action should be the focus of those trainings. There’s enough on the interwebs about implicit bias that people can go back and educate themselves. When I’m in front of a group, I don’t have time for that. I’m focused on what we need to do NOW.

One thing that prevents this from happening, in my opinion, is weak leadership. Leaders need to do what is right, not what is comfortable or easy. They have to be willing to piss off the people who stand on the wrong side of the issue. When people are dying there is no debate; one is either wrong or right. A racially just leader will mandate unapologetic trainings and explicitly state that anti-racism is the culture of the organization, leaving those who prefer to opt-out of training with the choice to learn or leave.

Published by

Tracy Castro-Gill

Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies Program Manager| 2019 PSESD Regional Teacher of the Year| Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board Member| PhD Student

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