Engaging Racial Justice Reading Group

Oct 8, 2020: Racial Justice in the Classroom

For this meeting, the texts around which our conversation unfolded were: Amie Thurber, M. Brielle Harbin, and Joe Bandy’s “Teaching Race, Racism, and Racial Justice”; Lauren Michele Jackson’s “What is an Anti-racist Reading List For?”; and Melissa Phruksachart’s “The Literature of White Liberalism.” We also invited responses to the Albert Woodfox lecture, which had taken place on October 1.

We presented syllabi construction and classroom practices as our two overarching topics for the meeting and invited participants to drop questions in the chat based on their engagement with the reading material. These questions included how to engage race when the class materials don’t explicitly call focus on it and how (and when) to intervene when discussions go awry.

October 22, 2020: Race, Inequality, and the University

The texts we read for this meeting were Emily Bernard, “Teaching the N-Word”;  Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens, “From safe spaces to brave spaces”; Daniel HoSang and Joseph Lowndes, “Theorizing Race in the Age of Inequality”; and D.W. Sue, et. al., “Racial microaggressions and difficult dialogues on race in the classroom.”

The discussion focused mainly on Bernard’s and Arao and Clemens’ essays. A recurrent theme was how Bernard deftly analyzes the n-word as a metonymy for the difficulty of discussing race itself. Rather than offering easy solutions to the problem of encountering the n-word in textual or other material, Bernard performs a kind of grappling with her own positionality and identifications alongside those of her students, calling for a similar kind of reflection on our own identifications and teaching practices. We also discussed how to deal with racial slurs in texts that are not as universally objectionable as the n-word, as well as outdated terminology that might read as offensive to a contemporary audience. We stressed the importance of framing texts that might contain such language, preparing students for it, and of building conversations about race into the structure of the course from the beginning. In the discussion of the “From safe spaces to brave spaces,” we discussed the advantages as well as the potential limitations of both safe and brave spaces, with an emphasis on how “bravery,” as the unrestrained discussion of multiple viewpoints in the classroom, might also lead to the undue expenditure of class time on correcting misguided assumptions. In this regard, another recurrent theme was time management in the classroom, in the sense that having frank discussions about the objectionable language in the material we teach and the other framing work we do requires us to devote class time that we also might need to work on close-reading, writing instruction, historical and theoretical contextualization, and other aspects of teaching.