Critical Race Theory in Schools: A Red Rag to a Bull or Inclusive?
The debate around Critical Race Theory being taught in schools will always be contentious and political says Buki Mosaku, Workplace Bias Navigation expert and author of the forthcoming book: “I Don’t Understand “- Navigating Unconscious Bias in the workplace.
“What matters here, as elsewhere, is clarity void of political interests and the collective guilt and pain associated with most inclusion initiatives.”
It might be a cliché, but we all understand what a ‘red rag to a bull’ looks and feels like. The hotly debated idea of ‘critical race theory’ being taught in schools in the U.S. , Australia (and to a far lesser extent in the UK), especially the idea of this as a separate way of understanding the past and the present was always going to be contentious and political. The real source of the contention is obvious: in common with many flawed corporate inclusion solutions the idea of ‘critical race theory’ is predicated on pain and guilt. The trouble is that whenever we try to address a problem from the perspective of pain or guilt, this impairs our understanding of the problem and our vision of the correct solution.
Why does perspective matter?
That’s simple: life teaches us that being immersed in repentance, vengeance, resistance or payback makes it difficult for us to really see what’s going on: it prevents us from taking a full and holistic view of the problem and to diagnose it correctly.
Can we do something different?
Perhaps let’s start by simply rewriting the story of our past in a way that is truly open and honest.
I am convinced that a common understanding of the past – warts and all – is essential for us and for our children. The key is to learn openly and teach fairly. This approach does not seek to diminish or soften the ills of slavery, segregation or the subtle social institutional dynamics that creatively disadvantage minorities and serve to uphold an unfair status quo – in other words structural and systemic racism. Nor does it excuse those who took part in oppression, those who still support lingering unfairness, or those who oppose changes to eradicate the structural inequities that continue to benefit them at the expense of others.
A new approach based on a shared understanding of our past means:
- Accepting and then exploring the tendency and motivations behind exclusion, discrimination and exploitation and asking why this part is of the human condition;
- Being honest about the reality of lingering structural inequities that these have led to;
- Establishing, individually and collectively what can be done to ensure that the part of our human condition that enables exploitation, discrimination and exclusion – and that is therefore responsible for structural and systemic racism and all the other ‘isms’ – is continually interrogated, reconditioned and reoriented toward a more generous and inclusive way of thinking, being and doing.
How do we go about this at a grassroots level, which is where it can have the most impact?
One way is to address the causes of inequity by creating school environments conducive to greater inclusivity. By this I mean environments that hold schools and their teaching staff accountable for targeted measurable goals, strategies and tactics that reduce the likelihood of conscious or unconscious bias toward minority and marginalised groups. We need to foster environments that address the causes and minimise or alleviate the symptoms of minority and marginalised group inequalities.
This might look like creating a framework similar to the one I created and outline in my forthcoming book, I Don’t Understand- Navigating Unconscious Bias in the Workplace and one I use with my clients within corporate settings, but adapting this for schools. For instance:
Determine what mindset we should adopt and adhere to in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion in our schools
Set specific, measurable objectives that support and monitor this mindset and related values
Determine our approach to positioning ourselves advantageously to act on, (reinforce and capitalise on) these objectives
Identify and develop tactics that we can act on and implement to meet our objectives. Below is an example of one such tactic:
Bias Navigation Skills:
- Give young people a clear understanding of how inequity in particular bias manifests itself day to day
- Equip young people with the skills to draw on their understanding of inequity in all its forms so that they get accustomed to calling it out in an effortless, non-confrontational, harmless way when they sense it
- Encourage young people to recondition traditional and untraditional ‘perpetrators’ of unconscious bias ‘in the moment’ as it happens by effectively calling them out. The cumulative effect of this encouragement will create greater harmony naturally, and incrementally have a compounding effect that goes a long way to building a more inclusive society for all
Can we change the past?
No, but we can learn from it. We can make our present, future and more importantly those of younger people better by creating a world in which, our bid to learn from past mistakes is not seized upon by unscrupulous politicians to turn us against each other for their own selfish aims. We can also call out such politicians when they try to!
Stay Safe. Stay Inclusive. Stay Happy!