Teachers are, without a doubt, among the most important people in our society. They facilitate learning, provide children with a sense of purpose, prepare them for success as global citizens, and instill in them a desire to excel in life. Today’s children will be tomorrow’s leaders, and their education is a critical factor in preparing them for their future. Being a global citizen and understanding how to thrive in multicultural environments is one of the most in demand skills for our young leaders.
We learn from many people and places in our lives such as family, church, mentors, coaches, peers and teachers. We spend 12 - 15 years of our formative years learning from teachers and the curriculum set out by governments. It is from our teachers that we learn about concepts, values, and ideals (both historical and current) among other things. Through learning, we form our perceptions of the world, people, and society in general. And today, learning about and understanding the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion — or DEI — remains a challenge for some. The reason, of course, is that stereotypes and misconceptions about certain groups or subcultures persist in people’s minds and then affect the way they educate others and the messages they express.
In this post, we’ll talk about DEI, how it helps us be more anti-racist, and the essential role of educators in spreading cultural awareness in school and beyond.
DEI — what it is and why it’s important
DEI — a term or phrase embraced by some but misinterpreted by others — is based on the use of data to effect change. It’s a people-centered strategy for fostering a culture of respect, trust, and understanding within and among communities of diverse people.
The concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion must go beyond simply being buzzwords. They should be used consciously and purposefully, focusing on people’s lived experiences and cultural backgrounds and assisting them in becoming their most authentic selves. DEI work is a tool to make anti-racism an expectation and a reality of all institutions, societies and companies.
A successful and effective DEI strategy is based on action, not just discussions. It is rooted in the understanding that people of colour in North America and most of the world have vastly different life experiences and opportunities depending on their ethnicity or place of origin. Understanding that this reality persists today, that it was intentional by White Europeans and has been systematic for a very long time is crucial to changing it.
However, a DEI strategy — whether initiated in a school, community, or the workplace — is only achievable insofar as the people involved in its implementation have a clear understanding of what it is and its value. And where do we have the opportunity and duty to teach about DEI?
Ideally, in the classroom where children spend most of their time. So as educators, we must start with understanding DEI ourselves and learning how to be more anti-racist.
Characteristics of an Anti-Racist Educator
Since cultural awareness usually begins very early on, especially for children in diverse communities, the role of an anti-racist educator needs to be underscored.
But what makes an anti-racist educator?
It's easy enough to identify one if they have the following characteristics:
Profoundly self-aware: White or people who are perceived to be white have more privileges and face fewer impediments to resources than Blacks, Indigenous or other people of colour. If we don't understand our own power or privilege, we may unwittingly abuse it or fail to use it to combat bigotry. Constant self-reflection improves our ability to challenge white privilege when we witness it or participate in it. When faced with certain situations, a anti-racist educator would reflect upon how their privilege (assuming they are identified as white) affects other people's access to valuable or necessary resources and whether their 'whiteness' colours their judgment or perspective and interactions with others.
Knowledgeable of racism as a social construct: We are part of the problem when we allow our discomfort or ignorance to keep us from acknowledging our country's racist past and present. This failure to accept racism erases not only histories, cultures, and identities, but also denies existing racial injustices. An anti-racist educator recognizes the social constructs of race and racism, as well as the ideology of white supremacy. By acknowledging the problem, they can avoid hurting others and, instead, work on finding solutions. For educators of colour, the role entails continuing to speak out against racism and enlisting white collaborators in anti-racist efforts.
Empathetic: An anti-racist educator is not satisfied with commiserating with those who are discriminated against or less privileged for no other reason than the fact that they are Black or coloured. They can appreciate what it is like to be in the other person's shoes. They are aware of and speak against the biases against Blacks and other people of colour, and how these prejudices translate into discriminatory practices that lead to missed opportunities, inequality and injustice.
Historically woke: Whatever subject they teach, an anti-racist educator seeks to address historical inaccuracies and the downplaying of the role of Blacks and other coloured people during significant events. This person would go outside the curriculum if biased to find histories told by the oppressed.
Champions anti-racist ideas and policies: No one can aspire to be anti-racist without taking action, and one way of taking action is to support local organizations that fight policies that cause racial inequality. You may help those organizations by volunteering or donating money. DEI/anti-racist educators use their authority or seek influence in order to reform racist policies in any context where they exist, such as in school, employment, government, and so on. The goal is to commit actively to movements, causes or programs that have the potential to transform racist policies.
But where does a DEI or anti-racist educator fall within the learning framework?
These educators focus on fostering a culture of belonging for all and delivering an inclusive curriculum where diverse experiences are represented by:
Promoting acceptance to create a culture of compassion, empathy, and kindness
Increasing the visibility of all groups or subcultures across various media
Encouraging the celebration of festivals, different awareness days, and voices
Cultivating a culture of belonging for all regardless of race, gender, etc.
Integrating learning about power, privilege, and the importance of DEI regardless of the subject matter or lesson
When children learn in an environment of cultural awareness and are exposed to anti-racist educators, they become better equipped to embrace and appreciate differences and become citizens of the world.
The Impact of Education on DEI in the workplace
Having a DEI and anti-racist education is essential for us to stop perpetuating age-old racial prejudices and discriminatory behaviour and practices. Therefore, now is the time to plant the seeds of anti-racist education. By equipping teachers with the tools and values of DEI, they will be better prepared to lead their students in difficult discussions, social challenges and encourage them to live with values that embrace all humanity. The best way to eradicate racism in all its ugly forms is to start young so that our future leaders don't develop toxic, insensitive or racist viewpoints that lead to racially charged workplace issues.
The concept of DEI is relatively new, but its value is well-established both in personal and organizational relations. Companies with effective DEI programs tend to be happier, more successful, and more profitable workplaces.
If you’re looking to strategize or implement DEI initiatives in your company or educational institution, we can help. We have DEI consultants and corporate training programs designed to make your workplace an empowering environment.
Let’s have Tough Convos with your team today!