Antiracist Philosophy

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Antiracist philosophy is not a formal philosophical movement but a philosophical stance against discrimination based on race. This perspective stresses that race matters, both on its own terms and as an integral part of any critical theoretical discourse about humanity and social relations. Antiracism involves searching for knowledge, producing texts, and disseminating information as political action in the service of humanity. It is therefore imperative for antiracist work to challenge the glee of the political Right concerning the so-called irrelevance of race, the gloom of the Left about the possibilities of race discourse in progressive politics, and the postmodern despair about the politics of essentializing race.
The entry point of antiracist work is within the subject's (i.e., the individual's) personal experience, history, and social practice. The subject is a creative agent with an active and resistant voice. Thus, minoritized groups have discursive power. Critical antiracism must work with the understanding that the subaltern think, speak, and desire. Both the privileged and minoritized have working and embodied knowledge. And for members of both groups, the act of understanding the self results in an affirmation of a politics of community responsibility. The power of the “I” (as the lone subject), the product of liberal individualism, is insidiously harmful to developing community. To enact a politics of responsibility, the individual needs to be fully grounded in how the self becomes conscious of its existence within a collective. The initial process in the exercise of selfconsciousness and the politics of affirmation involves acknowledging the powerful synergy of body, mind, and spirit. In antiracist work this means seeing equity work as a form of spirituality. As such, equity work is not forced but, rather, flows through individuals' actions and thoughts. It is marked by genuineness and sincerity.
Antiracism is more than a theory and a discourse. It also involves action and allowing knowledge to induce political work. Given the interconnections of soul and body, the worth of a social theory must be measured in terms of both the theory's philosophical grounding and its ability to offer a social and political corrective. Thus a key principle of antiracism is overcoming the theory/practice dichotomy, resulting in a praxis that both guides and insists on political action. Antiracism must be understood, theorized, and acted upon.
Unfortunately, many people's hearts are not open to envisaging and acting for change. Many have not taken seriously the fact that to make change calls for enormous personal and collective sacrifice, commitment, and resources. There are risks and consequences in pursuing antiracist work. These risks involve the emotional toll and resulting spirit wounds of coming to grips with stories of pain and anger, as well as the stress of having to deal with attacks on one's credibility. Antiracist work occupies itself with assisting minoritized communities to become empowered and empowering, to be spiritually affirmed and affirming, and to heal spirit injuries. The key question, then, is not who can do antiracist work, but rather, whether one is prepared to face the risks and consequences that come with such work. Antiracism is about the search for equitable human conversation—a respectful dialogue among social groups. Antiracism holds that community is about relationships with others, about how to negotiate with and relate to each other, and about how the community is a collective.

Antiracism, Education, and Schooling: Asking New Questions

There are emerging questions that those who hold an antiracist philosophy must deal with. Antiracist educators must address the public disquiet and scepticism about antiracist practice and its efficacy in bringing about changes in schooling. For example, our schools are being called “communities of difference.” How, then, do antiracist educators ensure that schools respond to the multiple needs and concerns of a diverse body politic? How do such educators create schools where all students are valued, feel a sense of belonging, and have access to instruction that is responsive to the needs of diverse learners? To ensure that all students develop a sense of entitlement and connectedness to their schools, there must be a proactive attempt by educators to respond to the needs of all students. Educators must understand that the needs of students extend beyond the material realm to emotional, social, and psychological concerns. Schools have a responsibility to help students make sense of their identities, to build the confidence of all students, and to minimize the effects of social constraints that would have students confirm low educational expectations based on their identities. Thus, the contemporary challenge for antiracist education is to incorporate such diverse needs into critical educational practice.
For those in education, holding an antiracist philosophy therefore means learning about the experience of living with a racialized identity and understanding how students' lived experiences in and out of school implicate youth engagement and disengagement from school. Antiracism inquires into and uncovers how race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, physical ability, power, and difference influence and are influenced by schooling processes. This inquiry includes how the processes of teaching, learning, and educational administration combine to produce schooling success and failures for different students. Antiracism opines that addressing questions of power, equity, and social difference is essential to enhancing learning outcomes and the provision of social opportunities for all youth.
Antiracist educators start with what students already know and then search for ways to situate the local cultural resource knowledge into the official curriculum. Such educators have a unique place in the current climate of school advocacy because of the power that critical antiracism education offers to imagine schools afresh. The shape the future itself should take is being hotly contested in schools, union halls, and community forums, and clearly antiracism has to be part of that debate. Antiracist educators have unprecedented opportunities to influence many minds and to share and engage different—dominant, privileged, subjugated, subordinated, and minoritized— perspectives. The environments in which educators work offer advantages and opportunities that depend on their subject positions and politics. Educators can work, even with the differential allocation of space and resources, to further the cause of youth education. It all comes down to a question of whether an antiracist educator wants to see current challenges as obstacles or as opportunities and openings to make change happen. The failures and resistances of the 1990s provide a springboard and impetus to rethink antiracist education in the 21st century.
Educators with an antiracist philosophy view antiracist education broadly, as more than just what occurs in schools and other formal institutions of learning. Anitracist education involves the varied options, strategies, and ways through which individuals come to know their world and act in it. Learning happens in many places, including schools, families, workplaces, neighborhoods, broadcast and independent media, the legal system, museums, religious institutions, theatres, and galleries, among other sites. Within these multiple spheres of learning, antiracist education entails drawing on the intersections of social difference in order to understand the complexities of social inequality.
Antiracist thinking poses broad questions surrounding the social organization of learning, such as those concerning what it is to be a person in contemporary society and the relation of this curriculum, garnered from the many sites of learning, to the reproduction of the knowledge that shapes and transforms the social and political world. Antiracism must investigate the harmonies and contradictions with respect to what is learned across these multiple sites, and consider the far-reaching implications of these for the fundamental issues of identity formation, human possibility, equity, and the pursuit of social justice and fairness. For example, antiracists understand that excellence and equity are complementary, not oppositional, terms and that the quality of learning environments and the scholarship produced therein increase tremendously with the recognition that equity measures are excellence measures.
Antiracism critiques conventional schooling by interrogating the way schools produce, validate, and privilege certain forms of knowledge while devaluing and delegitimizing other knowledge, history, and experience. Critical antiracist practice challenges the dominant interests involved in processes of producing knowledge and exposes and opposes how such knowledge becomes hegemonic and is disseminated nationally and globally. However, hegemony is not limited to the frame of Western knowledges and epistemologies. The notion of hegemony is therefore useful for understanding the relationship between multiple social values and complex realities. Looking through an antiracist prism makes it possible to undertake a rigorous examination of the (in)adequacy of dominant discourses and epistemologies for understanding the realities of diverse people, positioned as they are in oppressive and oppressed positions in the contexts of the asymmetrical power relations among social groups. Thus, given the current incompleteness of discourse and political practice, antiracism involves a search for epistemological diversity in the understanding of the complexity of oppressions.
To the degree that anti-racist practices seek to create the context for more complete discourse around humanity and human interests, they are in line with the broadest and most humane methods of Afrocentric scholars engaged in the practice of defining all human beings as centered within culture. Individuals cannot divest themselves of some form of culture, but those who consciously operate out of their culture may be said to exercise the discourse of greater humanity.
Critical antiracist work requires a broad redefinition of antiracism, which means looking at racism in its myriad of forms and connecting racism with other forms of oppression. This practice involves taking a critical stance, which helps antiracists to also address the saliency of specific forms of oppression. History and context are significant concepts in teaching about race and racism. Educators must equip students to understand the historical genesis and political trajectories of race and difference—the historical specificities of racist practices as well as how racism has become institutionalized and normalized in different societies.
The classroom teacher's personal experience, history, and understanding of teaching practice serves as an entry point for antiracist work. The antiracist teacher is an example of the synergy of body, mind, and spirit that allows a person to see equity work as a form of spirituality. Such a teacher recognizes that because individuals, and thus students, are creative agents with active and resistant voice, educators must engage with antiracist knowledge in ways that allow society to move forward in new and creative ways reflective of students' local knowledge, subject position, history, and experience.
The antiracist educator, and particularly the white antiracist educator, must work with the knowledge that society treats people differently based on race and that the society's racialized common sense can be exposed to dominant groups in ways that do not require the use of the label “racist.” It is not helpful for antiracists to indict all whites as racists. However, there needs to be a recognition of how individuals are helped or hindered by a racist system. Starting with the self means that the white antiracist educator must acknowledge his or her dominance and privilege and assist other whites to see the privilege that accrues to them by virtue of their white identities in white racist societies.

References

Keywords

  • antiracist philosophy
  • antiracist education
  • responsibility (politics)
  • racism
  • equities
  • synergy
  • race

Author(s)

Further Reading

  • Bhavnani, R. (2001). Rethinking Interventions in Racism. London: Trentham Books. This volume argues that the meanings of many words and terminology applied in racist discourse, such as black, white, racial, ethnic minorities, culture, and cultural difference, are not easily agreed upon.
  • Guttman, A. (Ed.). (1994). Multiculturalism: Examining The Politics of Recognition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. This is a comprehensive collection exploring the many aspects of multiculturalism.
  • Henry, Frances, Tator, Carol.The Ideology of Racism—Democratic Racism. Canadian Ethnic Studies (2) 32–45 (1994). This important article makes it possible for an antiracist to ask how some whites perpetuate racism and employ a powerful racist ideology without ever feeling that they have abandoned liberal democratic ideals of social justice for all.