Teachers Explore the History of Racist Ideas in the U.S. with Dr. Ibram Kendi

“The achievement gap is a racist idea.”

“Teachers should be teaching about power and the way power works.”

These are just two of the statements by Professor Ibram Kendi during his riveting presentation about the history of racist ideas for nearly 200 D.C. area educators on January 17, 2018.  Kendi’s talk was organized by D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice, a project of Teaching for Change, and co-sponsored by the DCPS Secondary Literacy Team and the Washington Teachers’ Union.

Kendi is the author of the 2016 National Book Award winning book for nonfiction, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Teaching for Change reached out to schedule this event the minute we learned that Kendi was moving to DC to found the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.

Kendi’s talk to teachers focused on lessons educators can draw from his book Stamped from the Beginning, which details the history and evolution of ideas about race in the U.S. Kendi frames those ideas as segregationist, assimilationist, and antiracist. Among other key concepts from his book and his talk, he explained that racist ideas and racial discrimination are not caused by ignorance and hate, but by self-interest. Kendi spoke in detail and provided historical and present day examples of how self-interest leads to racial discrimination–which lead to racist ideas, ignorance, and hate. (Teaching for Change will post excerpts from Kendi’s talk.)

The evening featured interactive features for participants, a guided interview led by Teaching for Change associate director Allyson Criner Brown, and a question and answer session with the audience. Reflections and responses from audience members included:

This talk was inspiring, clarifying, empowering. Kendi took a very personal, sensitive, complex issue and simplified it. He gave actionable approaches on how to address issues of racism.

My major takeaways were his concrete definitions of segregationist, assimilationist, also antiracist. Also, the need for teachers to teach about power, policies, and the power behind those policies.

This discussion challenged my own thought process about compounding stereotypes and racist history. This is a good way to think through questions for the classroom and how to share these points with students.

Its’s critical to examine your own relationship to these ideas in order to determine how your behavior and pedagogy are impacted or could be improved.

I left with ways to be an activist in my classroom and my personal life when it comes to antiracist ideas.

I think it’s important to normalize these conversations.

This event was ideal preparation for the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools (Feb. 5 – 10), coordinated by the D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice in collaboration with the Center for Inspired Teaching and the Washington Teachers’ Union. Educators from more than 100 D.C area schools signed up to participate in the week of action, and more than 20 local organizations have endorsed it. Visit DCareaEducators4SocialJustice.org to learn more, join our mailing list, and learn about other upcoming D.C. area events.

Special thanks to Professor Ibram Kendi, Teaching for Change, DCPS Secondary Literacy Team, Washington Teachers’ Union, Communities for Just Schools Fund, and Taste of Salt Fund for this amazing event.

Author Event: Understanding the History of Racist Ideas in the U.S.