My advocacy professor is a big fan of the Southern Poverty Law Center. A big part of their work involves educating and conducting advocacy on efforts related to civil rights, equal justice, and equal opportunity. One of their projects is called Teaching Tolerance, which, according to their website, “combats prejudice among our nation’s youth while promoting equality, inclusiveness and equitable learning environments in the classroom.” I was looking around their website this week and noticed that they have a primer on colorism, so I decided to take a look.
What I appreciate most about this primer is that it comes from the perspective of a teacher who had witnessed colorism occur in his or her school. The teacher provided a background of some of the studies that highlight the advantages lighter-skinned individuals receive due to their skin color. And then the teacher went on to explain the importance of that research for educators: (1) it highlights that implicit bias is real and must be examined and acknowledged in order to effectively educate the next generation; (2) it can be a basis for necessary conversations about race that are often overlooked in the school context despite racialized patterns in discipline and academic progress; and (3) it helps teachers avoid colorblindness. I work in a school right now where I am not convinced that the teachers think enough about these issues. It is exciting to see that some teachers are aware of this issue and find it important enough to share their knowledge about it with other teachers.
Another thing I really appreciated about this article is that it proposed a solution! In so many of the articles and studies I’ve read about colorism this semester, there was not much discussion about how to tackle the problem or how to create change. The issue is often painted as so pervasive and so huge that it is hard to even think that anything will ever be changed. In this case, however, the teacher suggested several steps aside from keeping current on the research related to colorism: (1) posing questions to students about racism and colorism when instances arise in the classroom; (2) building a community of critically-conscious teachers both inside and outside of the school walls in order to be continually challenged; (3) validate student experiences related to colorism and discuss them; (4) share historic and current examples of colorism in the classroom; (5) teach students vocabulary to discuss their experiences; (6) conscientiously group students of different backgrounds and experiences together so that they can learn from one another. The primer even included a lesson plan that teachers could use to discuss colorism with students.
I am so glad I happened upon this website this week, particularly because of the solution-focused aspect of the primer. I think it is so important for educators to focus on this issue because, as the article notes, students often pick up on the ways in which they are treated differently than other students. It is so important that as educators figure out what works and what doesn’t work in terms of discussing these hard topics in the classroom, there is an outlet for that information to be shared. I was really pleased with this primer on Teaching Tolerance and the related materials provided by the project. I encourage you all to check out their website!