Avoiding Racial Equity Detours
I recall sitting in my school’s mandatory “Diversity and Inclusion” PD two weeks ago. Fifty-plus teachers and staff listened to our principal, a well-meaning man, talk cautiously about issues of race, gender, and status in our school. Besides citing the “statistic” (his word, which he emphasized) that our accelerated track had few students of color, he read from slides that defined terms such as “diversity”, “inclusion”, and “equity.” Then we watched a TED talk on implicit bias.
Near the end of the presentation, one teacher claimed that implicit bias doesn’t exist and “equity” only creates problems where there is none. Sensing the room’s rising discomfort, our principal was quick to assure his staff that he was not accusing them of racism. He went on to focus on how teachers and students talk about tracking in our school.
Then the meeting ended. That was it. No follow-up or questions. Just some slides on diversity and inclusion, a TED talk, which I fear sent our staff the message that inequity can be solved by fixing our psychology alone, some white fragility, some placating that fragility, and a pivot toward talking about status while keeping race and gender safely at arm’s-length.
I think this is why the article Avoiding Racial Equity Detours by Paul Gorski was so impactful when I found it strolling the streets of the Math Ed Internet Universe. Gorski starts with four “racial equity detours” embraced by schools that refuse to reckon with its reality of racial inequity. They are:
- Pacing-For-Privilege Detour: Coddles the feelings and fears of hesitant educators.
- Poverty of Culture Detour: Using vague notions of culture to explain everything.
- Deficit Ideology Detour: “Fixing” students through mindset and grit alone.
- Celebrating Diversity Detour: Using PoC as props for gentle diversity education.
Gorski also talks about five principles of “equity literacy” (which by the way reminds me of another useful term, “racial literacy
”). It’s important to note these are not simple strategies to solve problems of equity but rather clotheslines on which to hang weightier conversations:
- Direct Confrontation Principle: “How is racism operating here?”
- Redistribution Principle: Redistributing access and opportunity to PoC.
- Prioritization Principle: Filtering every policy and practice through the lens of “How will this impact families and students of color?”
- Equity Ideology Principle: Developing deep understandings of racism and an ideological commitment to eliminate it.
- #FixInjusticeNotKids Principle: Eliminating racist conditions instead of focusing on efforts to “fix” kids.