Unconscious racial bias (URB) can be a pernicious form of racism. In light of increased awareness of and research on the subject, URB work has become a key focus of equity work in health care, education, and corporate contexts as part of broader calls for racial justice. In Canada, targeting URB in education has become a policy priority at the national, provincial, and school board levels. The role of individual and organizational URB is now widely recognized in policy as central to equitable outcomes in schooling; however, research is limited on how to engage these forms of racism in educational contexts. Prevailing approaches to URB work in schools often include truncated one-off workshops, which leave unaddressed the connections between the individual racial biases, and the operations of white supremacy and racism at the institutional, systemic, and structural levels.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study
While URB is increasingly well-understood by social psychologists, there has been limited engagement from critical scholars working in areas such as critical race theory (CRT), anti-colonialism, and critical whiteness studies—despite the popularity of interrogating URB as an anti-racism strategy in education. CRT in education has laid bare and problematized the central function of schooling in the safeguarding and management of white supremacy. This project emerged from a dual recognition of URB as a productive entry point for racial awareness and anti-racism work, alongside a significant concern about the failure of mainstream URB discourse to address structural racism and white supremacy—masking at times the deeper ways that Euro-colonial racism underpins social relations in contemporary U.S., Canadian, European, and other contexts. This work seeks to address these limitations in the design of the study through deep work with participants. Specifically, the study sought to understand better the impacts of reading critical texts focusing on systemic, structural, and institutional racism on teachers’ understandings of their own racial biases, as well as teachers’ perspectives on the impacts of reading critical texts in terms of their professional practices.
This article reports on the findings of a 10-month study with secondary teachers in Toronto, Canada, focusing on critical approaches to racial bias mitigation in education. In addition to asking participants to enact a series of URB mitigation strategies developed in the field of social psychology, this study also required participants to read and reflect on one of the following critical anti-racism nonfiction texts: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (2018); Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada From Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard (2017); Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School, edited by Mica Pollock (2008); Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada by Paulette Regan (2014); and Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects by Christina Sharpe (2010). The project was designed using multiple data sources from participants, including electronic survey responses, ongoing journaling/reflection, a midpoint check-in questionnaire, and a final interview. These multiple entry points, as well as the duration of the project, aimed to go beyond the taken-for-granted and toward deeper understanding over time.
Findings suggest that reading these works impacted teachers’ understandings of race and racism in terms of their teaching, as well as in terms of their personal relationships to race and racism, increasing their inclination and ability to address race and anti-racism. This work allowed for critical reflection to seep into the most intimate and invisible moments of operationalized whiteness in the professional and personal spheres of participants. This suggests an important complementarity between teacher intervention practices emerging from social psychology, and the introduction and engagement of critical anti-racist and anti-colonial texts in terms of teachers’ work for racial justice.