Anti-Bias Anti-Racism (ABAR) Teaching, and My Continuous Unlearning

Anti-Bias Anti-Racism (ABAR) Teaching, and My Continuous Unlearning

Anti-Bias Anti-Racism (ABAR) Teaching, and My Continuous Unlearning
by Emily Graves, Grade 5 teacher

I, like many others, had a wake-up call this past spring as the horrific events of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement stormed the international stage. Working from home during the pandemic meant I was more tuned into the media and news like never before and through reading and listening to others, I stopped thinking of racism and bias and began to feel and recognize my part in the systems. For the first time in my life, I realized trying to ‘ not be’ racist was not enough, instead, I needed to be an anti-racist.  To be ‘anti’ is to make deliberate choices that affirm, support, and defend all people. It means promoting justice, empowerment, action, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Conversations specifically about anti-racism within international schools began to ignite. And so I, like many others at YIS and around the world, began a new anti-racism journey. 

From Woke to Work: The Anti-Racism Journey, a podcast by Kamala Salmon, talks about six steps on this never-ending road.

  1. Build Awareness - know about racism, both overt and systemic
  2. Have Sympathy - to understand the distress and needs of people exposed to racism
  3. Be Empathetic, be pained by it
  4. Reflect and Internalize It
  5. Allyship: interrupt racism when you see it, experience it, and stand up even when you are scared to take on the problems as your own
  6. Be an Anti-Racist: work towards dismantling racism

I am the walking example of privilege. Being a white international educator, holding United States citizenship is about as privileged as one can get in this world. The knowledge of this privilege is not new to me, but I don’t think I ever truly recognized how my privilege provided me with benefits and opportunities that others without my ethnicity and citizenship were not able to enjoy.

The world around us is filled with conscious and subconscious teaching moments, so this year I vowed to start being a teacher who explicitly shares my anti-bias, anti-racism journey with their students. One of the many ways I can center the perspectives of those being discriminated against is to seek out their stories and listen to their experiences. I continue to build awareness of the history of racism both in my home country and throughout the world by staying true to this anti-racism journey. There is much to unlearn about what I was taught or not taught at all, including how to think critically of information and question who systems are designed to benefit.  The IB teaches these vital skills from the Primary Years Programme through to the Diploma Programme.

In the past, in my own learning, I was focusing more on my personal growth, not on how systems also need to be changed. I realize now that I was complacent in my journey, depending on my organization to provide me with resources and opportunities for learning about race and bias. I hadn’t truly internalized the issues and my role in such systems.  Professional conversations, teaching workshops, and strategic educational goals focused on topics other than diversity, equity, and inclusion.  As a result, I stopped thinking about my privilege and subsequent teaching practice. That in itself is the ultimate privilege - to be able to forget easily that we even have it.

During our Unit of Inquiry, How We Organize Ourselves, students inquired into the related concepts of justice, equality, and systems through the lenses of perspective, change, and causation. Using the Social Justice Standards for Teaching as a backbone for developmental appropriateness, the Grade Five teaching team designed learning engagements that grew awareness and empathy while inviting reflection and action around these concepts.

The book, I Took Her Name, by Shu Matsuo-Post

We invited two guest speakers to share their experiences with racism and gender inequality in Japan. Below are excerpts of students’ reflections after hearing Baye McNeil, author, journalist, and activist, speaking to them about the blackface issue in Japanese television entertainment, and Shu Matsuo-Post, the spouse of a YIS staff member, born in Japan and raised in Japan and the United States, speaking about changing his surname in Japan.

“Before Baye’s talk, I only watched the BBC video, and I didn’t know about blackface. Also about Baye. But now I know about blackface more and I also know about Baye and how he is treated.  I agree that what the comedian did wasn’t intentionally racist but that it was very offensive.  I also now know doing blackface isn’t always bad or offensive.  It could mean that they are inspired, but using it as a prop or a joke could be very offensive.” - Anna

“Baye’s talk taught me a lot of things.  To me in fact I think everybody got new ideas too.  I think this taught me a lot of things about what black people thought and felt about their crisis.” - Hayato

“Today after Baye’s talk, I thought about things. One thing that I was really surprised [about] was that he said ‘Other people’s disagreement really helps me learn.”’I thought he would say ‘I was really sad’  but he actually said that help[ed] me. When I heard his answer, I decided to think like that.” - Coco

I used to think “That only women were feminists and that they only cared about equal rights for women and men.” Now I think “That if we care about equal rights for both genders, and don’t want to live up to the stereotypes, that they can be feminists no matter the gender.” - Rena

I used to think “Gender stereotypes are normal and doesn’t need to be changed”. Now I think “Gender stereotypes should not exist, everyone should have equal rights.” - Aoi

The change in perspectives and growing awareness our students have demonstrated as a result of exploring this unit is the beginning of allyship and is an opportunity for me to stay true to ‘the work’ on my own journey. Learning how to recognize and interrupt racism or stereotypical comments when we hear or see them in everyday life, in the stories we read, or in the media we watch are some of the ways we are being everyday action takers.

Our current class read-aloud George by Alex Gino, is a realistic fiction book about a fourth-grader who is seen as a boy on the outside, but who knows deep down she is a girl. The gender stereotypes that are ingrained in the culture of everyday life of our character are recognized by students immediately. Using and promoting literature that shows diversity, equity, and inclusion is another way to build empathy and awareness. Currently, all of the Grade Five teachers have made it a goal to use gender-neutral terms with students and we have asked for the students to help us recognize when we make mistakes and support our growth.  Just last week, I made one during a lesson referring to speakers of a group being the spokesman, not the spokesperson. Students helped me to recognize and rephrase my language with a smile, all in the spirit of growth.

I will continue to embrace my vulnerability and share my ABAR journey with my students. I will make mistakes. I will not get it right all the time, but I will not allow myself to forget anymore. I invite you to join us too.


If you would like to begin your own anti-bias anti-racism (ABAR) journey, the following resources may be of assistance, as they were to me:

Resources for Raising Awareness, Building Empathy, Self-Reflection, and Internalizing

Resources For Educators