Helping the Wrong Way

What strikes me in my initial forays into researching the altruistic shield (using one’s ostensibly sacrificial profession as a defense against criticism for perpetuating white supremacist systems)  is that, despite the news stories about the openly racist people in classrooms, most of the racism is couched in other issues. What I mean is that most such teachers really DO want to help – I think I have to believe that – but they believe that “help” should be filtered through deficit-based instruction and pedagogy.

This deficit-based pedagogy intersects with the “colorblind” racism particularly prevalent in those who are openly liberal, which means that when people point out that they’re not actually helping their students as much as they could, paroxysms of rage and tears can be the result.

The truth of the matter is, racially marginalized students ARE different from their peers. To acknowledge this flies in the face of “not seeing color,” but that’s some nonsense anyway. We’re different for reasons specific to each person’s life but also for reasons that are more universal to the racially marginalized. To respond to this effectively requires meeting these students where they are and using your actual, valuable training and skills to help them find a successful way forward instead of placing these students where you think they must be because of the assumptions you’ve subconsciously made or, most damagingly, deceiving yourself into believing you are free from all race-based judgment.

I think this is why it’s so hard for many teachers to hear that they might not be perfect supporters of racially marginalized students. Most do enter education or other such fields to help, but the society and systems around them have framed what “help” is in ways that harm the people they seek to serve. It’s not really their fault that they don’t know. It only becomes their fault once they’re told and they refuse to consider the possibility.