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Getting at the Roots of Anti-Black Racism

New AQs will look at systemic issues, biases and centring Black stories.


An illustration of a young Black student.
The Invisible Thread — the connective tissue between and among peoples of African-descent.

Do you recognize anti-Black racism when it occurs? Or what's at its root? How and why such racism plays out isn't always straightforward — in society, workplaces, the education system or the classroom.

That's why Stefanie Muhling, OCT, is looking forward to the release of the College's new Additional Qualification (AQ) guidelines on anti-Black racism. Muhling, the College's manager of Standards of Practice and Education, says the guidelines are intended to help Ontario Certified Teachers (OCTs) better understand the systemic issues that perpetuate anti-Black racism.

Together, the Part 1, Part 2 and Specialist Addressing Anti-Black Racism to Change Pedagogy and Practice AQs will sharpen teachers' professional focus on the challenges faced by children and youth who identify as members of Black communities. The AQs will provide opportunities to gain a deep understanding of historical and current contexts that are vital to naming and addressing anti-Black racism in all forms.

The reach is broad. These AQs are being developed to inform teaching practice — in any learning environment — with all groups of students. As one of the guidelines states, anti-Black racism affects everyday learning experiences across the province.

As the guidelines suggest, "Saving these discussions for certain times of the year, or leaving the work entirely to students and teachers who identify with the most adversely affected communities, helps reinforce divisions that systemic racism upholds."

An illustration of two Black students and a teacher.
Repositioning the Educator Learning from Students, Family and Community — the role and the relationship of the learner.

Muhling explains that the guidelines establish the standardized framework upon which a program provider develops an AQ course. The guidelines were posted for provincial validation in August. Staff and writing team/community representatives will examine feedback in November, with the final guidelines to be posted in early 2022. AQ course providers will be positioned to submit courses to the College for accreditation shortly after that, and OCTs will be able to register for courses by spring 2022.

"Biases can creep into teaching practices in ways that perhaps aren't deliberate but that are still problematic."

Muhling says that a primary goal of the guidelines is to lead participants to "ask themselves the challenging questions and examine elements of pedagogy that have been traditionally exclusive."

"It's difficult for many people to get to that depth of questioning," she says. The AQs provide a framework to support OCTs as they adopt and extend anti-oppressive teaching practice.

The guidelines talk about some essential questions that facilitate the design and implementation of all three of the AQ courses:

Muhling adds that the roles of educators and learners are interwoven in the guidelines. "The power of shared learning is a key concept," she says. "The reciprocal learning between students and teachers is not always highlighted as much as it could be. This writing team really brought it forth."

Creating the anti-Black racism AQ guidelines fits with the College's commitment to anti-oppression, equity and inclusion. In these areas, there's always more work to be done.

Part of that work involves something fundamental, says Karen Murray, OCT: understanding what anti-Black racism looks like. Murray is the centrally assigned principal for the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement at the Toronto District School Board. She has supported the College's AQ policy development and implementation work for years, and was the external team lead for the development of the anti-Black racism AQ guidelines.

Why are these courses so important? As Murray notes, there still isn't enough understanding about the history and legacies of colonialism, and the attitudes and stereotypes that reinforce anti-Black discrimination. "One of the reasons why anti-Black racism exists is because the systems and structures that created barriers continue to exist," says Murray.

She says that anti-Black racism can be overt but is often subtle. That can make it even more insidious. Hate crimes, using the n-word, and other racial slurs are all clear signs of racism. But what about the less obvious?

Murray reminds that biases can creep into teaching practices in ways that perhaps aren't deliberate but that are still problematic. That's why we have to look at impact, not just intent. She adds that so much of the curriculum is still based on Eurocentric notions. Is the pedagogy culturally relevant? Not always. Do teachers bring positive racial identities into the discourse? Not necessarily.

Even sentiments that may seem helpful on the surface can be harmful. Murray uses the example of teachers who tell their diverse classroom that "I don't see colour." That might appear to be progressive, but Murray says students hearing that could have a different interpretation. They might think, "You're saying you don't see me as a Black person, and you're taking away something I'm proud of."

Murray hopes the anti-Black racism AQ courses will raise teachers' awareness of their practices. More than that, Murray says, "The courses can lead to action-oriented work, and an understanding of our obligations to support the educational achievement of Black students."