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Teacher Under Construction: Advocacy in the Age of Colorblindness

A student of color is courageous enough to share his story, and what do adults do? Dismiss and invalidate his experiences by arguing what they believe he and students in similar situations need. Go ahead, say you are “fighting for students,” but you can’t truly fight for students if you aren’t listening to them–all of them, not just the ones that align with your beliefs.

Recently a teacher shared that her friend posted an article in the national Badass Teachers Association (BATs) Facebook group page that provoked a controversial debate. She shared that her friend got “slapped” for sharing the article in the group. The article covers a New Orleans student who discusses teachers being hired in his community. He notes, “Hiring more white teachers is not the best way to improve education for students, particularly students of color.”

Supportive of the article, and skeptic about the BATs after talking to teachers of color in the past, I had to check it out.

Here is the screenshot of the original post:


The post received over 200 comments from BAT members.


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What I find frustrating about most of these comments is their complete dismissal of the greater issues reflected by this post. The comments that argue that “there aren’t enough teachers of color” are ignoring the boundaries that keep many people of color pursuing this career. Many had oppressive\racist\non-cultural relevant education experiences, so many are reluctant to enter an environment they grew up hating. Many ignore that college-access, especially for people of color, is limited. Thus, completely leaving out the opportunity to even pursue a teaching certificate. As long as students of color are given more barriers than their white counterparts to go into teaching, the longer teachers of color will be the minority.

Another irritating argument includes that “it doesn’t matter what color a teacher is, as long as the teacher is good, that’s all that matters.” That is completely missing the point of the importance and benefits of students of color having teachers who look like them (see: Study: Minority students do better under minority teachers, Why students need more Black and Latino teachers). Yes, all teachers regardless of race can be trained to be effective teachers of black students, but black teachers can “be more adept at motivating and engaging students of color.” Additionally, by having students of color see people who look like them in successful positions, it can help prove to them that they can hold such positions too. Also, comments such as “color doesn’t matter,” is possibly one of the most racist statements one could make. By saying, “I don’t see color,” or “color doesn’t matter,” is basically saying “I don’t see your experiences, your stories, your struggles. Those elements of your identity and life don’t matter to me.” Colorblindness is not justice, equality, or being a good teacher. Colorblindness is ignoring the very issues that your students need you to fight against.

It was also frustrating reading people’s personal defense. “Well as a white teacher, [insert defense that his\her students of color love him\her].” I don’t doubt that. Yet again, the larger issue at hand is being completely ignored. It is the fact that ~80% of the teaching population is white.  While BATs are ready to attack Teach for America (TFA) for being a predominantly white organization, they fail to reflect on the own institutions in which they use in defense. They fail to acknowledge that the predominantly white teaching pool of the U.S. existed well before and without TFA.  (see: Changing the Face of Teaching, Profile of Teachers in the US, Black Teachers Black Students).  Yes, we should criticize organizations such as TFA that are a threat to education, but it is just as important we recognize how some of our own institutions may be hindering liberation, democracy, and diversity as well. While BATs are ready to accuse TFA corp members for perpetuating racism, they fail to acknowledge the very racist tendencies of their own members.

Now, I understand that the people who identify as BATs vary significantly, so it is hard to generalize all BATs. I am happy that this organization has empowered teachers who once felt that they were alone, but that does not give them a free pass.  As a national organization that claims to be a group that fights for better education and students, it makes me question: For whose education? For whose students? BAT’s mission claims to want to “erase inequality through education.” But the acts of the BATs towards people of color in the past convey otherwise. The only comments on this thread made by the “moderators” included advising for comments to be edited, staying kind and patient, and not to be condescending. Not once was anything mentioned about not being racist, or acknowledging how “ignoring people’s race” may be offensive. I find it hard to support a group that is content with banning people who support corporate education reform groups, but not people who support sustaining an oppressive education system for students of color.

If the BATs are an organization that wants to “stay neutral” and abstain from being vocal about issues on race, then I don’t want to be a BAT.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu

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Stephanie Rivera

Stephanie Rivera is a student at Rutgers University. She is a future teacher and educational equity activist. ...