Academic: Teachers must prevent 'assimilation' of 'whiteness'

An academic paper published by the SIT Graduate Institute calls on educators to “promote racial identity exploration” so that students of color do not “assimilate” into the dominant culture.

The author, Hadiel Mohamed, says her research “aims to answer how educators can incorporate ethnic/racial identity development in the classroom for youth of color who are driven to pursue Whiteness,” making clear as she goes along that she views “assimilation” as an unambiguously negative outcome.

“Historically, our education system has been used as an oppressive tool for people of color,” she contends, attributing the condition to “the lack of representation within adults, distance caused by one-sided material, denial of racial tensions or experiences, and implicit bias from educators, classmates, and administration.”

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“The societal avoidance of discussing race furthers the perpetuation of Whiteness as the
norm and removes the value of marginalized histories and voices,” she asserts. “We can witness the preservation of Whiteness through immigration laws, the void of ethnic/racial identity
exploration in schools, and the mono-cultured representation in classrooms.”

According to Mohamed, “there has been a deliberate attempt at preserving the White race within the United States by racializing our borders” through immigration policies that treat immigrants primarily as “cheap laborers for the country’s economic growth,” such as prioritizing visas for high-skilled foreign workers while restricting entry for refugees.

“Accompanying these laws is the societal encouragement to adapt, conform, and assimilate to Whiteness, yet always being a stain to said purity,” she continues, claiming that such laws “have perpetuated the vicious cycle of poverty which requires immigrant reliance on economic exploitation.”

At the same time, Mohamed notes that because “we silence conversations around racism and race” in our society, white people often lack “the opportunity to learn about anti-racist movements and activists.”

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Mohamed goes on to claim that the “trend of racial silence can be witnessed within schools,” where it is “acceptable to point out discrepancies based upon gender imbalances such as having more boys in science courses than girls,” but racial disparities are studiously ignored.

Because school is one place where children “begin to see how society works” and learn “whose behavior is acceptable and rewarded,” she frets that it is also a place where non-white students “begin to normalize oppression,” a process that “forces youth of color to conceptualize ways they need to assimilate to belong within society.”

Whether due to the “implicit bias” of educators or the prevalence of “insults targeting brown and black skin tones, accents, lunch food, cultural differences, parental upbringing, and more,” Mohamed claims that schools “do not welcome anything that veers from the norm,” discouraging students of color from developing a “positive sense of self-identity.”

Arguing that “sources of White superiority come in the format of media, classmates, educators, friends, family, and strangers (even online),” Mohamed states that “when these sources use racial slurs, microaggressions, or ask the daunting question, ‘where are you from,’ the internalization is damaging.”

Even simply identifying immigrants based on their ethnicity, she says, can result in the elimination of “their experiences of discrimination within the racialized environment of the United States.”

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To combat this, she posits that teachers must not only “promote racial identity exploration” among students of color, but also “promote White identity exploration for their White students in the classroom” so as to avoid cultivating the perception that white identity is “normal.”

In addition, Mohamed calls for teachers to adopt “anti-racist pedagogy” as a means of countering the “biased narrative...perpetuated within our curriculum, classroom, and educational policy,” defining the term as an “educational philosophy to examine the political and societal injustices enacted upon people of color within the United States and internationally (colonialism and globalization).”

Creating such a classroom atmosphere may include “examining representation within the curriculum,” integrating the curriculum with “lessons of diversity,” incorporating “lessons of structural oppression,” and encouraging students “to change these injustices.”

Mohamed did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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