Inclusive Teaching – On Race

The strength of Shade of Noir‘s  platform lies either in the range of resources and formats provided to the learner and the specificity of topics offered in form of case studies. Even more importantly the association of faces to stories and reports, helps the reader to relate and identify with the treated subjects with relative ease. This editorial and strategic approach facilitate the platform’s intention to humanise the topics addressed. It also presents a platform that behaves as a self-reflective and co-productive community which is certainly in line with Freire’s belief that  “Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building;” [Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of The Oppressed].  When it comes to the platform’s applicability within teaching practice, I particularly enjoy SoN’s inclusive database of contemporary practitioners. If it’s true that HE institutions lack an offer of diverse resources to minorities, it is also true that the gap between resources and minority groups deepens when there is a need of contemporaneity of references.

However, is strong agency the best or only solution available to institutions to tackle cultural disparities and the urgent need of fairness in Higher Education? Agency certainly offers specificity, bespoke strategies and more importantly independence, however the lack of consistent acknowledgement and referencing across UAL platforms of SoN suggest that the full potential of such resource, unfortunately also depends on a robust and strategic support from the institutions which it operate with. Which begs the question, why should an institution promote a resource such as SoN?

 

Relying on idealistic motivations from institutions would be naive and unrealistic. Institutions will always come to decision persuaded by financial, positional and political motivations. Luckily for students and committed academics,  research suggests that in addition to employability, pupils well-being and flourishing should be quality marks that should be taken in account by institutions when it comes to Quality Assurance. [Steuer, N. and Marks, N. (2008). University Challenge: Towards a well-being approach to quality in higher education ]. Which sets a good battleground to influence stakeholders in decision-taking process. Research also states that a co-productive approach which involves the active participation of students in shaping the curriculum activate the conditions for the aforementioned of culture of wellbeing . Therefore if strategic work has to be done in a macro scenario such as quality management, to fortify the presence of agencies a la SoN, contingent work has to be done on grassroots level in the classroom to generate spontaneous integration of agencies research, bibliography and work within student portfolios.

But also viceversa. As future lecturer, I think that meaningful work begins if integration of SoN is constantly and tangibly implanted in my teaching but also if a relationship of mutuality and continuity between and the platform and the students is nurtured. Successful and popular work developed by students will inevitably become a driving force “encouraging” institutions to fortify either the role of social agencies within their framework but also their commitment to strategies of social change for positional and political and therefore financial reasons. Yes policy has to be the licence for change, but active practice and success in the classroom are the strongest assets for social fairness and justice where we (tutors & students) are obliged to engage meaningfully and continuously. But how can we ignite impactful and meaningful work that transcend the classroom and impact the collective awareness be developed successfully?

Unfolding systemic oppression is not easy. It’s painful, it’s shameful and worst than anything it’s a frank conversation. Frank conversations despite how simple they may seem, require a good amount of  brutal honesty on the part of all interlocutors both in the moment of speaking and in that of listening. Although I’m pretty much confident that I can impose myself ethical rigour while getting my valid opinions across, I am not totally convinced of being self-effacing enough, to engage in honest listening . How integral can I remain when listening truths that I find abhorrent?  

Listening things we hate, is traumatising, is upsetting and is painful. But honest encountering unshackle the forbidden. So although I may be slightly inconsiderate here, I consider political politeness and speech censorship the greatest antagonists of liberation and justice. I was extremely intrigued by an exchange we had in class during our last session of Inclusive Teaching & Learning  about the validity of open-minded approach versus courteous listening the other in the classroom. Although I suspect there was a slight misunderstanding between parts about the meaning of open-mindedness (which also requires receptiveness of other people beliefs, not just inquisitive tolerance) I personally prefer a framework where I can stare at the effects of an opinion rather than circumnavigating around it. But the emotional repercussions that the re-enactment of a trauma can trigger in pupil is a collateral that I would prefer to avoid under any circumstances.

 

Critical and reflective practices within Art however have this particular gift of being able to sublimate and make, almost every human experience, worthy of being contemplated. According to the reader’s preparation and sensibility of course. They are definitely a tangible option in support of intergroup education hypothesis which suggests that “in creating activities that have the potential to lead participants toward the perspective that because they all have a shared humanity…they are able to have personal interactions with one another that shatter their group conflict” (Tapper, 2013)

In a previous post, I have reflected on how the classroom must declares itself as a playground for enquiry and possibilities , Critical Race Theory suggests how the role of the tutor can be redefined as the one of arbitrator and facilitator. I see CRT not as a mere response to the dynamics of racism but rather as a method of analysis of the nature of racism. The tutor educated in CRT has the ability to engage himself and students in the deconstruction of the underlying significations of marginalisation . Derrick Bell has been convincingly able to reveal the principle that, racism is not an abhorrent of the human reality we are all entangled within but rather a necessity for the continuity of Western perception of actualisation of power. A parasitical system that craves for subordinates and scapegoats to keep going. The economic system built by European dominant classes needs an antithesis to its constructed identity. This economic system cropped out of capitalistic perceptions of concepts of power and dominance,  demands, and will go to the extent of creating, archetypes of anomaly, chaos and evil an in order to affirms itself as natural, civilized and peaceful. Nevermind if such ideals are utterly arbitrary and deceitful. As long as the demiurge finds a device to channel its desires and fears as masterly explained by writer James Baldwin in this excerpt:



Bell and the CRT understand that racism manifests itself in cyclicality, series and patterns across the skeleton of society, where the marginalised is sacrificed on the altar of social order, in pursuance of perpetual and centralised power in the hands of one dominant class which happens to be white in our society. In times of crisis, the marginalised is used as a scapegoat to distract the group from the limits and perversions of a suprematist version of power (i.e. demonisation and aggression).  It is used again in times of prosperity to remember the dominated white middle classes through tactics of manipulation and resentment, that the only path to self-actualisation and freedom is a meritocratic order based on self determination and hard work where circumstantial conditions have little or no relevance and any attempt to tackle the socio-political gaps that have left some social groups underrepresented in society is simply a way to discriminate the ones who actually made every effort to be where they are despite of adversities . And that’s quite surprising, because these same circumstantial conditions were once used to assert that the cruel fate of the marginalised was simply the result of a divine order  and the inevitability of his/her fate. Which leaves the “other” in a absurd position where he/she is expected to be nothing but the extra-ordinary. Or by being excellent or or by being unworthy. Never average. Mediocrity is a luxury never permitted to the marginalised. And that’s precisely the nature of racism and marginalisation. It mutates, it changes faces, it plays hide and seek in the intricate fabric of society to safeguard the ideas of the powerful and his/her aspiration for perpetual dominance.


Oppression in the educative system leaves the tutor with only two options, to distract him/herself  from racism with a false consciousness or devise methods that help himself and his/her pupils to recognise racism, recognise its necessity and fight its soliloquy . Bell remembers us that only when we understand racism as a necessity than we understand what the problem is. Understanding racism as a necessity urges you to reflect about what it is necessary for. Which inevitably unmask the powerful. No matter where he/she hides. Acknowledgement of the power structure is the principal and most powerful  act of liberation. One of the most distressing weapons of systemic oppression is hopelessness. The powerful knows it. Lack of purpose leaves you paralysed. The racist structure always hide. Not because ashamed or incapable to address its limits but to plant the seed of self-doubt in the victims mind and create the impression that evil of oppression is part of an inexplicable natural and divine design which leaves the common man impotent.

CRT after breaking down the necessity of racism within a white-centred society break this cyclic spell and directs individuals towards the fashion of ideas that are relevant to the context where they have been formulated. One of the most perpetrated misconceptions around the debate about marginalisation is that the struggle is a mere polarisation between specific social groups. I am personally extremely reluctant to the idea that oppression and racism are necessities exclusive to white societies. I am profoundly convinced that racism and oppression are necessities of the very idea of Power. Just like in ancestral cults where evil/chaos is formulated to necessitate good/order. They are necessities that perpetrates the dynamics of dominance of one entity against another. Full stop.

However, I understand that I can only embark in pragmatic deconstruction of oppression by tackling my personal experience and context which happens to be white racism, a necessity and a weapon of white dominance and supremacy.  In my practical context, the art classroom as a playground for encounter and inquiry, Critical Race Theory in providing a method to unmask white supremacy in art and design which by the way happen to be languages that can transcend socio-geographic boundaries, can help the individual to challenge the universal notions of Power and Subordination. It does it by empowering the individual to observe, question authority and challenge its methods meticulously.


Yet, the art classroom can become at times the room of silence because we are perpetually programmed, and probably naturally inclined, to express ourselves in terms of herd behaviour. People’s responses are thus understood in terms of subjective beliefs about different groups and the relations between them, rather than material interdependencies and instrumental concerns, objective individual and group characteristics, or individual difference variables. (Tapper, 2013).  Our identities have been and still are used against us. To allocate us, manage us and manipulate us. Recent scandals around the collusion between data firms, political organisations and new media remember us that power is always at work and keeps playing hide and seek. CRT offers a new narrative around the symbolism of being an individual. Not a solipsistic expression of our existence but an individualism at the service of collective consciousness as an example of dissent and inspiration. Because if we can’t eradicate racism from our society at least, we still can teach students to refuse to be accomplices of the abuse that is inflicted upon them.

 

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One Comment

  1. Posted 30th May 2018 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    As I was reading your blog, Audre Lorde’s quote immediately came to mind; “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” If UAL embraced SoN more how much would this affect the current content of the organisation? White Supremacy always has a way of diluting activist movements as they make one feel safe by offering various levels of security, be it financial or social. In order for institutional change to continue, we all must continue keep our integrity by speaking truth to power.

    I totally feel you about navigating uncomfortable conversations in the classroom I would suggest just having a variety of resources for students to engage with on topics to do with race and identity.

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