Anti-Racist Work in the Classroom

By Louise Saldanha and Aruna Srivastava

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In November 1996, we met to talk about the problems of doing anti-racist work in the university context. We both teach English literature courses, Louise formerly at Grande Prairie Regional College and currently at the University of Calgary, where she is working on her Ph.D. (with Aruna as one of her supervisors). When we taped this discussion, Louise was in the middle of a course mandatory for Early Childhood Education students called English 397: Literature for Younger Children a course in which she was encountering some strong resistance from her students to any suggestion of anti-racist analysis. It is this particular course that is both the focus of and reference point for our discussion. Aruna was in the middle of courses on fiction for first-year students and a course called Aboriginal Literature and Film. For some time now, we have been engaged in these discussions about the role of woman of colour as instructor in the university setting, in terms of teaching, research, and the institution generally. Both of us have been engaged in research into critical race theory and critical pedagogy and are committed to working through some of these theoretical principles in our teaching.

LOUISE Aruna, why do you do anti-racist work in your classrooms?

ARUNA it was definitely a process, starting with my original interest in democratic ways of teaching, which I learned from teaching composition courses as a grad student. I then saw connections between pedagogical practice and my interest in postcolonial theory and at the same time was a practicing feminist, becoming aware of my own identification as a racialized woman. So, I wouldn't have called myself an anti-racist teacher until about 5 or 6 years ago, which went along with anti-racism in the context of my academic research and my community work. I quite slowly developed strategies of dealing with race and racism in the classroom, some of it by trial and error; I went through some quite nasty stuff when I first started teaching, although not as much now. But I'm still not quite sure what motivates me; I have often talked about my confusion about whom I do this work for, and about the troubling fact that I probably focus most on trying to teach white students about white privilege: I still find that students of colour get lost in that equation. That's still a real problem with my teaching. Why do you do this work, LOUISE?

LOUISE Right now, I don't know! I continue to be inspired by the literature on critical pedagogy and my initial goal in this class, especially since it is a required course for teacher education students, was to facilitate discussions around how education is never neutral. The students in the class are predominantly white and middle-class and have, despite the currency of multicultural and diversity discussions in their programme, never had to question the ways in which the knowledges and values that inform their own education practices are connected to their racial and economic privileges. I have emphasized, from the first day of English 397 [Literature for Younger Children], however, the necessity of a critical self-reflexivity so that we are aware of the ways in which not only children's books, but the reasons we choose to teach or not teach certain books, works to "produce" children within dominant ideology. But, as a woman of colour committed to anti-racism, I suddenly find myself in this profoundly conflicted position as a woman of colour and as the instructor: I have to convince these students that racism does exist, that "race" has material consequences in the lives of people of colour, that since (and this is one thing on which they all agree) the classrooms in which they will teach will be increasingly multiracial, they cannot afford to not know this, and that when they say that children do not notice "race" that they are speaking from their whiteness; and I feel I have to be gracious, "helpful" (because I, too, have internalized the myth that educators should remain detached and, well, teacherly) in the face of their white defensiveness and anger. This is hard on my soul, lots of wear and tear, and I am feeling not up to this... I know I'm setting up all sorts of false standards for myself, but I don't feel that I'm doing it particularly well at this point. Now, my number one goal has shifted from changing the world to survival!

I don't want to teach in any sort of mainstream way, but it's exhausting to think of facing years and years of this, often hostile, resistance from students for the rest of my teaching career. Will I be hanging on to a few crumbs here and there where students will write really thoughtful e-mails to me, saying I get it? Sounds like some dysfunctional relationship right out of Oprah! It was so much easier just to teach that "journey of the hero" thing in children's literature — that's what I'm sure right now the students would happily hear: and they'll end up thinking I'm a great teacher and I've taught them something. This might be to do with gender, this feeling that I really want to be liked by everyone in the classroom.

My own sense of safety is less in a grad course or a South Asian course because there students had the language of multiculturalism

ARUNA Contradictions: first, we're working against our own socialization as women and teachers. Wanting to be liked: I remember reading bell hooks in Talking Back, talking about trying to ignore the desire to be liked; I find that that's easier as I go along. There are students who aren't going to like what I do, and yet part of what anti-oppression teachers, myself included, possess is a messianic side, so I have also come to question the nature of my investment in this work. There is a positive side to it and students often validate that, but it also has a pernicious side: I am there to convince the majority in the class that this is necessary to do—outside of race or gender, there is something contradictory about being in that position of holding the truth even if you are teaching that truth is provisional. I think that's where the disappointment of anti-racist teaching comes in: your expectations far exceed what realistically happens. From my personal and other communities, I simply don't expect as much as I do in the academic one. I'm much more forgiving of white people in my other communities; I still like them and can challenge them about their racism, privilege, blind spots; they can still be friends and co-workers. In the classroom, it's difficult not to indulge in the binaries: everything is going really well or really badly, and nothing in between.

You talked about survival; a lot of women of colour who write about teaching also talk about different survival strategies, one of which is in fact not doing this work as a way of surviving, choosing to teach in that "objective" authoritarian way. Although that's something that I personally reject, I understand it and am curious about what strategies we choose just to get through.

LOUISE This anti-racist analysis and consciousness that I have been coming into over the last two years is so intimate to me—it really breaks my heart continually running into this wall of resistance.

The thing that you're better at than me is not demonizing students; it's easier for me to say they're all like this even though I know they are not: from their personal journals I know that some students are slowly starting to question privilege, their assumptions, and their knowledges. But is "some" students enough? "Most" of the students remain stuck very loudly in their white defensiveness and it's tough to continually have to find ways through that, which is why teaching this class has become all about survival...mine.

It's all very fine for tenured professors to tell me to write an article about this class, and yet what the hell are they doing? In terms of white alliance, why should it be my job to fix white people? In order to make the students aware of social injustice, I have to ensure that they are feeling good enough about themselves so that they'll listen. As long as they are allowed to think the "problem" is out there—because they, as self-reflexive practitioners, are "good" people, and they can only think of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. occurring as something apart from them — then only are they willing to think about how they, as teachers, can work against inequity in their classrooms. And, I feel, that this is as far as we are going to get in this course, as far as I can push if I'm going to stay sane. Yet, the white students are going to get away without questioning their whiteness. The most I might get by the end of the term is this white guilt thing. Yay.

But for now I'm not pushing it because I'm so happy when these students even recognize that we need images of children of colour in picture books — because their students, the children they will teach, will not all be white, and they are slowly recognizing that children of colour need their presence affirmed through these important, but never-seen, representations. But, what is that really? What are the consequences of letting them off so easily? Even getting my students to the point where they see that racism exists has been hard work, because they don't want to see race, and they will see it only as long as it doesn't affect their own lives.

ARUNA There are some people who'd say that's enough, that if a white student leaves the class actually thinking about representation in teaching children's literature then you've moved her one step along that admittedly-liberal path. I'm not all that convinced: the most frustrating thing in anti-racist teaching — where it fails — is when students seem to understand, and do the work, and yetyou know that when they're really pressed to recognize their privilege, all of the defensive-ness and denial occur, and that people of colour get hurt and other white people who are in fact more racist get validated all at the same time. About half the time I think teaching in any group where you have more white people than people of colour is going to result in that liberal dilemma. Are we wasting energy worrying about that?

The message is 'Fine, this is all ideological, but we're not going to get work' especially in the school system where there are visible pressures

For me, it is harder when students of colour leave my class, or when they don't themselves appreciate an anti-racist approach because it inevitably singles them out. I have to confront my own sense of feeling betrayed by them: what is our relationship to students of colour — do they feel betrayed by us? This is the first year I've done anything to move in their direction, not just by having a group of aboriginal students working in their own group, for example, but by putting women of colour in the class in touch with each other because one of them was having trouble with racism in her study group. Up to this point, I would have listened to that inner voice tell me this is wrong, it is preferential treatment, and would internalize all possible complaints from white students. I think that my failure has been a failure of nerve: nothing wrong with that, we are conditioned to have failures of nerve. Is the challenge we present really that big a deal all the time — how do students actually respond to our political teaching when it comes down to it? Not always as negatively as we assume.

LOUISE I find it troubling that in attempting to suggest an anti-racist analysis in English 397, I have ended up giving so much space to whiteness. I realize that I didn't give people of colour in my class a language to talk about their location as people of colour, and so when they're trying to talk about their own experiences of race, class, etc. they're doubly uncomfortable. Talking about "race" has focussed the attention on them, but they are unequipped to talk back, in a sense. They're tentative: How to talk about racism without offending the white people, their white friends and colleagues? I think it would have really helped if I had put people of colour together in their own groups.

ARUNA This is scary stuff, though: our internalized fears aren't completely false. Take the example at the University of Calgary of the faculty opposition to universal, published teacher ratings. I have mixed feelings, and recognize what we as faculty fear, yet I think there's something not quite logical about the assumption that innovative teachers will get bad evaluations, and that published teaching ratings would discourage innovation. My own evaluations have been pretty good, even though some students are always offended by my pedagogy. Maybe, as you pointed out, tenure affords me this sense of security, and maybe that was part of the reason I became more insistent about these issues this year: I finally had less to lose.

LOUISE It's overwhelming to confront white oblivion, especially as a racialized female. Despite students' claims that "race" is irrelevant, I know, from their comments, attitude, and behaviour, that the fact that I am a woman of colour is relevant, but no-one wants to talk about it. They say instead: racism is no longer an issue; we see no burning crosses. Everyone is equal. We're multicultural. Faced with this, how do you present racism as a real problem, then? And they're so committed to the idea of the democratic classroom in which everyone can speak and is heard equally. So why do the three women of colour in the class never say anything in a large group setting? And why is it that the rest of the class does not notice? One of the most difficult things is to challenge this liberal ideology which makes some people's silence, somehow look like equality.

ARUNA There's lots of contradictions there: if we recognize that racism has been learned through a lifetime, then it's understandable but weird that we'd assume that that would change significantly in a couple of months. It's amazing that anyone in 3 months would intervene in their own thinking, even to the point of moving from none of us see race to race is a problem. Combine that with race not being the only factor: look at other ideologies, including a strong, conservative educational system where there is very little encouragement for students to think critically; we do little to reward them for taking risks. It may not be comforting but I remember, when I feel defeated and upset, that good teachers know that most learning occurs outside the classroom, and long after their particular influence. Very rarely do we get feedback, unless we have students who take our classes again. Students do come back to our classes more often, because we teach them ways to radically change themselves; we have to still the naysaying voice complaining that we are "cultic" teachers. Our pedagogies are very demanding, and I have an increasing respect of the work that students do in my classes, because it is hard. Still, it is difficult to remember all these long-term effects when faced with racism in the classroom, or with racial dynamics, and to remind ourselves that this resistant student might, three years down the road, be an anti-racist activist.

Can you imagine a situation in which what you're going through at the present wouldn't seem so personal and crucial as it does now?

I wonder whether the liberalism and the individualism of the very system that we're critiquing is what gets us into trouble

LOUISE Here at the University of Calgary everyone tells me I'm lucky to get a senior course in my area of research. Maybe so, but I feel it as a huge responsibility too because I want to make a crucial intervention. So, in doing anti-racist teaching, I risk unpopularity, but still maintain my commitment to the principles of critical education. This work is difficult, but then how can I not do it? I guess, when I think about what I was saying earlier, about losing sight of my commitment, I realize that I'm making a choice to do this anti-racist work and that it is always going to be crucial and personal.

ARUNA It depends too on how invested you are in a course; I got much more upset with whiteness in my course on South Asian diasporic literature than I do in the course on Aboriginal literature, because my identity was being challenged, negated. With first-year novel courses, I don't have the same expectations I have with senior or graduate courses. When I think about first-year students, their idiom is different: my choice would be to have students without sophisticated rhetoric; in our graduate course, for example, you couldn't tell who was being racist, because our academic and intellectual rhetoric was the same, whereas in a first-year course, students are less guarded, and I can challenge them directly. My own sense of safety is less in agrad course or a South Asian course because there students had the language of multiculturalism, which is what you got in your class, LOUISE, as well; the rhetoric is so smooth that you get caught in other traps. I had a student in the first-year course talking about Medicine River, clearly not seeing her racist stereotypes, but I didn't get as upset as I would with a student in my senior aboriginal literature class saying exactly the same thing and that's because I expect such a student by then to be racist in more subtle ways, which means you have to get into frustrating, coded discussions about white guilt, which are really about whether racism and whether oppression of aboriginal peoples really exist. As students move through the university system, they think less critically perhaps, but can mask racism and their own privilege in increasingly sophisticated and elitist ways; our commitment cannot match the institutional commitment to denying that inequality exists in its hallowed halls.

I think there are several reasons why teaching in university doesn't allow for good anti-racist work: we're teaching too many people at structured times, we have no time to debrief, no flexibility in time, we grade students, there is a liberal expectation that this is free space, a level playing ground. Actual talk of oppression makes people upset and angry. Also, I have internalized too many institutional values. It's easy to say this with tenure, but I still feel that for all of us going through the ranks, we make more of those institutional fears than are actually real. What happens to us is often arbitrary—anti-racist work itself won't mean always that we don't get a job. From a privileged place, it is frustrating to succumb to those fears, because anti-racist work at the university occurs in a very protected setting, which is probably why it isn't working. I waste so much energy on that teacherly sense of being fair to all students in the same way; especially the students who are taking up too much space get more from me than those who really need me to hear them—we're back to why do this at all?

LOUISE But you're not paid to do it; you're paid to be there, and you've chosen to do anti-racist teaching, and I totally admire your energy and the commitment that this takes — sometimes, for me, it's really hard to get out of bed. To take this stuff on, day after day, keep strategizing around and through student resistance, is tough, tough work. And sometimes it seems like there's so few of us doing this work, and why is that? Do you have to suffer racial, gender, or class oppression in order to fight oppression? Structurally, this makes little sense. But, then, why change the world when it's working so well for you?! It gets kind of lonely at times, especially after a really tough class, because most of my colleagues cannot understand the frustrations I experience, cannot understand why this sort of teaching is politically important, cannot understand why I would want to do this to myself, and cannot, like many of the students I teach, understand the ways in which they, themselves, need to unlearn their racism.

ARUNA But I wonder whether the liberalism and the individualism of the very system that we're critiquing is what gets us into trouble: I still really believe that I'm on my own, and a lot of my strategies are solitary strategies.That's where we revert to the authoritarian thing, into that conundrum that feminist teaching faces as well: I know very few feminist teachers who teach radically differently from the way things have always been done, although what they are teaching can be radical. I also found it was very hard for me to let go of my classes when I went on sick leave this term: I had the opportunity to say these are not my possessions, these courses, you can benefit from other instructors, and I did not take that opportunity. Although that was partly a valid distrust of white teachers, it also assumes that I can always do it better than people who are substituting for me, and who have been paid to replace me.

If I have half a year to teach a children's literature course that's anti-racist in both pedagogy and content, I want it to be a vehicle for writers of colour

LOUISE This current economic climate also functions as a major obstacle to doing this work in the university. We, as academics, have not theorized enough the ways in which the university has aligned itself with corporate agendas, and students therefore are increasingly motivated by the bottom line: how is anti-racist work in the classroom going to help them find, and keep, a job? This is something that keeps surfacing in English 397 as well. I understand that these teachers in training are very concrete thinkers which makes sense because they will be going into classrooms where they will be faced with twenty high-energy kids. So I can understand the need for a concreteness, but it's the uncriticality that bothers me: the assumption that critical thinking isn't helping anyone these days to get a job. The message I'm getting is: fine, children's literature is heavily ideological and works in the interests of specific power and cultural norms, but we're not going to get work reminding anyone of that, especially in the school system where there are much more visible pressures from the institution, the principal, the parents. Ironically, that is one way the university allows us to do anti-racist work in the classroom more easily, I guess.

But the way in which doing this work is so difficult is more abstract, but no less tangible. Even if you walk into an empty classroom, you can see how knowledge is being organized and produced: there are the rows of desks all neatly facing the one big desk that sits in the front, where the blackboard is, the screen for the overhead projector is, where THE ANSWER is, and, thus, where I'm supposed to be.

I want to restructure this space, redistribute the power inherent in its design, and encourage students to participate in their own knowledge-making: Why do we like or dislike certain children's books? Where have our ideas about what a "good" children's book come from? Where do our ideas about who a "child" is come from? What are the consequences, especially as teachers, of our beliefs? Yet some students' intense unwilligness to work on these ideas tends to overtake our class and I thus find it increasingly difficult to avoid so easily slipping into that beckoning "I'm the teacher" space in front of the class. That authoritarianism looks mighty good most days! This is my first response (survival, again?) to occupy that space of authority in front of the class waiting for me and which is too easily slipped into: I'm the boss; this is the way it is; this is a racist world we live in; that's your history; how are you accountable to that history? take notes; write it all down; no debate; it'll be on the final. You know, even saying this to you, I know how problematic this impulse is, but it sounds so good, so "safe," so not-exhausting. It's definitely a real challenge to resist the way these authoritative spaces are there for us to occupy, especially doing this anti-racist teaching which is about confronting unequal power relations between white people and racialized people (embodied so visibly in this class by me, but where I am the instructor). It's a tough negotiation: my formal authority versus my dispowerment especially because my "instructor-presence" in the class proves to my students — that racism no longer exists. If a woman of colour can teach an English literature class, then we've come a long way baby, actually we've come all the way. Again, it's that idea of classrooms being this free, democratic space somehow independent of the racism, classism, sexism that may (although they are not convinced that it does) exist outside its walls.

And look at the ways in which we organize the curriculum; courses in English Literature are always compartmentalized, as if they are somehow separate from each other: Victorian Literature, Shakespeare, Children's Literature. How about a course on discourse, which would include some children's books? This might help us get away from the extremely entrenched idea of "children" as untainted by the historical and social realities in which they are produced, and to get away from the notion that interrogating these politics contaminates the "innocence of childhood." Different ways of organization—both at the structural and curricular levels—can produce different kinds of knowledges, and make it easier to "do" critical pedagogy in the classroom.

ARUNA One of the things in my pedagogy that I'm still convinced works is this notion, articulated by Joyce King among others, of knowledge and counter-knowledge: asking students to find outfor themselves the dominant forms of knowledge they possess, and countering that with other, less "well-known" knowledges, facts, stories. I'm still convinced that it is as important for students to discover for themselves how limited their knowledge actually is, and then to discover other ways of knowing that I can direct them to but not provide for them. And this is where I get into that charge from colleagues that my pedagogy is lazy. I don't give students answers, or do the research for them, don't provide the knowledge or the counter-knowledge myself. They need to discover all the knowledges themselves.

I'm still convinced that it is important for students to discover for themselves how limited their knowledge actually is, and then to discover other ways of knowing

It's difficult not to fall into that place of telling students where to find things, easy not to be critical about where I stand on issues; and I'm still entranced by how easy it is—even in a mediated or strategic way—to take on the authority and have students accept that uncritically. Even if I say that my knowledge is partial and situated, it's astonishing how quickly and readily we all fall back into well she's the prof and she's talking more and she's answering our questions so we pay more attention to her and primarily we don't pay attention to each other. With racism, this means the white students don't listen to other white students who are working things through, and who can help them out, but they also don't listen to students of colour, because they don't recognize them as providing knowledge they should know.

LOUISE That's very useful: how to get students to think on their own about what knowledge they have and don't have. Especially since they arrive in this class fully expecting, as they—and I, as a student, do this too—to "learn" (read: take notes, ingest, regurgitate) stuff from the instructor. In English 397, what the students want to learn is the WAY to teach children's books to children. It is as if teaching doesn't involve making certain choices (and this is doubly scary because I'm working with people who are, or will be, teaching very soon) about what we teach and, more importantly, but less visibly to all of us, how we teach.

My resistance to the knowledge-counter knowledge idea is: if I have half a year to teach a children's literature course that's anti-racist in both pedagogy and content, I want it to be a vehicle for people of colour and aboriginal people writing children's literature. I didn't want to have white writers in the course because these writers take up too much space already. Everybody has heard of Robert Munsch, but who has heard of Adwoa Badoe? And, why is that? The final research project in my class gives students the chance to select a children's book of their choice to work with and, get this: every single one of my students has selected a picture book by a white person about a white person. And none of them have noticed, despite the emphasis in our class reading on books by aboriginal people and people of colour. This blows my mind. So, no doubt about it, white writers have, in the end, found plenty of space even where I was committed to not giving them any! They are there, if not physically, certainly still foremost in the students' mind.

Getting back to this knowledge-counter knowledge idea, and my desire to structure a course without white writers...I don't want to have a mainstream version of Columbus in order to teach Thomas King's Coyote Columbus Story because doesn't this re-centre whiteness? King's text, then, gets read as an alternative to dominant history. Indeed, the students would have different responses to Coyote Columbus Story if they had read something "more mainstream" first. Maybe they wouldn't have coded their discomfort with the book through their focus on its "bad grammar" (I'm not kidding!) as they did. But what are the politics then? The aboriginal writer writing against the centre? There's plenty of room for white people, without putting them on the course.

ARUNA What you can also do is ask how do you know what you know? For instance, the historical context of Standard English: I send students away to find out what "English" is. Is their English "standard?" Even their own lived experience tells them that their own English isn't grammatical, and then they can make connections between oral stories and their own speaking, although it's harder for them to move on to critique their ideas of what they think literature should teach: its ethics or morality. This method also allowed me to absent myself from the debate altogether, because it's very frustrating to get into the "Bad English/Good English" argument.

Around race, too, people get into weird discussions about racism, particularly othering it to the US. Best way to stop that conversation in its tracks was to introduce literature by African Canadians or ask students to find out what the history of slavery is in Canada, or where and when the largest settlement of black people in Canada is. And then come back and tell me that slavery and oppression didn't exist here. It also works to do standard anti-racist exercises based on history: when did white supremacist groups first come to Canada? how long have they been here? what kind of funding do they get?, so that they can't argue even that white supremacy only exists in the US. It takes a lot less emotional energy for me because the information is there and available to them. Students who don't want to do this won't, but others find that even small facts will shift their perception completely of what they know and how. This happens as much for students of colour as for white students, which is where I succeed in that battle not to privilege white students. You can always work on internalized racism through counter-knowledge.

LOUISE So even at the level of research: go find out the history of slavery in Canada yourself and then come back with that knowledge. That's a way in which I can see counter-knowledge working. I hadn't thought of that.

I send students away to find out what "English" is. Even their own lived experience tells them that their own English isn't grammatical

I'm wondering if we can talk about collaboration for a bit. This has become increasingly important for me, in the writing I do, but also in my teaching practice. I'm realizing that in order to keep doing this work in the classroom, both sanely and safely, it's critical to do it collaboratively. This way, to get politically aware people of colour, students, professors, across disciplines and faculties, to get white allies, community activists, together to facilitate the class, allows students to see beyond this individual instance of this particular class of English 397. It provides them with an opportunity to see how oppression works systemically, and to see that there is no one way to read a book, teach in a classroom, or fight for justice. Facilitating a class collaboratively would also be less soul-wearying for those of us courageous (or crazy) enough to do this work day after day. It would be so important for me to have this community, but it also would be a critical way for students to see our work as not occurring in isolation and our work as occurring differently depending on our racial or economic privilege.

ARUNA I wonder why it is that although I know that the first lesson in my community work is not to do anti-racist workshops alone, to debrief, I still haven't learned that lesson in teaching. I do informal collaborative work: lots of people in the class as co-teachers, especially using white allies. But in terms of saying I need help, I can't. At the personal level, yes; the community level, yes. The only collaborative work I do in the classroom is with students, which can be problematic. And other things get in the way: like you and I teaching our classes at the same time of day. But why can't we just switch with each other or cancel one class? Even with guests, we shoulder the responsibility for the class's reactions to them, instead of sharing the burden with those guests and with the students.

LOUISE It's crucial for my students to see some sort of collective, including white allies, working in class. This would also change the interpersonal dynamic that occurs in class where I am always filtered through racist and sexist perceptions. The students, especially in a class like the one I'm currently teaching, comprised of largely of teachers-in-training, could see that people of colour don't live in isolation, that racism isn't an individual experience, or the problem of people of colour, that there is a need for alliance to fight oppression.

Although I really feel this as critical educational practice, I have trouble envisioning what such a course would actually look like, except at the basic level of us joining our courses, for example, which would just make for a massive class. Thus, the idea of curricular reform keeps offering itself as one of the most viable possibilities. For instance, a language and politics class would make this collaboration more workable.

ARUNA Sometimes it is a matter of just doing it, because, although there are institutional barriers and reasonings to prevent collaboration, there's all sorts of examples of people informally sitting in on classes. My fear is that it isn't seen as quite proper to have informal co-teachers, yet there's precedent for some of these ideas. Like splitting our large classes and meeting them less often: nothing to say we can't make our classes smaller that way. It's not a great solution but nobody opposed it when I did it this term; it works, and yet to some people it seems an uncanny thing to do. We are fixated on certain ways of doing things. Why does the prof has to there all the time? Why not have 10 people come in together to teach?

One of the things we have done in this conversation is talk about anti-racist teaching in a top-down way: us vs. them. One of the ways to establish a sense of community and dialogue, making the classroom less private, is to think of anti-racist teaching in the context of how we teach each other. What have you learned from me? What have I learned from you? From other colleagues, white allies, from students? In the aboriginal literature class I learned from women of colour in particular that in fact they are willing to create and learn from community; they taught me about their willingness as strangers to help and support another woman, and formulated several different solutions themselves after I asked for their help. I was surprised at ways in which their white allies and friends also pitched in to help someone they didn't know — that is how the politics of community works. My own fear has prevented me in the past from initiating community action within the classroom.

From you I've learned that it's easy for me to be complacent about anti-racist teaching: that I do have accumulated authority that gets me through a lot of stuff, even when I'm being actively resisted. I know my institution well enough to know where my resources are, and know that personally too there's little that will prevent me from staying sane through this process. I've learned that it's perfectly possible to have a concatenation of things that make a truly horrible class: as much as I could theorize what was going on in your class, all of that meant nothing in the context of that particular group of your students; it is possible for a minority of bad students to take it over until it is unrecoverable.

One of the ways to establish a sense of community and dialogue is to think of anti-racist teaching in the context of how we teach each other

LOUISE At this point, right in the midst of what has turned out to be a really tough course, you know I can't think of one thing I've learned from the students in English 397. I'll have to get back to that later, think about it when I have a bit of distance once the term has ended.

From you, I've learned the importance of community, which is something I've never experienced, especially since you are my advisor and I shouldn't be revealing the difficulties I'm having like this — the university doesn't promote trust. As a woman of colour, you understand things; I don't have to explain why this teaching is doubly difficult when taken on by a racialized female, which is important support in getting through this type of teaching. Our alliance is crucial to me. Especially with this class, there are still points where this anti-racist project seems too big. But I think Aruna's probably going through this too. This is what I feel to be mentoring, not the traditional God/Adam thing that usually happens among profs and their graduate students. That's so cool.

ARUNA It is interesting for me to see you not recognize yet how much you have done with that class as their teacher. We do have a lot of power and responsibility, and we are expected to solve problems like those you've had. And a lot of us invest energy in these classes in the name of something larger. The goal isn't the subject, like "Milton"— the goal is different, and if we see those not working, then we take so much more time to get it back on track. As an anti-racist worker you have put an awful lot of work into fixing the course instead of easily giving up on it, like other faculty seem to have done, presuming it insoluble. People like you put so much effort in pure pedagogical terms, just not to make that default to the lowest common denominator.

LOUISE Is there space for listing that energy on the tenure form, space to write that in? This anti-racist teaching, as emotionally and physically taxing as it is, has taken away from my own research, my dissertation work, and that's where the system sucks. Traditional ways of teaching take far less energy, and therefore more is more conducive to "success," promotion, that sort of thing. This form of critical pedagogy and the energy it needs is completely devalued it seems to me, and there's no space to talk about it unless you're doing it. I guess I can understand when people tell me to write articles about my experiences with this teaching and this class, or tell me (and it's only white folk who tell me this) how "brave" I am for doing this kind of work, but why the hell don't they do it as well? I'm being cynical, I suppose, but the university, at both a systemic and an individual level, really does work against this teaching. I feels like there's no space for it, and to literally make room is bodily exhausting. And where is there room for exhaustion.

Works Cited

King Joyce. 1991 ."Dysconscious Racism: Ideology, Identity, and the Miseducation of Teachers." The Education Feminism Reader. Ed. Lynda Stone (with the assistance of Gail Masuchika Boldt). New York and London: Routledge, 1994. 336-348.
Frieze and handprint design by Sherazad Jamal.
Redux Handprint
Aruna Srivastava
Aruna Srivastava is a professor whose interests are Post-Colonial Literature and cultural activism.
Louise Saldanha
Louise Saldanha teaches at Grant MacEwan Community College in Alberta.
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Britannia Art Gallery
Britannia Art Gallery
Bookhug Press
Bookhug Press
Plantation Memories
Plantation Memories
Alternator Centre