Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Racist Hierarchies of Power in Teaching / Learning Scenarios and Issues of Educational Change

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Racist Hierarchies of Power in Teaching / Learning Scenarios and Issues of Educational Change

Article excerpt

This article examines racist hierarchies of power, institutional barriers, and expectations of faculty roles in institutions of higher learning. The paper also examines how the cycles of racism can be interrupted, and considers the role of educators in disrupting this cycle.

Cet article examine les hiérarchies racistes du pouvoir, les obstacles institutionnels, et les attentes reliées aux rôles de professorat dans les institutions de l'enseignement supérieur. Il examine aussi comment les cycles du racisme peuvent être interrompus, et étudie le rôle que jouent les éducateurs/trices à ce faire.


Racism is taught, experienced and learned in educational institutions. If educational institutions, professors, and teachers-in-training rely upon discourses of white privilege (Frankenberg, 1993; McIntosh, 1992) and racism in their educational practices (James, 1995; Ng, Staton, and Scane, 1995), and if challenges are not posed to these discourses that they have learned or confirmed in their education, then teachers emerging from these institutions are likely to repeat these discourses within their own classrooms (Ellsworth, 1989; Tatum, 1992). Pupils in these classes may have prejudice and power reinforced in their educational settings and continue racist discourses and practices. Schools may also continue to reflect current societal biases and may support white superiority amongst students and staff thereby continuing the cycle of racism.

A central concern of this paper is to examine how the cycle of racism can be interrupted, and to consider the role educators in teacher education can play in disrupting this cycle. I also consider the changes in institutions which can support educational change and the undercutting of racism in classrooms. In addressing these key questions this article explores racist hierarchies of power in institutions of higher learning and particularly institutions for educating teachers.

An overview of institutional barriers to Indigenous faculty, faculty of colour and particularly female faculty highlights the fortitude required of faculty members in attempting to navigate educational institutions. Some of the institutional barriers examined include theorizing and theories that exclude and dehumanize, authenticity discourses that suppress Indigenous knowledges, and the discrediting of resistance activities. Further issues examined include hierarchies of knowledges, and the associated expectations of Indigenous faculty and faculty of colour in institutions of higher learning that they know both the knowledges of their communities and the knowledges of the dominant culture (thus producing double work and a double bind). This leads to a discussion of assumptions and the limitations of dialogue in the classroom, demonstrating the complex dynamics of power inherent in classrooms.

Teaching scenarios and vignettes highlight racist responses and statements that reflect societal beliefs and biases as well as racism in the institution. I have gathered data from different institutions of higher learning in which I have been an instructor and faculty member over the past 15 years. Here, I focus on the challenges to dealing effectively with student resistance to anti-racist teaching, the institutional lack of support for faculty, and the ways in which racism operates in academic institutions showcasing the unfriendly environment in academe for Indigenous women faculty and women faculty of color. The paper outlines institutional supports and structures in dealing with racism, and strategies to deal with racism in academic life.

The importance of this kind of work is outlined by Emma LaRoque, an Indigenous woman faculty member and long time advocate for change in educational institutions. She focusses our attention on the tension in the colonizer/colonized dichotomy and her resistance to suppression of her voice and writing as an Indigenous woman academic. In her scholarship she expresses her resistance "by maintaining orality in writing" and suggests that Indigenous scholars and writers are using this "textual resistance technique" as "an expression of cultural integrity" and "as an attempt to begin to balance the legacy of dehumanization and bias entrenched in Canadian studies about Native peoples"(LaRoque, 1996, p. …

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