Teaching/Learning Anti-Racism: A Developmental Approach

By Mattai, P. Rudy | The Journal of Negro Education, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Teaching/Learning Anti-Racism: A Developmental Approach


Mattai, P. Rudy, The Journal of Negro Education


Teaching/Learning Anti-Racism: A Developmental Approach, by Louise Derman-Sparks and Carol Brunson Phillips. New York: Teachers College Press, 1997. 169 pp. $19.95, paper. Reviewed by P. Rudy Mattai, SUNY-College at Buffalo.

In his foreword to Louise Derman-Sparks and Carol Phillips' recent work, educatorresearcher Asa Hilliard points out rather poignantly that "given the depth and complicated nature of the problem, it is a wonder that anyone would charge into the cauldron, motivated by hope, respect for humanity, and a profound valuing of justice. But that is exactly what we see here" (p. xii). He summarily describes this work as an attempt to ground theory in experience through a longitudinal case study of intervention. Both authors bring a wealth of experience to addressing issues of antiracism from a developmental perspective-Phillips from her association with several national organizations and her classroom tenure, and Derman-Sparks as director of the Culturally Relevant/AntiBias Leadership Project at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, California. This collaboration is the product of their more than 15 years of engagement with antiracist education.

Teaching/Learning Anti-Racism is presented in three sections. The first of these seeks to encapsulate a conceptual framework for addressing the issues of antiracism. The second examines in detail a specific course, "Racism and Human Development," that the authors have offered over the last several years at Pacific Oaks. That section focuses specifically on the pedagogy utilized in the course and its ramifications for students' interaction in addressing racial issues. The final section offers suggestions for the development of antiracism courses generally and notes some of the factors one is most likely to encounter in teaching this subject matter. In it, the authors present what they describe as "the conceptual framework for anti-racism and the premises underlying [their] pedagogy" (p. 5), focusing specifically on the forms and structural dynamics of racism, individuals and racism, and antiracism. This broad focus becomes problematic, however, as the authors try to take on the mammoth task of defining racism in the space of a mere two dozen pages.

For example, they contend rather strongly at the very outset that "racism is an institutionalized system of power [that] encompasses a web of economic, political, social, and cultural structures, actions, and beliefs that systemize and ensure an unequal distribution of privilege, resources, and power in favor of the dominant racial group and at the expense of all other racial groups" (p. 9). This functional definition poses some problems for the authors in their explication of issues of classes and sexism. To be sure, they admit to the primacy of the notion of race, but they fail to provide a convincing argument that those who endeavor to equate notions of class and gender with race are somewhat missing the mark. Similar concerns arise relative to their explanations of the origin and development of racism, White antiracism, and pro-racist attitudes among people of color. Again, the authors opt for brevity in describing the historical background of racism. However, they recognize the need for students to have a good grasp of racism's historical perspective, stating: "Knowledge of the formation and history of racism in the United States is essential: The deep roots of its core structures continue to nurture current forms of racism" (p. 13). This too-brief treatment is particularly problematic for those who are interested in addressing the issues of racism but who lack a grounded knowledge of such issues, especially at the theoretical level. It is even more problematic for those who are apt to confuse the terminology used to refer to issues of race and racism.

Derman-Sparks and Phillips have included an impressive course overview in this book, along with chapters focused on the four phases ("beginning explorations of racism," "exposing the contradictions," "transformation to an understanding of self and society," and "anti-racism as a new beginning") that students are expected to pass through in order to "achieve the antiracism, consciousness and behavior that are the goals of the course" (p. …

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