PD for White Teachers: A Conversation on Confronting Racism

Posted on August 22, 2018


I just finished listening to a conversation with Teaching While White team members, Elizabeth Denevi and Jenna Chandler-Ward, and author, Robin D’Angelo, of White Fragility.

When D’Angelo is asked by teachers what to do about racism, she says her new response is, “What about your life has allowed you to be a full-functioning, professional, educated adult and not know what to do about racism? How have you managed that? Why, in 2018, is that your question?”

But if you are sincerely asking, here are her suggestions:

Map it out.

Educate yourself.

Build relationships.

Care enough.

Take risks.

The teachers in the podcast, Elizabeth Denevi and Jenna Chandler-Ward, model how white people can have crucial conversations about race, how to examine and analyze our experiences and conversations to see if they align with our anti-racist values, and how to apologize and learn when we do something that hurts someone.

As I listened to the conversation, dozens of interactions I’ve had over twenty-five years in the classroom replayed in my mind, and not all of them made me proud. Some of them triggered guilt, regret, and remorse, but also, they fueled my desire to learn more about how to recognize and resist racism in my personal, professional, and civic life.

It is an incredible time to be an anti-racist teacher and citizen. There are so many fantastic resources available now, in print, audio, and video forms to help white teachers understand how our whiteness affects the educational experiences of our students of color and how we can acknowledge and address it in the classroom.

In my own classroom, I acknowledge how my whiteness has affected my life and how my education, beginning in elementary school, was what helped me learn how my life has been and is being shaped by systemic white supremacy.

I grew up in an all-white town about an hour from Detroit. As a child, I wondered why everyone in my town was white, and I craved other perspectives. Thankfully, the public and school libraries allowed me to hear the voices of people from around the world that I’d never meet in my town. And there was TV news (pre-cable), where I was introduced to heroes like civil rights leaders, Black Panthers, and outspoken athletes like Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Muhammad Ali.

And, best of all, there was RADIO. Music has had the biggest influence on my social conscience, because when I sing along, I take on the perspective of the song’s speaker, and I stand in their shoes…and I spent HOURS each day listening and singing along to socially-conscious music. While Dad didn’t want to see Soul Train on the TV in the living room, I had complete control over my own radio and record player.

My most influential anti-racist teacher in early childhood was my teen-aged sister, Sheree, whose musical taste had the most influence on my own.  Some of my earliest and most influential musician-anti-racist teachers include: Aretha Franklin (black feminism), Sly and the Family Stone (activism), The Staple Singers (self-respect) Curtis Mayfield (black genocide, internalized racism, colorism) Marvin Gaye (effects of industrial pollution) James Brown (black pride), the Isley Brothers (resistance), the O’Jays (social justice platform) and Stevie Wonder (rural/urban poverty, no/low employment, prejudice). I learned to think critically about news events with help from these amazing artists–and they made me dance and brought me joy.

I am the grand-daughter and daughter of white supremacists, and I grew up in an all-white town because of my elders’ white flight. Along with racist language, I heard misogynist language in my home regularly. On the other hand, I learned about equality and civil & human rights at school and through the media, and ever since I was a child, I have felt compelled to fight racism and prejudice, because it’s the right thing to do–but also, I feel it is my duty because of the harm caused to people of color by my elders and ancestors, even though I know nothing I do can atone for the harm they caused. Most of all, as a teacher, I feel it is my duty to my community to provide students an inclusive classroom where all members are treated as full human beings, worthy of dignity and respect. This conviction has always been at the core of my work as an educator.


Robin D’Angelo asks those who claim to have read her book, how would those around you know that? How are you confronting racism?

If you don’t know how to answer that question, read her book, and check out this Teaching While White podcast.

More Anti-Racist Reading Recommendations for Educators:

Teaching for Black Lives, Editors: Diane Watson, Jesse Hagopian, Wayne Au                     (My copy has just arrived, and I’m looking for other teachers who want to read/discuss it! If you’re interested, let me know!)

Stamped From the Beginning: A History of Racist Ideas by Ibram X. Kendi

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Sundown Towns by James W. Loewen