In the classroom, talking about race, ethnicity, and the biases attached to these social constructs can lead to uncomfortable classroom discussions. In the midst this year’s massive call for social justice through demonstrationsin the streets and on social media, ProgressReport.co reached out to Dr. Keisha McIntyre-McCullough, an assistant professor of teaching and learning at Florida International University, to explore resources for helping teachers open that dialogue.
Dr. McIntyre has spent two decades working in public K-12 and university classrooms teaching and teaching about the instruction of topics such as reading, English as a Second Language, Pre-AP, Advanced, and International Baccalaureate courses. Her areas of research include the marginalization of curriculum, teachers, and students, neocolonialism, teacher professionalism, and language education in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Often called the “Capital of Latin America,” researching, writing, and teaching in Miami has given both women rich insights into the ways these issues play out in multiracial and multiethnic settings, especially ones with a strong Latino identity.
We’re midway through Hispanic Heritage Month and right in the middle of a heated presidential election season in which the current Commander in Chief has refused to condemn White supremacist groups. We hope this conversation can serve as a guide to engaging classrooms on the practice of diversity and inclusion, and ultimately, the quest for democracy.
Q: Given this year’s frank discussions and protests regarding race, which recent books around anti-racism would you recommend for students?
A: Our faculty is in the midst of reading Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School by Mica Pollock but that really is for teachers. I would suggest that teachers prepare themselves first before assigning a text. However, I find that Black and Latino teachers have been doing a lot of what has been discussed in the book because we see, feel, and experience the issue more viscerally. A way that might get the students thinking would be to listen to different podcast episodes of Scene on the Radio, Season Two, “Seeing White.”
I do not recommend doing this all at once. For some, it can be very jarring and traumatizing to have these discussions. It can polarize a classroom. So much preparation and safety needs to be taken when broaching these subjects. Especially now, when we are enduring a pandemic, and everyone is hypersensitive and reeling from all sorts of stress.
Perhaps then you could use Ibram Kendi’s book, Be Antiracist: A Journal for Awareness, Reflection, and Action. I would highly recommend having a faculty learning community to read and discuss as they are moving towards having these conversations with students to progress concurrently.
Q: somewhat are some ways literature can help Latino students talk more deeply about race?
A: I am not in favor of just jumping in and discussing race. That can be counterproductive. With anything there needs to be a preparation of the mind and the socioemotional aspects of doing so is necessary. So I would first use alternative texts as posed before in the previous question before embarking on reading certain texts. One such text would be the Black Mexican author Ariana Brown’s, Volver Volver.
In order to show how colonial practices have made an indelible impact on the lives of Black, mestizo, and indigenous people of Latin America, I would also discuss a movie like, Ixcanul, where even today, the indigenous people of Guatemala and other South American countries are denied their rights. Having students research this idea while they are learning would also be important because sometimes there is disbelief in these violations.
For example, many Argentinians do not know that there are Black Argentinians. Itis not discussed in school,in the history books, or on television. Then, they do not “exist.” It reinforces the power that national identity hasto take a population of people away from sight and relegate them to certain spaces.
In South Florida, many Latinos do not understand the precarious position they are in as a minority in the nation because they are the majority in Miami-Dade County. Especially so, they often negate and disengage themselves from anything race-related because they do not understand how this information can and will affect them, as well.
Q: What are some books for elaborating on themes like these?
- Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen
- Citizens but Not Americans: Race and Belonging among Latino Millennials (Latina/o Sociology, by Nilda Flores-González. Excerpts from this would be good for infusing and learning how to analyze and discuss nonfiction.
- My Time Among Whites by Jennine Capó Crucet
- With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
- The House of the Pain of Others: Chronicle of a Small Genocide by Julián Herbert
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (We need poetry in our lives to visualize and hear the sound and rhythm of our lives and how to analyze and dissect it).
Q: How can teachers insert Latino students in discussions about classical literature?
A: We need to offer more texts that provide a visual of the world not just one subsection,North Americaand one group, White male. There are great authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Sor Juana, Gabriela Mistral, among countless others, that are worthwhile to include.
I also hate the idea that some texts are of value and others aren’t. It’s that sentiment which posits that some students are of value and others are not. We need to change how we speak about authors in certain classrooms because be transference, we are also speaking about culture, people, class, and our students as well.
Q: How can Latino students become more aware about different races within Latinx culture?
A: Remezcla, an online magazine, is a great source that really delves into what is taking place culturally for Latinos. They should be more involved in their culture by watching news from a world perspective, participating in conversations about their country, and joininggroups not only for pride but to be involved in helping others. Read more, do more. This should not be a passive engagement but active and social justice driven. Acculturation may sometimes lead to a forgetting of who you are and where you come from.Unfortunately, because of how some countries around the world are vilified, students may become ultra-American to “fit” in. This is very detrimental psychologically. Explore the beauty of your culture, not the one or two people who presented it in a pejorative way.
Q: How can literature push Latino students to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement? (Granted Unidos has put forth a statement of solidarity.
A: Because the history of only one set of people is discussed in the classroom, many students are relegated to nonexistence and do not understand the struggles of the many who came before them. I would parallel the struggles for acceptance and freedom that the Latino studentshave had to fight for in the United States just as similarly as Blacks. The disconnect in the similar struggles is an effect of colonial dominance. Just as the plantation masters pitted the house slaves against the field slaves and vice versa, the same battle for pittance happens in disadvantages communities in the United States. If we are internally fighting, we do not see what is taking place against us. So, everyone has to attend to their own feeling of racism within their own culture as well. These are hard discussions and internal questions to navigate.
Q: In the late 1960s, community organizers in Chicago with a concern for social justice and racial reconciliation founded a multicultural movement in known as the Rainbow Coalition. It was made up of leaders from the Black Panther Party, a predominately African American group; the Young Lords, an initiative of Puerto Rican activists; and the Young Patriots, a movement of mostly White working class migrants from Appalachia. Together they organized against issues like police brutality and discriminatory housing practices, and for services such as free and reduced school lunches and community health programs. What would it take for the students to join forces in something like that?
A: Time and knowledge. If we do not know our heritage, then what we all have experienced and are still experiencing is disconnected. Sadly, we are comfortable doing nothing in our little corners and watching others die.
Q: So how do we move away from that dismal scenario and head toward the rainbow? How can history and literature help inspire students to support each other and become civically engaged, and why is it important to push for that hope in these tumultuous political times?”
A: It is important in the English Language Arts (ELA) classroom to be an interdisciplinary teacher informing students about various configurations of marginalization in the country and in the world. By using Social Studies and History in the classroom, the students are enlightened about the interconnectedness of social, historical, and economical factors, and their ties to literature, and why authors make certain choices.
The Rainbow Coalition would be a great research initiative for students, a jumping-off point to make connections with other entities that are doing this work today and how minority groups are not divided but have been working together to eradicate marginalization practices.
They could then use their knowledge to form a group like this in their school and to work to assist these groups in society. The ELA classroom should not just be a space to glean knowledge of literature and other disciplines but to create citizens who shape our country for the better.
This story was edited by UnidosUS Consultant Alicia G. Edwards, a Miami-based educator and documentarian.