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Anti-Racism and Anti-Racist Leadership

Anti-racism is defined as the system of thoughts and practices that aim to confront and eradicate racism as well as ideologies and practices that promote equality for racial and ethnic groups (Blakeney, 2005; Bonnett, 2000). Everyday anti-racism considers how individuals work towards combatting racism in their daily lives, practice, and/or lived contexts (Aquino, 2016; Pollock, 2008). In the field of education, research on anti-racism examines the pedagogical tools, or anti-racist pedagogy, useful to teaching about anti-racism or how to actively be anti-racist in practice (Kishimoto, 2018; Pollock, 2008). However, most of the research on anti-racism in education is in teacher education, focusing on how either pre-service teachers become racially aware or how teachers use anti-racist pedagogy in their classroom teaching (de Freitas & McAuley, 2008; Milner, 2010; Mosley, 2010; Ohito, 2016; Raby, 2004; Ulluci, 2011; Welton, Harris, La Londe, & Moyer, 2015). Furthermore, the limited research on anti-racist leadership that does exist tends to focus on three main areas: problem identification, recognizing that leaders need better preparation, and professional development on how to be anti-racist leaders; however, the research falls short in offering specific strategies for how to engage in these efforts.

While we are certainly not dismissing the importance of the research that does exist on anti-racist teacher education and leadership, much of which includes examining color-evasive mentalities, pushing back against the existence of a meritocracy, the perpetuation of deficit thinking, the lack of culturally responsive curricula and reflexive thinking about race in the classroom, as well as tackling the (often non-existent) discussion on whiteness and its role in education and the larger society (Brooks, Arnold, & Brooks, 2013; Carpenter & Diem, 2013; Gooden & Dantley, 2012; Gooden & O’Doherty, 2015; Milner, 2010; Milner & Howard, 2013; Pollock, 2010; Sleeter, 2014), we think more research needs to focus on how leaders “ensure their everyday actions are drawn from an antiracist orientation” and what practices they need to engage in that purposively address “social, political, and educational oppression” (Diem, Carpenter, & Lewis-Durham, 2019, p.711).

We are living in a sociopolitical climate where we constantly hear the rhetoric around paying attention to and being respective of “both sides” of an issue. While we agree that there are often differing opinions around hot button issues, when it comes to racism, there are not “good people on both sides” of the discussion. Racism and white supremacy, as Burkholder (2018) notes, are “inherently wrong and tremendously dangerous to American democracy” (n.p.). Further, while school leaders operate in a context that is increasingly political, being an antiracist school leader is fundamentally a political act. Indeed, school leaders are called to advocate for the needs of their school communities and address equity and cultural responsiveness in their leadership practices, as outlined in the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (NPBEA, 2015). Thus, with this book we aim to demonstrate that central to such practices is addressing racism and ensuring that schools, and those who operate within them, are aware of how racism manifests itself in policies that ultimately dictate practice.

Whiteness and White Fragility

Part of the work associated with anti-racist leadership is recognizing the factors that work every day to undermine anti-racism, factors such as whiteness, white fragility, and anti-Blackness. DiAngelo (2011) defines whiteness as

the specific dimensions of racism that serve to elevate White people over people of color...Whiteness is dynamic, relational, and operating at all times and on myriad levels. These processes and practices include basic rights, values, beliefs, perspectives and experiences purported to be commonly shared by all but which are actually only consistently afforded to White people.

(p. 56)

Whiteness has value and therefore a possessive investment in it, which compels white Americans, in particular, to “invest” in an identity that rewards them with power, opportunity, and resources (Lipsitz, 1998). Whiteness has real ramifications for (in)opportunity in society, in large part through policies that have been (re)created to privilege white individuals. Whiteness also perpetuates anti-Blackness and a discourse that blames Black people and people of color for existent inequities rather than acknowledge the advantages from just being a white person in society (Lipsitz, 1998).

When white people are challenged by their racial privilege, they often become defensive, angry, fearful, and personalize racism. DiAngelo (2011) calls these acts and associated behaviors such as silence or argumentation “white fragility.” Specifically, DiAngelo defines white fragility as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable” to white individuals causing them to become defensive, which then reifies “white racial equilibrium” (p. 57). White fragility is perpetuated by a number of factors, including white people living racially segregated lives; viewing themselves and their experiences as “universal” and representative of all “human experiences”; valuing individuals and individualism rather than seeing how white people are part of a racialized group just like other racial groups; desiring racial comfort, racial arrogance, racial belonging, being “free” from thinking about race; and the consistent messaging of “white superiority” (DiAngelo, 2011, pp. 58-63). The very existence of white fragility demonstrates the possessive investment of whiteness and why the failure to disinvest in it prevents us from genuinely addressing racism.

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