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Anti-Blackness

The schooling experience of Black students in the U.S. continues to be one of dehumanization. Indeed, there are countless examples of anti-Blackness and violence against Black bodies in schools, from the lack of opportunity and access to quality education, to body shaming and banning hairstyles such as Iocs or afros; violent disciplinary actions; reinforcing stereotypes; and making outright racial slurs as if they were part of the acceptable school vernacular. Dumas (2016) argues “that any incisive analyses of racial(ized) discourse and policy process in education must grapple with cultural disregard for and disgust with blackness” and examines “how a theorization of antiblackness allows one to more precisely identify and respond to racism in education discourse and in the formation and implementation of education policy” (p. 12). We agree with Dumas and believe that being an anti-racist school leader includes being cognizant of how the education system is centered around anti-Blackness (Dancy, Edwards, & Davis, 2018), an understanding of which in turn can lead to designing and implementing more implicit anti-racist school policies and practices.

Dumas and ross (2016) note that “antiblackness is not simply racism against Black people” but instead “refers to a broader antagonistic relationship between blackness and (the possibility of) humanity” (p. 429). Dancy et al. (2018) add, “White humanity is dependent on its ability to harm Black life. To avoid violence against Black people would place White humanity in question because, in an anti-Black polity, White humanity is predicated on Black inhumanity” (p. 188). Acknowledging anti-Blackness is therefore different than simply stating that racism and white privilege exist and are problematic; anti-Blackness is comprehending the Black condition and how the dehumanization of Black people has resulted in historical and contemporary acts of violence toward Black bodies (Dumas, 2016).

Anti-Black deficit practices and policies in education are certainly not new and are in fact pervasive in marginalizing Black students, particularly when it comes to academic outcomes. However, school leaders are in powerful positions to contest anti-Blackness and provide meaningful opportunities with their school communities to discuss the ramifications of anti-Blackness. It is only when these critical discussions occur that we can begin to envision an education system that values Black students.

Color-Evasiveness

School leaders often find the revolving door of school policies and reforms they are tasked with implementing as the one arena that seems to be outside of their locus of control (Rallis, Rossman, Reagan, Cobb, & Kuntz, 2008). This is particularly the case when educational policies come from the top down as educational leaders typically have little input on how such policies may affect their school and district communities. Educational leaders also have limited time to consider the potential racial implications of policies, thus pushing them to [color-] evasively implement policy (Diem, Welton, Frankenberg, & Holme, 2016; Holme, Diem, & Welton, 2014; Welton et al., 2015). This level of racial unawareness amongst school and/or district leadership is indeed problematic because when leaders indiscriminately implement policies that overlook and in many ways discount how institutional racism is at the root of the problem, they unintentionally exacerbate any racial inequities that may already exist (Diem et al., 2016; Frankenberg, 1993; Ryan, 2012).

Much of educational leaders’ anxiety about the limited control they have over the policy process as it relates to race, equity, and opportunity stems from the current educational landscape where educational policies are not only color-evasive but also market-driven. Color-evasive policies maintain the racial status quo through the adoption of race-neutral policies that deny the role race and racism play in perpetuating structural inequities (Bonilla-Silva, 2017; Leonardo, 2007). Ruth Frankenberg introduced the concept color-evasiveness in her 1993 book Ww'te Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. Frankenberg defines color-evasiveness as an “act of dodging difference” or to disregard racial differences that exist in society (p. 142). Therefore, those who adopt a color-evasive mindset argue that racism is no longer an issue, and what racial inequities do exist are the fault of people of color because in society today they have the same opportunities as white people (Frankenberg, 1993). This “evasiveness” towards racial differences also then leads to a dismissiveness and “complicity” towards institutional and structural forms of racism and racial inequality (Frankenberg, 1993). Also, color-evasiveness is a white supremacy strategy that any of us (both white and people of color) can be at fault of or implicated in enacting.

Yet, complicity, dismissiveness, denial, and ignoring the permanence of racism in society is just one way in which color-evasiveness plays out in policy and practice. Color-evasiveness can even be a tool for those who do acknowledge that racial differences exist, however, they address race in “safer” and more “polite” terms (Frankenberg, 1993, pp. 142, 149). Thus, the recognition of racial differences is “selective” only to the celebration of cultural differences commonly practiced in cultural diversity and multiculturalism discourses, and fails to be critical of the historical power differences that still remain between white people and people of color. Still, typically those who engage in less “dangerous” approaches to addressing race minimally make a good faith effort to look into the racial inequities that exist, but do so in a relatively uncritical way that by design keeps the racial power hierarchy/status quo intact (Frankenberg, 1993, p. 142; also see Gorski, 2019; Swanson & Welton, 2019).

Evading race may seem like the less dangerous approach at addressing racism, but this approach has long-term consequences. Ultimately, society’s collective evasiveness toward racism only further endangers people of color, who must continue to endure the long-term effects of racism ignored and left unresolved. Because these dangerous and evasive approaches to race have now become commonsense to our society, it is ever more important that policy makers and educational leaders are trained to be critical and even suspicious of color-evasive education policies and practices that are simplistic, passive and avoid the “tension” and

“struggle” needed to tackle racial injustices in education (Leonardo & Porter, 2010, p. 144; Swanson & Welton, 2019). Even though the needle towards achieving racial justice continues to move forward, it moves at a very slow pace because we as a society remain color-evasive and still tiptoe around openly calling out the racism and racist structures that exist in society at-large and in education specifically. Hence, we need policy makers and educational leaders who are not just conscious of how racism plays out in “historical, political, social, or cultural terms rather than essentialist ones” but are also anti-racist in their actions to redress and eliminate racist attitudes, policies, structures, and practices (Frankenberg, 1993, p. 157).

Challenging the Term Colorblindness

Now that we have presented how we are conceptualizing and critiquing color-evasive policies and practices in this book, you, the reader, are probably thinking, “Instead of color-evasiveness, don’t you really mean colorblindness?”. Yes, in our past work we have used the term colorblindness to describe educational policies and practices that pretend race is not an issue but in reality are racist. For instance, we used the term colorblindness in our research to describe school district leaders’ responses to how their communities are increasingly racially diversifying (Diem et al., 2016; Welton et al., 2015), as well as the race-neutral approaches white principals used when addressing issues of race with their staff (Swanson & Welton, 2019). We even critiqued how former President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Initiative largely burdened young men of color with saving themselves from their own racial oppression and did little in terms of addressing how institutional racism is in fact the root cause (Welton & Diem, 2016).

However, after reading an article by Annamma,Jackson, and Morrison (2017) we were pushed to question how using the word colorblindness to describe the act of not seeing the prevalence of race and racism in society may result in a deficit conception of people with dis/abilities, especially a person who is blind, or a person with a visual impairment or low vision. According to Annamma et al. the word colorblindness,

As a racial ideology, conflates lack of eyesight with lack of knowing. Said differently, the inherent ableism in this term equates blindness with ignorance. However, inability to see is not ignorance; in fact, blindness provides unique ways of understanding the world to which sighted people have no access.

(p. 154)

Moreover, the authors critique how scholars of race often forget that, like race, dis/ability is also a social construction. So, the use of the word colorblindness is a simultaneous social construction of race and ability that unfortunately socializes us to view dis/ability as a deficit (Annamma et al., 2017). To take account of this, instead of colorblindness, Annamma et al. suggest using Ruth Frankenberg’s (1993) concept of color-evasiveness. We will continue to challenge how we have conceptualized colorblindness in our own work—both prior and future—and are taking this opportunity to model how scholars and practitioners should always take stock and reflect on how discourse impacts research and practice and how it is continuously evolving. Thus, from this point forward we are using color-evasiveness to describe the deliberate avoidance of discussions about race and racism and the outright denial that the structural and everyday racism people of color face exists in society today (Annamma et al., 2017).

 
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