Review of “The Layered Toll of Racism in Teacher Education on Teacher Educators of Color”
Dr. Gerardo Gonzalez, Dean Emeritus of the Indiana University School of Education, once argued that “Education is the great equalizer in a democratic society, and if people are not given access to a quality education, then what we are doing is creating an underclass of people who will challenge our very way of life” (Growe & Montgomery, 2003, p. 23). However, education is only effective in so far as it is led by educators who understand the dynamics and nuances of society’s systems of privilege and oppression. Therefore, it is vital that those who study education critically examine how we are preparing future teachers who bear that responsibility of creating the next generation of change agents. Yet currently, there exists a significant dearth of research related to teacher educators of Color. To expand on the literature on teacher educators of Color, Rita Kohli and Marcos Pizarro (2022) conducted a study to explore the racialized experiences of teacher educators of Color.
Although I am not a teacher educator of Color nor do I work in a teacher educator program, I see a similar dynamic within my field of study: higher education and student affairs. As a current graduate student with the hopes of becoming a faculty member, I recognize that I will have a role in shaping the next generation of student affairs practitioners and higher education scholars. In selecting this article to review, I hoped to learn more about these racialized experiences and how to disrupt and dismantle the layered toll of racism described by Kohli and Pizarro (2022).
Racism’s impact on teacher educators of Color
In their article, Kohli and Pizarro (2022) demonstrate how teacher educator programs are structurally designed to perpetuate racist ideologies and perpetrate harm against teacher educators of Color. From their participants’ open-ended questions, the authors found that race-evasiveness was not only prevalent in teacher educator programs, but also resulted in a devaluing of the teacher educators of Color’s work, a pressure for them to engage with race-based topics less, and a centering of whiteness in the program. Even though teacher educator programs often resisted engaging in topics related to race, teacher educators of Color were often hired in order to present the appearance of a program-level engagement in race work. The cognitive dissonance of being hired and expected to do race work with the lack of investment, or in some cases devaluing of race work, directly contributes to teacher educators of Color experiencing racial stress and harm.
Kohli and Pizarro’s utilization of critical race theory
The authors frame their study around critical race theory’s (CRT) assertion that institutions create and maintain racial hierarchies through race-evasiveness and an upholding of whiteness manifested as property (Harris, 1993; Solórzano et al., 2002). Although their article clearly outlines both of those components in teacher educator programs, their article also implicitly covers all of CRT’s main tenets, as outlined by CRT scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (2017).
At its core, CRT rests on the belief that racism is an ordinary component to our present society. While many white people would rather avoid or evade conversations about race, racism nevertheless still operates and positions white people at the top of the racial hierarchy and People of Color at the bottom. In fact, because racism is rarely discussed or addressed, blatant forms of discrimination go unchallenged as they are seen as merely parts of the status quo.
In their study, Kohli and Pizarro (2022) sought to understand not if teacher educators of Color experienced racism, but rather how. This determination at the onset of the study grounded the study in CRT’s tenet of racial realism. Additionally, the authors noted that 26 participants mentioned having race-evasive colleagues that caused stress for the participants. Through their desire to avoid conversations about race, these colleagues continued to center whiteness in and out of the classroom and actively devalued the work of teacher educators of Color. And yet at the same time, the colleagues still expected teacher educators of Color to be the primary ones responsible for engaging in race-related work. This dissonance of expecting teacher educators of Color to engage in race work while simultaneously disengaging from it oneself is further evidence of racism at work.
This also aligns with what Sara Ahmed (2012) discusses in her book, On Being Included. From her own research, Ahmed found that people who hold marginalized identities are often tasked with doing diversity work on campus and yet are simultaneously devalued for doing that work. Having previously worked in identity spaces on college campuses, this does not surprise me in the least. My colleagues and I were frequently expected to be the “experts” on all diversity-related issues and were tasked with creating more inclusive and equitable campus environments. Meanwhile, my colleagues with more privileged identities rarely showed up to programs and events, did not often participate in committees that do diversity work, and then got angry or defensive when confronted about their disengagement, further illustrating the evasiveness discussed by Kohli and Pizzaro (2022).
Along these lines comes into play CRT’s second tenet: interest convergence. Made famous by Derrick Bell, interest convergence refers to the theory that substantial progress for People of Color only occurs when the interests of People of Color align with the interests of white people (Brown & Jackson, 2021). Bell famously used the Supreme Court decision for Brown v. Board of Education as his example for how ending segregation was not done out of the desire to redress wrongs or advance the rights of Black people in America, but instead was done out of the interest of protecting the image of white people on an international stage (Delgado & Stefancic, 2017).
In the context of Kohli and Pizzaro’s (2022) study, the authors clearly demonstrate how white colleagues understood that to do diversity work gives a good appearance and therefore, were often vocally in support of it. However, they would often relegate diversity work to teacher educators of Color to do. Making matters worse, teacher educators of Color were often restricted in their ability to do said work as a way of preserving and prioritizing the comfort and fragility of their white colleagues and students. This serves as a clear example of how diversity work only occurs when white people view it as a priority. But advancements made as a result of interest convergence rarely make lasting change to benefit People of Color.
Race is socially constructed
As Delgado and Stefancic (2017) describe, the “social construction” thesis holds that race and racism are the inventions of a society, which seeks to categorize human beings. Although these categories have been loosely based on physical characteristics, race has no biological or genetic foundation. Additionally, the ways in which we define and assign privileges to those categories varies depending on time, place, and context. In other words, racial categorizations are neither fixed nor determined and yet, according to the idea of racial realism, are nevertheless ordinary and impactful components to our current society.
Embedded in Kohli and Pizarro’s (2022) argument is the understanding that race is socially constructed. As the white colleagues continue to evade talking about race, they continue to uphold and reify whiteness. Through their actions, whiteness becomes constructed within the context of education. And as teacher educators of Color must navigate those oppressive environments, they and their work get devalued because they are seen as existing in opposition to whiteness. This aligns with Harris’s (1993) notion of whiteness as property. As whiteness becomes constructed as ‘normal’ and valued, non-whiteness becomes constructed as ‘deviant’ and of less or no value.
Intersectionality and anti-essentialism
Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991), intersectionality refers to the ways in which people who hold multiple marginalized identities experience privilege and oppression based on the culminating effect of their identities. No one has one singular identity. Although Kohli and Pizarro (2022) do not explicitly discuss intersectionality or anti-essentialism in their article, they do offer a useful example of the intersection of racism and genderism through their conversation about Serena, one of the participants of the study. Serena, a Black woman, described being subjected to racial stereotypes and expectations that were largely due to white womens’ own internalized gender oppression. This narrative account offers tremendous insight into the ways race and gender work together to impact an individual’s experience. I would have liked to see greater attention paid to other intersections of identity and marginalization as well.
Voice and storytelling
Finally, CRT maintains that People of Color hold a unique perspective on matters of race and racism that by their nature, white people do not hold (Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). For that reason, it is essential that we amplify the voices of People of Color and emphasize non-white ways of storytelling. This also serves to support the idea that not only is race socially constructed, but reality itself is socially constructed by those whose stories get told (Ladson-Billings, 1998). Kohli and Pizarro (2022) utilized qualitative data in order to shape their argument. In sharing their results, the authors used direct quotes from several of the participants themselves. In doing so, the authors helped highlight the voices of the teacher educators of Color, rather than solely reporting on what was shared.
A brief critique and suggestions for future research
Kohli and Pizzaro (2022) offer a much-needed look at the experiences of racial stress and harm for teacher educators of Color. They utilize CRT well in their analysis in both explicit and implicit ways. It would be difficult to explicitly capture every aspect of CRT in its fullness and so, although I do not fault the authors for not exploring intersectionality and anti-essentialism more deeply, I instead propose that these are areas for future research to undertake. Kohli and Pizzaro have opened the door into understanding the experiences of teacher educators of Color but more work is necessary to better understand the nuances and complexities of their experiences. Future research should explore the experiences of teacher educators of Color with a deeper focus on all of the CRT tenets and perhaps expand into some of the offshoots of CRT as well (e.g., LatCrit, HebCrit, DisCrit) (Del Real Viramontes, 2021).
Additionally, after reading this article, I would also pose several implications for practice. First, I would highlight the implications laid out by the authors: 1) challenge race-evasiveness, 2) require a base level of racial literacy for admission of teacher candidates, 3) educate white teacher candidates on how whiteness operates, and 4) expect and prepare to address racism in teacher education programs. In addition, I argue that we also need greater supports for teacher educators of Color who experience harm. As we make progress toward eradicating racism, we must also care for and support teacher educators of Color who are negatively impacted by the existing system.
Returning to the quote at the beginning of this article, Dr. Gerardo Gonzalez highlighted the importance of quality education. But quality education will not be possible without ensuring the wellbeing of those responsible for providing that education. Therefore, we must continue to work to eradicate racism in teacher educator programs and improve the experiences of teacher educators of Color. Only then will education finally have the power to serve its purpose as the great equalizer.
- Brown, K. D. (2014). Teaching in color: A critical race theory in education analysis of the literature on preservice teachers of color and teacher education in the US. Race Ethnicity and Education, 17(3), 326–345. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2013.832921
- Kohli, R. (2021). Teachers of Color: Resisting Racism and Reclaiming Education. Harvard Educational Press, Boston, MA.
- Viano, S., & Truong, N. (2022). Black, Indigenous, People of Color and feelings of safety in school: Decomposing variation and ecological assets. AERA Open, 8(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1177/23328584221138484
- What are some tangible action steps that institutions can take to create greater levels of racial literacy among white teacher educators?
- In addition to the ways that whiteness shows up in the interpersonal relationships among teacher educators of Color and white teacher educators and candidates, what are some other ways that whiteness shows up in educational institutions (i.e., in pedagogy, curricula, teacher certification exams, etc.)?
- How might dynamics of race-evasiveness look differently in different kinds of teacher education programs, such as programs at minority-serving institutions?
- How do other systems of oppression such as classism, cisheterosexism, and ableism impact the harm perpetuated against teacher educators of Color?
- Given race is a social construct and is subject to contexts of the day, how has the racialization of identity changed over time and has the experiences of teacher educators of Color changed as a result?