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Improving racial literacy: what will it take?

Debbie Bargallie and myself wrote an article for Croakey magazine on the need for racial literacy in Australian schools.

Against the backdrop of a relentless pandemic and Black protest around the Global North, racial literacy is urgent. Bestseller lists and bookshop display tables are stacked high with volumes promising answers to questions about race.

While many, such as How to be an Antiracist or Me and my White Supremacy, are by Black authors, their intended readership is white. This audience perceives race as a mysterious topic despite the fact that its logics ground the political, social and economic systems of the settler colonies and the European nations that birthed them. White people are to be gently inducted into this knowledge so as not to pierce their fragile egos and turn them away from their job of being good antiracist allies.

Writing as long-time race critical educators and researchers, we are concerned about this dominant framing of racial literacy, and its translation in the Australian context. Misconceptions about the history and politics of race are not surprising given the lack of will in Australian education to invest in teaching and research on race and racism.

Looking at the universities, there is an almost complete dearth of units that tackle race as any more than an item on a laundry list of inequalities. There has also been a failure to recruit Indigenous and other racialised specialists to teach on it. Rather, as Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson has noted, Indigenous scholars in particular are cloistered outside of the disciplines in Indigenous Studies where a culturalist approach is more accepted by institutions.

Read the rest of the article at the Croakey website.

Alana Lentin