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  • Writer's pictureCana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq

Thoughts on Antiracism Initiatives and Curriculum

(This post is the script I used for my "initial response" at the antiracism and social justice topical discussion at SIGDOC on 9 October 2020)

At my PWI institution, I have been asked to participate in (read: design and conduct) implicit bias training for a variety of audiences, such as college deans and administrators—much like many other BIPOC scholars have experienced.

This labor was, of course, unpaid, and while it used concepts from my academic research and training, my primary purpose as a participant wasn’t professional, but instead personal. In the eyes of my university’s office of equity who asked me to do this work, my job was to tell white people in power about the pain I’ve experienced as an Inuit scholar coming up through the ranks of academia.

Now, no one ever said that particular job description aloud to me. But when I casually asked my collaborator about this assumption when she presented me with her design for our presentations, she was initially taken aback at hearing my role described in such stark terms, but then agreed, silently. She, white, was the “professional” in this situation. I, not-white, was the “personality.”

I still agreed to help, but I refused to give this particular presentation to my own college on campus because my experiences with feeling the hard eyes, hearing the blustering, and fielding the questions that, quite frankly, challenged my credibility and lived experiences at the other colleges made me afraid that I might recognize my own home at school as unsafe and unwelcoming.

Fast forward a year and I am proud to say that I recently finished some practitioner paid side-hustle work creating an anti-racism curriculum for Alaskan Inuit college students participating in the Caleb Scholars Program.

I’ve noticed that one thing that is often missing, though, from discussions about the design of anti-racism training & initiatives is pushing back against the assumption that audiences for this type of training are white. In other words, a bitter irony exists in a lot of anti-racism training: these trainings *still* privilege whiteness.

Because of this assumption of whiteness built into the models I’ve researched, in designing my curriculum for Alaskan Inuit, I had to reconceptualize anti-racism training design to be *actually useful* for those of us who experience racism and who still may embody (and need to challenge) racist ideologies.

One big difference though: while I cover important issues like privilege in my training, I do not have to convince my audience that inequities related to privilege exist. They know.

In the research for my design, I found that anti-racism training and implicit bias training often have participants map out or discover all their vectors of privilege. In other words, they are guided to recognize their unearned and unfair advantages from being born an “insider” to the dominant culture—much like a repentant Scrooge McDuck counting his riches—all while somehow gaining some empathy for those of us with less.

Image courtesy of First Alaskans:

In contrast, the training I designed for Alaskan Inuit helps participants recognize their own social capital and design strategies towards its development. We at Caleb Scholars Program are presenting this particular component of our training series at a workshop for the First Alaskans Youth and Elders conference held next week on Indigenous People’s day.

How different this training will be than the one I participated in at my own institution.

All this work that I’m doing is really just trying to challenge the defaults in who we think about when we design anti-racism initiatives, and getting people to think about who *really* benefits from the training and how?

Because, from where I view things, anti-racism initiatives *still* primarily benefit white aspirations.

So, what do we do? It’s simple: in designing your anti-racism curriculum or initiatives, think about the tangible benefits that BIPOC communities receive from the training. If it is merely along the lines of “increased awareness about the issues BIPOC scholars face,” or “increasing the understanding of allyship,” then that is simply not enough.

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