The anti-racist course facilitator

Being course facilitators doesn’t automatically mean we have no bias, and although we do our best to treat everyone fairly and equally, we need to check ourselves and put in some work and reflection to be an anti-racist course facilitator. We want to increase our awareness of anything we might be doing that is preventing someone from fully participating in our courses, being present and learning what they came to learn.

Let me tell you a little about my experience.

Recognize people’s race and acknowledge it. When I was working on a course in the US seven years ago, I was asking other teachers on a course about the only black participant in a group where all the other participants were white. I was told that I can’t call her black. I was told that I shouldn’t draw any attention to the fact that she’s black and describe her by her other features instead, such as the one with short hair and glasses. If we don’t recognize someone’s race we are not recognizing that different races experience some different motivations and setbacks throughout the course.

So to continue, I wanted to ask my colleagues if she had attended all the other sessions, as she had told me she didn’t know anything about a topic that had already been covered. I was told that it is probably because of the fact that different races learn differently, and sometimes struggle to relate to the facilitator’s style when they are leading a course in a way that is based on the facilitator’s own race. It could have been that the particular session wasn’t very memorable to her because it was not relateable.

As facilitators, we probably all teach based on our own experience of learning unless we have the time to get to know the course participants well or unless we are able to work on it, so I did some research. I found books for teaching high school children that used cultural music and a call and response style of teaching for a diverse classroom in schools. But I wasn’t sure how that would work for adults and I didn’t try it – it seemed condescending. I’m still not sure about the idea that one race learns one way and another race learns another way when it comes to adult learning.

Skipping forward three years, I encountered a different situation where one participant was not able to focus because another participant was speaking over her. I told her I would make sure to give her the space she needed to put her opinions forward so that she could concentrate on making progress and demonstrating what she was learning. But she was still upset about it a week later and told me I wasn’t stopping him enough. He (a white man) was speaking over her (a black woman) during smaller group discussions I was not participating in. As well as making sure she had the space to speak that she should have, I needed to speak to him too so that he could be accountable rather than having me there telling each participant when their turn was. I asked her to talk to him directly, which I regretted later because it showed no support. She was a successful executive and she had a voice, but it was not being heard in her group. He agreed to listen and let her finish, resulting in a better balance of participation but there was a little tension in the group for a while. I learned that the anti-racist course facilitator needs to be aware of what we are allowing in the group dynamics. We want everyone to feel equally confident with each other and be heard.

As well as group dynamics, the things we say and the examples we use can be inclusive or not. These can be encouraging for participants and help each participant to relate, or at worst they could be triggering or show a clear message that certain races are not seen in certain roles, or that some races always end up in the same role. It’s best if real examples, people and situations can be used, but if not, a good story and the way it’s told can also be inspiring.

If it’s obvious that someone is lacking confidence because they don’t fit the racial stereotype of what they are learning, then this is an exciting and groundbreaking opportunity for anyone whose race isn’t well-represented in past examples of the subject. In this situation, more focus on support and encouragement from you as the facilitator might make a big difference.

These are just a few of my experiences. There are lots of resources becoming available online for all of us to become the anti-racist course facilitator. This site has some immediate steps that can be taken for awareness: