Episode 21: Anti-Racist Art Teachers: A Panel Discussion: Anti-Racist Teaching During A Pandemic

Anti-Racist Art Teachers: A Panel Discussion: Anti-Racist Teaching During A Pandemic (part 4)

Abby Birhanu: [00:20:16] So I have a three year old and so, like, I think Paula Liz, Khadesia, you started that out, Lori, representation, like making sure there are Brown and Black figures and the books and the toys, all of those things, you know. Because we have to counter this negative narrative out there. And I’ll share two stories. Being Ethiopian, I come from a land of Black people. So I honestly didn’t even know I was Black until I was nine or 10, I was.

…it’s almost like it’s irrelevant because representation is just for Brown and Black people to understand or know. And it is NOT. It is especially and particularly important for their white peers to hear it.

Abby Birhanu

Abby Birhanu: [00:20:43] It was pointed out to me by my neighbor that her father said that people with black skin are all ugly and criminals and bad people truly like she was like eight year olds who said this. OK, another story I have is when I was assisting art classes for camps, when I was in college, I was like 20 maybe. And this little boy whose hand I was holding as we were walking to an ice cream shop as a group, says to me, “You know, Abby, you seem really nice.” And I was like “Thanks.” He said. “My dad said, people with your skin are mean, you know, and criminals.” This like twice that I’ve been told people that look like me with brown black skin are criminals, you know, and these are little kids. Five year old and an eight year old who said this, you know. So sometimes what I hear from teachers is “Well I teach a majority white population, and so in terms of representation, I don’t really have Black and Brown kids in the grouping of kids that I teach.” So it’s almost like it’s irrelevant because representation is just for Brown and Black people to understand or know. And it is not. It is especially and particularly important for their white peers to hear it, because sometimes what they’re hearing from their parents, what they’re getting from the media, is people who are Brown and Black are not worth it. They’re not beautiful. They’re… And have questionable character.

Abby Birhanu: [00:22:08] So like finding books that don’t just talk about the history of Black and Brown people, but also have representation of Black and Brown people as scientists and artists and doing these everyday, normal things that everybody does. That’s not questionable, you know. So I think that representation is everything, starting with books and then introducing them to artists who are just everyday like that, because that’s what we are. Brown and Black people are everyday people just living this life and doing the best we can like everybody else. And so I think that’s really important.

Brown and Black people are everyday people just living this life and doing the best we can like everybody else.

Abby Birhanu

Rebecca Potts: [00:22:41] Yeah. And I feel like both of, like Abby and Tamara, making this point that kids see it, they know what’s going on, they’re not unaware and giving them some space to unpack it and think about it and talk about it is really important and helpful for them. And no matter what color these kids are. And then I know you have so many amazing lessons and resources on your site, I wanted to ask if you had any kind of favorites you would want to point to, to tell people, well, check out this one. This is like one that I really love or feel like my students responded really well to. So if there are any projects or lessons or even just resources for teachers that you would want to point out, because your site is very rich, it has a lot there. And I do like that it’s a little bit like curated like you have, you know, this is the starter guide. And then here’s like resources, very well organized. But yeah, if you have any favorites that you’d want to point to.

Tamara Slade: [00:23:40] Well, there’s one that I want to add to the site soon. I really like to start the year off doing our unit “self.” So we focus on identity work. And so the person I really like to talk about is Frida Kahlo, because she’s perfect for that. She does self portraits and or she did.

Tamara Slade: [00:23:57] And so I what I also appreciate about Frida is that she’s so intersectional. Her being bisexual, I say bi in the classroom just to make my life simpler for the little ones. But also she’s mixed race, she’s half German and she’s half Mexican. She is half Jewish and half Catholic. She struggled with disability and that’s visible in her art. So I really like just starting off the year with that and the kids love it. We watch this vocabulary video on Frida and there’s like a line that the students just really connect with. And it’s Frida saying, “I used to think I was the strangest person in the world, but then I thought, there are so many people in the world. There must be someone just like me.” And the kids connect with that so much. And we all get like really like emotionally invested. And it’s really it’s really beautiful.

Tamara Slade: [00:24:48] And they’re like they constantly can we play the Frida video again? And they just love Frida Kahlo because I think it allows for a lot of people to kind of connect with her because of her intersectionality.

Rebecca Potts: [00:25:01] Yeah. Ah.

Paula Liz: [00:25:01] One lesson that I have, so I only have 2 on there so far, I have a lot more. I just haven’t had the time to condense them in a way to package it to make it more accessible for other art teachers. But there’s one I do want to highlight, because basically for me, a lot of what I did was through a social justice lens and it was about empowerment and student voice. And then when I taught at that, however, when I ended up in Washington, D.C., I was teaching at a private school at a predominantly white school where most of the, I mean, it’s Washington, D.C. so there’s a lot of power and privilege that comes with that. And it really caught me off guard being in that school. So it kind of really opened my eyes to how oblivious my students were to their privilege and power. And I felt like what I needed to do was kind of give them some guidance, because ultimately they’re going to also be probably more likely in the future. They’re going to hold positions of privilege and power not only now, but later on. So I have a lesson. So it actually started from the school had always done an Empty Bowls project.

So many of my students viewed experiencing homelessness as others, and they would often ignore and look away from people in the street. And I really wanted them to put a face and a name to individuals and not other them.

Paula Liz

Paula Liz: [00:26:11] I don’t know if you all are probably familiar with the Empty Bowls project, so it had been this school tradition. So I kind of got as a new art teacher, I got roped into doing the Empty Bowls project. And for those of you that aren’t familiar, it has to do with hunger. So I wanted to know where the students were with this. So I asked them what, I just asked them the question what they knew about poverty, what is poverty and had them answer. And immediately the things that they started saying were like, oh, poor people are lazy, homeless people use drugs. It was so it was a lot of stereotypes that came out and that was immediately super concerning to me. So I knew I was like, this is something that I need to address and I need to work on with my students. So I wanted to figure out a way to help them self reflect on that. So the one lesson that I have, I ended up connecting with a local organization in Washington, D.C., who they work to help lift people out of poverty.

Paula Liz: [00:27:13] So many of my students viewed experiencing homelessness as others, and they would often ignore and look away from people in the street. And I really wanted them to put a face and a name to individuals and not other them, because everything that they were saying, like, oh, those poor people are lazy, homeless people use drugs. It was othering them. So I reached out to a local organization and they have a lot of programs. And one of them is they have a senior center that provides food and resources to those in need in the community. So I worked with them to set up an afternoon where my students would go and meet and interview a senior. So they each got paired with a senior and I ended up working with their classroom teacher to kind of have them come up with interview questions. And the goal was for them to tell that person’s story. So it was to listen to their story and hear what they had to say and what was important to them. So they went, they had the interview. They also took pictures of them or they made copies of some photographs. So I wanted them to create a work of art that showed that person’s story, that encapsulated it. So they had the interview. We came back and then during the beginning of every class that they were working on that art project, I did a little bit of work with them in a little community circle. So we talked about things like poverty and homelessness and systemic racism. So the first day I started off, I showed them the graphic. It depicts the monthly costs of basic living expenses in Washington, D.C. and I shared with them. So I had those numbers how much it costs for rent, food, everything. And then I shared with them what the minimum wage was and I had them do the math.

Paula Liz: [00:28:57] I was like, OK, how many hours do you need to work minimum wage to meet these basic living expenses a month? And they were shocked when they realized it was like two plus full time jobs. It was over almost one hundred hours a week that someone would have to work minimum wage just to meet their basic needs. And like that. And I didn’t sit there and tell them that, like, I gave them the information. They came to that kind of conclusion themselves. So then that one student who had initially said like, “oh, poor people are lazy.” He was like, he’s like, “wait a second.” He’s like “that doesn’t,” he’s like “that doesn’t seem fair.” Like how, so they started to self reflect on what they had said and they started to kind of examine their own biases. And then… So that was one part of it, another part of it. So then the next class we came and we’re like, OK, well, if you want to not have to work a hundred hours a week to meet basic living expenses, what would need to happen? And again, I’m asking them the questions. They’re guiding it. So they would say, “oh, you need to have a good job.”

Paula Liz: [00:30:03] So I ask, “how do you get a good job?”

Paula Liz: [00:30:05] They often say, “oh, you go to a good college.”

Paula Liz: [00:30:07] “Well, how do you go to a good college?”

Paula Liz: [00:30:09] “Oh, you go to a good school.”

Paula Liz: [00:30:11] And then from there, I kind of talk to them about, like, are all schools equal? Is the school that you’re in right now in a private school in D.C., the same as the public school, a couple neighborhoods over, and they already know that it’s not.

Paula Liz: [00:30:26] So just exposing them and making it obvious, having them see it and understand it on their own, I think is really important and really opens their eyes to like, OK, well, it is this system. And then we talk also about Ruby Bridges. And then when I mention Ruby Bridges, the fact that Ruby Bridges was younger than all of the seniors that they had just interviewed. So like then they were like, oh, those people that they had connected with and had started to understand their stories. They kind of added that layer to it. So that was something that we every class we started off with these types of discussions during the course of the project. And then at the end of the project, we went back to the center and the students with whomever they were paired with, they shared their story.

Paula Liz: [00:31:10] So it was really, I think that was a great project for them to really not only self reflect, but also put a face to others and a name, because I think that that is important, that us versus them and it’s not it’s us. It’s a we. So.

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:31:27] I’d like to add in on the lessons, a couple of points. One is that not so much a favorite lesson, but the lessons that are dis-favorites or, you know, not favorites. I really want to see art teachers stop perpetuating lessons that use cultural appropriation. That ask students to create things using sacred imagery or culturally specific imagery that students have no understanding or or connection to. Mask making is something that’s very common in a lot of art lessons.

A little bit of a different twist that I do on mask making is I actually have students explore, going back to their mind map, unpacking who they are and creating a mask that shows the seen and the unseen on the inside of the mask of who they are, rather than copying other masks.

Dr. Lori Santos

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:32:05] And a little bit of a different twist that I do on mask making is I actually have students explore, going back to their mind map, unpacking who they are and creating a mask that shows the seen and the unseen on the inside of the mask of who they are, rather than copying other masks. And sometimes I don’t even show them masks from other cultures. I actually look to contemporary artists like James Luna, Erica Lord, Will Wilson, and look at how they construct a contemporary idea and their own contextualized voice of what identity is. We also talk about misrepresentation and how this idea of otherness, of how someone else has assumptions about, you know, so if you look at your mind map and you say that you’re Mexican-American, you might be Catholic, you might be this or that, you know, what does that all mean and how does somebody else see you. And so having a partnership kind of artwork that’s created so that someone else can, in a way, kind of bring to the surface what are their biases or their misconceptions about somebody’s identity. And then you’re right there to correct them, basically, or to show them that, well, no, this is how I see myself.

Rebecca Potts: [00:33:31] I feel like that’s a really interesting way to work with pre-service teachers, especially because you’re you’re really kind of forcing them to be brave and have courage to not only talk to each other about their biases, but also receive some of that and respond to it.

Lori Santos: [00:33:49] Right.

That’s what every artist should be doing anyways, looking for inspiration, not copying.

Abby Birhanu

Abby Birhanu: [00:33:49] I have to shout out TAB here. This is where TAB is excellent because with discipline-based you do have we’re studying masks right now. We’re all making masks versus like this is a culture we’re going to study and don’t copy anything, but be inspired. I always try to say and I have a lot of work in this area because the way I was taught a lot of times growing up is like to appropriate, Lori. And that’s something that I have to question a lot of in how I’m teaching. I think a lot of us do. We are doing it without even knowing we’re doing it. We’re thinking we’re being culturally responsive and we’re going in the opposite direction. Right. So speaking of that humility, that’s something I need to work on because I’m ashamed to say that I have had students copy symbols thinking they’ll connect with it better. Right. They’ll get to know it in a way in a more intimate way. And so that’s something I need to work on, on myself. But with choice, I always say get inspired. You’re not creating this work of art from another culture. You’re not from there. You don’t have the the intimate and the spiritual connection that some of these objects require, you know, for you to even engage with them. So all you can do is what can inspire you from this in the way, maybe it’s the process? You know, maybe it’s a color that you saw that you would like to bring into your work? You know, and so figure out a way not to copy, but to appreciate and to find inspiration, because that’s what every artist should be doing anyways, looking for inspiration, not copying. So just something to add to that.

Rebecca Potts: [00:35:22] And then another question that’s really kind of a selfish question, is what would you like to hear from other artists who teach? So selfishly, what questions should I be asking people? I’ve kind of added a few questions, just asking people which artists of color they have taught and that they have felt made an impact on students as a way to help build that like library, that knowledge of artists that a lot of us were not taught about in school. But then also I’ve started asking how they’re working towards or how they have been creating an anti-racist environment in their classroom. Are there other questions, other things you’d like to hear from artists who are teaching?

How do you bring in current events and the now into your art?

Abby Birhanu

Abby Birhanu: [00:36:09] I mean, I’ll go first. I’m sorry. I unfortunately always have something to say and it’s something I need to work on. But making art relevant. Like how do you make connections to not just – Lori, you’ve said this and brought this to my attention when you and I have been collaborating on a lesson recently – is like share recent artists, you know. Tap into the current events of today and how do we navigate that terrain? How do you bring in current events and the now into your art and into how you address social justice issues in the classroom? All of those things, like making it this living, breathing thing, rather than something to just reflect on from the past.

Khadesia Latimer: [00:36:52] I think it would be valuable too to ask different art teachers what resources they are willing to share with other art teachers, because I think a lot of times when teachers listen to podcasts like this or videos that they find on the Internet, they’re always looking for something that they can use in their classroom. We can all talk about our experiences, and that is, there’s something special about that, I think, like having someone come on and speak about resources that that really work for them. And that was very, you know, I guess I wouldn’t say life changing, but it could possibly be life changing in a classroom. That’s something that people are really looking for.

Rebecca Potts: [00:37:30] Yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:37:30] I think one of my experiences I had years ago working at the National Museum of the American Indian was was really interesting. I was a education fellow there and one of the interpreters who would give tours of the, for the children. So I don’t know if this sort of speaks to a little bit of what your question was. But anyway, he talked about that when he gave the tours to the kids, that one of the things he would do, he would say, he’d ask them a question like, “do you know who the Tainos are?” And they’d be like, most of them usually are like, uh, no. And then he’d say, well, we’re the ones that discovered Columbus. And so it was like a different perspective.

I’ve heard all of us at one point or another talking about the living experience as being essential.

Dr. Lori Santos

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:38:15] So the Tainos are the indigenous people of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and those areas in there. And so, Paula Liz I see her smiling over there (I know you guys can’t see her) because we both have that heritage, you know. So I think it’s important to get a different perspective on things and be willing to hear that. So I purposefully try to find contemporary artists first to share with my students that I have like a huge whole list of it. And we’ve all been putting lots of great artists on the website and then, especially with Native Americans. That’s been my emphasis area because I know Maria Martinez is a wonderful artist, but there are so many more artists besides Maria Martinez and others like her. Those historical artists that have passed on. And I’m not saying not to teach those, but one of the things that has happened with teaching about Native indigenous cultures of the Americas is often they get relegated to the past and not seen as a living culture, a salient culture that changes. And when we continue to only show examples of artists from either the distant or the, you know, way past students never become aware of what’s happening today. I mean, I’ve heard all of us at one point or another talking about the living experience as being essential. When I worked at the museum, a lot of times people would come in and they’d be like, “Where’s the Native American art? I don’t see it.” It’s all over the place, because the emphasis at the New York site and the Gustav Heye Center was contemporary artists.

Rebecca Potts: [00:40:07] Yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:40:08] So.

Rebecca Potts: [00:40:09] Is there anything else that you would want to share as we kind of start to wrap up? Anything we missed? I’m sure there’s, I mean, plenty we could keep talking about for ages.

Paula Liz: [00:40:19] I do just want to give a shout out to all of the art teachers that have already contributed lessons to the website. So that includes, in addition to everyone in our group and our team who have all been contributing, some other art educators that have shared so far are Randy Butler, Leela Payne, Jordan Eggers, TJ Reynolds, Mary Saca, Kara Beers, Courtney Behnken and Camila Salvatierra-Sinn. So a huge shout out to all those art educators who have taken the time and have been willing and open to share their resources. Thank you so, so much. And if anyone listening has a lesson or resources that they would like to share, please head over to our website. We have a lesson submission form on our site. Or you could also email us at antiracistartteachers at gmail dot com.

Rebecca Potts: [00:41:15] Yeah, and I’ll link to your site when I share the episode. So yeah. So there will be links there.

Paula Liz: [00:41:20] And we have an actual domain name now. So we are now antiracistartteachers dot org.

Rebecca Potts: [00:41:27] Awesome. That makes it very easy.

Paula Liz: [00:41:31] Yeah.

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:41:31] And thanks to Paula Liz for her bravery in getting this all started and bringing us together and then everybody connecting and just all the hard work that you all are doing.

Rebecca Potts: [00:41:44] And thank you all for being willing to come on and have this conversation and share this. I think it’s, it’s been really valuable for me hearing and hopefully will be very valuable for listeners.

Tamara Slade: [00:41:57] Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Paula Liz: [00:41:59] Thank you.

Khadesia Latimer: [00:42:00] Yes. Thank you for having us.

Tamara Slade: [00:42:01] It was fun.

Abby Birhanu: [00:42:02] Yeah, thank you for having us.

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