Complexities and Challenges of Critical Praxis and Action in Education
When engaging in critical leadership, critical race praxis can cause various uncomfortable emotions to arise (Lawrence & Tatum, n.d; Levine-Rasky, 2000; Lopez, 2015; Singleton, 2005; Theoharis, 2007). As Lopez (2015) illustrated, teaching and learning cannot continue to operate for the purposes of homogeneity as this is no longer the norm, nor is it conducive for massive demographic shifts in developing countries. Lopez (2015) advocated for moving beyond a celebratory multicultural approach that is often common in teaching and leadership and rather, to ground equity and social justice in their praxis and approaches to diversity. Lopez posited: “Addressing the needs of diverse students requires us to think about culture differently beyond celebrating and embracing diversity, to see culture as an active force of change politically, socially and economically” (2015, p. 172). Lopez (2015) articulated the resistance and “push back” that often takes place when engaging in critical equity work, such the divisions between those leaders who advocate for social justice practice as transformation and those who merely pay lip service to it.
Although the emotional responses encountered in equity work may be unpleasant, these emotions are necessary. Matias and Mackey (2016) noted the refusal to confront uncomfortable emotions and therefore the resistance to engage in self-interrogation, “maintains the recycled nature of the hegemonic whiteness that dominates the field of education” (2016, p. 32). The guilt, discomfort, and resistance to even name or engage in dialogue on the pervasiveness of white privilege were solidified in 2014 Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) workshop. ETFO offered a workshop called “Re-Thinking White Privilege”; however, the union received widespread backlash and was even accused of “reverse racism”. ETFO President Sam Hammond described the purpose of the workshop to the CBC as follows: “what we are trying to do is spark a conversation about this and raise awareness and a growing understanding about white privilege” (CBC, 2014). The fact that the conversation of white privilege was met with such resistance is indicative of the challenges of antiracist work in the educational institution.
Lawrence and Tatum (n.d) discussed six emotional stages that white educators encounter while carrying out critical antiracist praxis. The six stages entail: contact, disintegration, reintegration, pseudo-independence, immer-sion/emersion, and autonomy (p. 7). The first stage of contact is marked with an acknowledgement of taken for granted and un-interrogated whiteness. In this initial stage, white educators become aware of whiteness as a social identity rather than an invisible norm and standard through which all other identities are measured. The second stage of disintegration describes a heightened awareness of whiteness and an increased exposure of the educator to interaction with racialized people, as well as information
Looking Forward 139 seeking about race. Feelings of anger, disbelief, and sadness are common during this second stage. The third stage of reintegration is generally categorized by the authors of one where emotions of anger and sadness become directed towards racialized groups, whereby blame for inequities is shifted back upon marginalized identities. The fourth stage known as pseudo-independence facilitates an understanding of the disadvantages of racism by recognizing and taking personal accountability to compliance in processes of racialization, as well as taking steps to dismantle it. The fifth milestone of immersion/emersion is summarized as an active pursuit of questioning contexts of race and seeking scholarship and knowledge on race and racism. The final stage of autonomy is the commitment to antiracist activism and allyship. Movement defined an ally as “a member of a dominant group who acts in solidarity with people who are targets of discrimination.... by listening instead of talking” (2014, p. 99). The stage of autonomy comes to be from the development of a positive, antiracist, white identity, that does not impose dominance on how to counter racism, but rather is an active ally to antiracist initiatives.
The complexities associated with antiracist praxis are caused by a challenging of a dominant ideological stance through the discussion of sensitive issues such as race (Levine-Rasky, 2000). Although the emotional reactions experienced may be discomforting, as white school administrators are generally not required to listen to counter-stories and counter-narratives, as Levine-Rasky emphasized: “becoming aware or developing a critical consciousness which should result in paradigm shift” (2000, p. 29). Furthermore, the well-meaning intentions of school administrators towards racial equity must move beyond intentionality to praxis. Lopez (2013) solidified the difference between statements of intentionality and praxis, in the context of teachers; however, her argument is equally important for school administrators. Lopez stated, “teachers must be given the practical tools they need to transform their good intentions into effective actions” (2013, p. 6). Lopez provided suggestions for carrying out equity and social justice work as transformative practice rather than episodic (2015, p. 179). She advocated for a support circle of “critical friends” (p. 179) who share a commitment to the transformative process and keep each other on track as well as provide as safe space to discuss challenges along the journey.