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Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School

reviewed by Merry M. Merryfield - February 05, 2009

coverTitle: Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School
Author(s): Mica Pollock (Ed.)
Publisher: The New Press, New York
ISBN: 1595580549, Pages: 368, Year: 2008
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Everyday Anti-Racism: Getting Real About Race in School answers the question: what can educators do day to day to overcome racism and racial inequalities in schools and society? Mica Pollack, associate professor at the Harvard School of Education, asked over sixty researchers to propose a single action that educators could apply in their daily work to address racism. The result is a complex book of sixty-four short essays organized into six sections.

“Race Categories” (14 essays) debunks the biology of race and racial groupings and examines identity, individuality and internalized oppression. “How Opportunities Are Provided and Denied in Schools” (11 essays) analyzes tracking, standards, gifted education and language education and challenges stereotypes and practices in discipline. The third section, “Curriculum that Asks Crucial Questions about Race,” (13 essays), explores ways for students to learn about racial identity, oppression, and social justice through photography, writing, literature, film, music, local history and images in their daily lives.

“Race and the School Experience” (16 essays) provides inquiry strategies for students to explore their own school experiences and discuss race and racism and for teachers to rethink silences, safe spaces and whole school reform. “Engaging Communities for Real” (six essays) makes school-community connections through student research, parent involvement, and teachers’ appreciation of their students’ “home-worlds” (p. 294). The last section, “Keeping It Going” (four essays), offers advice on staying focused and hopeful in changing a system that is unequal while working within it. Although there are always trade-offs in depth versus breadth in an edited volume, the choice to have several short essays that provide different perspectives on a particular issue (identity, curriculum, expectations, etc.) is a strength as anti-racist education grows out of many contexts and lived experiences.

Everyday Anti-Racism can serve as a benchmark in the fight to provide equity for all in American schools. Its format of two to five-page essays that target a single idea, such as following children’s leads in conversations about race (chapter 7) or using local history to make race relevant in all-white classrooms (chapter 37), easily allows readers to read multiple perspectives on topics of interest. The volume is particularly noteworthy for its breadth of topics and would be an excellent introduction for educators or parents to the field of anti-racist education in the United States.  

Although discussion of all sixty-four chapters is beyond the parameters of this review, I would like to comment on a few chapters that I found to be especially significant for teachers and teacher educators. In “No Brain is Racial” (chapter 2), Mica Pollock provides an important rationale for understanding how racism today is an inheritance from European (and American) imperialism.  Racial categories were developed to rationalize the subjugation of people of color in Africa, Asia and the Americas in order to justify enslaving them, taking their lands or resources, and in general treating them as inferiors. The mental “programming” (p. 10) of such racism continues to play out today in people’s unexamined prejudices and institutional racism (see also Willinsky, 1998).  

To illustrate how to counter the effects of such programming, teachers can use ideas from Sanjay Sharma’s “Teaching Representation of Cultural Difference through Film” (chapter 34). Teachers often use the popular film Bend it Like Beckham as an up to date portrayal of a complex immigrant community in contemporary Britain. Sharma demonstrates the need for teachers to recognize how the film may reinforce stereotypes their students may have about Asians, arranged marriages, or so-called traditional societies. Several other essays in that section provide other strategies for teaching students to critically examine unstated assumptions about differences that have their origins in imperialism.

Should teachers be conscious of race or colorblind? Several chapters address this controversial question. In Chapter 9, “Strengthening Student Identity in School Programs,” Patricia Gandara focuses on ways to support students of color who may feel vulnerable as a visible minority in their schools. Based on her research in California, she describes the benefits of programs in which students spend time with mentors or peers who share their racial or ethnic identity. This cocooning (pp. 44-45) protects and supports students during identity development by providing them with a safe place to analyze their own home and school situations as they study their own cultural heritage, literature and history with mentors of their racial/ethnic group. As cocooning develops a healthy respect for one’s own identity, it gives students the confidence to interact effectively within the mainstream and other cultures.

How does Everyday Anti-Racism extend knowledge in the field? Today literature that addresses racism in education has many directions. There is literature focused on the stories and experiences of individuals, the issues of particular groups (Asian Americans, Native Americans, new immigrants, etc.), the nature of racism in schools (such as institutional racism, white privilege, self-segregation, tracking), classroom strategies and whole school reforms, and theories that explain why and how racism continues (as in critical race theory). Everyday Anti-Racism addresses many of these facets of racism and the essays do not allow easy answers.  

Of course it is hard to read a large edited volume and not wish for attention to other topics that could extend the work. Although Arab Americans are included, many of the new immigrant groups, especially those coming from war zones and refugee camps, are not discussed. If there is a second edition or second volume, I would suggest the inclusion of an essay on Somalis, Sierra Leoneans and Sudanese, the new African Americans who are coming into our schools in Ohio, Minnesota, and other states right out of the violence of war and refugee camps. I would also suggest that students of Appalachian cultures be recognized as a visible minority in many states. All whites are not the same.  

Most of all, I would like to see more essays written about work against racism in other countries from Australia to Kenya, from Singapore to Germany. There is much that Americans can learn from anti-racist education in other parts of the world. And American educators need to understand how global demographics and the global economy shape prejudice and racism in our own communities.

It was an intriguing experience to read this volume the same month that Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. To some, his election signaled that African Americans no longer are held back by the color of their skin. Yet the problems addressed in Everyday Anti-Racism continue. We must face the role that teachers and teacher educators play in allowing racism to continue as part of young people’s educational experiences.  


Willinsky, J.  (1998).  Learning to divide the world: Education at empire's end. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 05, 2009
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15512, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 9:53:06 PM

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About the Author
  • Merry Merryfield
    The Ohio State University
    E-mail Author
    MERRY M. MERRYFIELD is professor of social studies and global education at The Ohio State University. Her interests include teaching for equity, diversity and global interconnectedness. Recent publications include “Decolonizing Social Studies and Global Education,” “A Meeting on the Congo: Race, Voice and Representation,” and Social Studies and the World: Infusing Global Perspectives (co-author with Angene Wilson). Currently she is engaged in a study of two schools where teacher- initiated whole school reform is aimed at preparing students to be engaged citizens in a global age.
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