What I learned teaching critical race theory to American teenagers overseas

  • They don’t carry the baggage that we do, when it comes to skin color and stereotypes, or America’s history of oppression of certain groups. They are sponges, soaking in the big ideas presented to them, but doing so with appropriately-skeptical minds.
  • But these “sponges” nevertheless carry with them prejudices, and have not been immune to the influence of media, family beliefs, or experiences. These biases must be unpacked and debunked, and it’s not easy to do so even though they are young.
  • They resist labels and being labeled. It vexes them why we adults try to put everyone into neat little boxes. They check the ethnicity box on the SAT, but don’t understand why it’s even there in the first place (I tend to agree). Moreso, many in this generation don’t fit nicely into the categories presented to them. Ignoring these labels becomes a thing of pride.
  • Skin color is not a big deal to them, and is not even important in their world. They puzzle as to why the adults around them are so caught up in these superficial differences among us.
  • Economic disparity is more troubling to them than race. A solid majority of my students support affirmative action in undergraduate admissions when it comes to providing opportunities for students coming from households living in poverty, while at the same time arguing vehemently that skin color should not be a plus-factor for admissions.
  • They are clueless about their own privilege, especially unearned white privilege, but are receptive to becoming aware of how they can leverage privilege to help uplift others who don’t have it.
  • They love culture, and are fascinated by it. The explorer Wade Davis calls culture “humanity’s greatest legacy”. Once students come to grips with race and our differences, they relish a deep dive into celebrating our cultural uniquenesses.
  • They are not sure how to react to systemic racism. They can feel as helpless in stemming institutional discrimination as we do.
  • Nevertheless, this generation is passionate about making a positive impact on the world, and now that they are informed, they are ready to act. The creativity I witness after providing them some suggestions gives me tremendous hope for our future.
“File:Lisbon BLM protest June 6 2020.jpg” by Anita Braga is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Image Credit: “File:Lisbon BLM protest June 6 2020.jpg” by Anita Braga is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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Paul Richards

Paul Richards

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Having some fun blogging, taking the writing seriously, but not myself.