Enhancing Anti-Racist Pedagogy

Enhancing Anti-Racist Pedagogy Begins with Challenging Problematic Discourses

Submitted By: Erin Ellison

 According to Schick and St. Dennis (2003) a variety of visible minority groups live in the Canada, although “it is Indigenous peoples who form the greatest critical mass to challenge normative practices of dominant white culture” (p. 2).  The authors examined popular discourses (remarks) made by, predominantly white identified, students who were taking a mandatory cross-cultural education course in a teacher education program at the University of Saskatchewan.  Through their analysis, the authors identified three common ideological assumptions including: meritocracy, goodness and innocence and race doesn’t matter, that made it challenging for the students to question the advantages of their social positions within the hierarchical structure of broader Canadian society.  Consequently, it was difficult for the students to acknowledge how these ideological assumptions have contributed to the inequitable treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada overtime.

Schick and St. Denis (2003) define meritocracy as the belief that everyone has equal opportunity to achieve if they work hard and use their talents.  Meritocracy as an underlying ideological assumption was evidenced by statements made by students including: “My family started with nothing, and we worked hard to get where we are now; They just want everything given to them; People are victims because they choose to be victims” (Schick & St. Denis, 2003, p. 8).  The authors propose that ideology of meritocracy stems from a cultural belief, held by many Canadians, that our country is basically a nation of infinite opportunity.  The problem with the ideology of meritocracy is that it fails to recognize that even though individuals may be working hard to obtain their goals their opportunity to do so can be limited by structural barriers including their social, economic and political positions (Schick & St. Denis, 2003).  Meritocracy presupposes that everyone in Canada has equal access to the same opportunities which isn’t always true.

According to Schick and St. Denis (2003), the ideological assumption of goodness and innocence, was reflected by statements such as “I am fascinated by other cultures, I love learning about them; We weren’t like other families, we were taught to respect all cultures; Why do they always bring up the past?  I wasn’t there” (p. 9).  The authors’ analysis of such comments illustrates the commonly held belief that if people have good intentions (are prepared to learn about others and are committed to helping others) then they are innocent of the domination of those deemed others.  This belief is problematic because it fails to recognize that an individual’s ability to be good or innocent depends on the very fact that a marginalized other exists.  The authors further explain that assuming a position of goodness and innocence becomes proof of both individual and group superiority; Canada is after all, a tolerant nation.  Only individuals who engage in intentional discriminatory acts can be held accountable. Schick and St. Denis (2003) maintain that discourses of goodness and innocence work to conceal how power relationships between dominant and subordinate groups have been socially constructed and continue to reproduce inequality.

Schick and St. Dennis (2003) revealed the ideological assumption that “race doesn’t matter” through the scrutiny of statements including: “As far as I am concerned, we’re all part of the same human race and that’s all that matters.  I don’t see the colour of a person’s skin; How could I be racist? I don’t even know any Indigenous people; The problem is that their values and beliefs are so different from ours” (Schick & St. Denis, 2003, p. 6).  According to the authors, what becomes apparent through this type of discourse is that, even though, the students wanted to deny that race matters it was obvious that culture did.

According to Schick and St. Denis (2003), race, as an identity construct, has been socially produced as an indicator of difference within a historical context.  As such, an individual’s assigned racial identity conveys where they are situated, in terms of power, within social hierarchical structures.  The authors suggest that in Canada, Indigenous identities have been produced as the racialized others.  By denying whiteness as a racial category, the power and privileges conveyed by this invisible identifier are concealed.  Schick and St. Denis (2003) maintain that discourses which emphasize culture difference allows groups with dominant identities to assume that inequities are caused by the cultural deficiencies of others and allows them to reject the notion that they are accountable for systemic oppression.  By encouraging teachers to reflect on how their own identities may impact their experiences it is hoped that they will be empowered to create safer learning spaces for student who have been traditionally marginalized.


Schick, C., & St. Denis, V. (2003). What makes anti-racist pedagogy in teacher education difficult? Three popular ideological assumptions. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 49(1). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/228634888?accountid=14569

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