Opinion: Race needs to be emphasized in school curriculum

Once we educate ourselves on the misinterpretations of race in history, we can work toward improved inclusivity and equality

In the past year, demonstrations protesting racism have increased to unforeseen proportions. Between May and August 2020, more than 10,600 protests and demonstrations were recorded all over the country with 80% of all demonstrations connected to the Black Lives Matter movement or the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In 2019 alone, 65% of Americans said that it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views since Trump was elected president. Around 45% of people said it has also become more acceptable for people to express these views.

Throughout modern society, "race" has become a term people avoid due to its uncomfortable connotations for people who benefit from the construct of race. The only reason race is such a divisive topic is because our modern system is consistently racist.

Historically, the academic discipline of international relations has been white-washed and has largely erased history of people of color, replacing it with notions of colonialism. Racism continues to thrive globally because we allow it to spread.

Okechukwu Iheduru, a professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies who focuses on international relations, said the prevalence of racism amounts to evading the problem.

"The social sciences and humanities have been complicit in perpetuating racial ideology," he said. "They have continued to develop theories that justify and sustain inequality to avoid discussing it altogether in an attempt to feel more comfortable."

Iheduru said when he came to ASU, he restructured the international relations curriculum because he wanted to help students become more interested in learning about different cultures and backgrounds and show that learning about race can apply to any field.

"I think we can move past race," Iheduru said. "The reason behind teaching it is to acknowledge that racial ideology is a problem and that race is a social construction. We can’t deconstruct it if we don’t understand it."

Monica Howard, a freshman studying political science, chose her major because she noticed the disparity in information spread through the media and her school about Indigenous culture.

There are few courses in the political science department that challenge racial perspectives. Although this is a roadblock, it shouldn't stop the progress toward the elimination of racist historical representations.

"I grew up on the reservation but went to school in Phoenix," Howard said. "I would see issues like alcoholism on the reservation at a very young age and realized that issues like that rarely got recognition. I had to read about sad portrayals of Native Americans in books throughout my education."

Howard said her education growing up was very biased, which led to a skewed representation of her culture.

"When I told people that I was Native American, they would ask if I lived in a teepee and hunted buffalo or if I could tell them their dreams," she said. "I had to correct teachers about pronunciations of cultural terms a lot up until (Advanced Placement) history my junior year of high school."

Curriculum needs to continuously be updated so young people can learn about the correct historical representations of people of all races and cultures. It is a disservice to young people not to include the education they truly need to dismantle racist ideologies in the future as an integral part of curriculum.

Faculty need to start incorporating race into their teachings as it is applicable in every field. It should be the responsibility of the instructor to restructure syllabi and teach course material in a way that considers the impacts and significance of race as a construction in their field. 

Iheduru said an example of this is the newly-named LIFT Initiative, which works to support Black faculty, staff and students at ASU through 25 action items. In this initiative, the University will launch a new Bachelor of Arts in Race, Culture and Democracy.

Students also have to take the initiative to educate themselves.

"Students should work with their advisors to fit their majors and interests," Iheduru said. "Be proactive in planning your own curriculum. If you can't find sufficient courses, look at other places because ASU is so big and unique with great resources that are worth exploring."

As we strive toward higher inclusivity, and higher inclusivity in the international relations discipline, we need to start at the root of the problem and work to become fully educated on the history of race. Once we understand the way the international relations field is complicit in the construction of race and the disparities it promotes, we can make meaningful progress toward a more equal society.


Reach the columnist at atretsch@asu.edu or follow @alexistretschok on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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