5 Tips for Managing the Burden of Racism in the Classroom

Crystal Belle, PhD
4 min readJul 8, 2021

Critical Race Theory (CRT) teaches us that racism is permanent in the United States and its permanence is deeply embedded within our laws, schooling systems and communities. The persistence of racism will not disappear nor should it be disregarded in educational spaces, notably classrooms (pk-20). The economic exploitation of slave labor helped construct the land we stand upon today and many of the side effects of slavery include: Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS), rampant police brutality, unfair housing policies and job discrimination among BIPOC, to name a few. Acknowledging this chain of oppressive economic, social-emotional and violent history against Black lives, requires an intentional and ongoing healing from the impact of racism through education.

Source: heritage.org

Classrooms are not objective spaces, nor is it realistic to expect classrooms to operate in such a way. We are all biased based on our lived experiences and cultural ways of knowing and being. As such, teachers should anticipate certain levels of biases in the classroom, including their own. Creating opportunities for students and teachers to collaboratively investigate their biases through the curriculum would help develop a third space (Bhaba,1994) in the classroom that centers one’s own healing and unlearning. This approach to teaching and learning is a social justice model through the lens of Critical Race Theory. Scholar Lee Bell notes that “Social Justice Education envisions the full and equitable participation of people from all social identity groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs (2016, p. 1).” Therefore, adopting a Social Justice Education (SJE) framework in the classroom includes the active liberation and inclusion of everyone involved across race, gender, class, ability and sexuality.

Source: Wfaa.com

Managing the burden of racism in the classroom is critical for the teaching and learning process, since the silences surrounding racism in schools within the curriculum and school cultures of compliance and control, stifle students’ abilities to be their full authentic selves. It is also important to note that racism is harmful to all of us: Black, white, Asian, Native, Latinx, rich, poor, middle-class, able-bodied, disabled, cisgender, trans, gay and/or bisexual/pansexual folx. Racism removes our ability to truly see one another for all that we are in our respective spaces of difference. To manage the burden of racism is to intentionally push against cycles of oppression through modeling conceptions of radical community and self-care.

Here are 5 tips for managing the burden of racism in the classroom.

1.Center Student Voices in the Curriculum: Centering the voices of your students in the curriculum requires investigating their interests through the use of surveys and critical classroom discussions rooted in culturally responsive pedagogy. When all students can see reflections of themselves in the curriculum, they develop a more collective understanding of their humanity in relation to others.

2.Study Critical Race Theory: Critical Race Theory was developed by legal scholars of color in the 1970s to speak back to the ways that the law upholds racism in various aspects of life: education, housing and healthcare. Having students examine CRT will deepen their critical consciousness and understanding of structural racism and white supremacy.

3.Student Speeches: Have students analyze contemporary topics connected to race/racism (ie: Black Lives Matter movement, The Capitol Riots) and create opportunities for them to discuss their understanding of what is happening in a Socratic Seminar. Students will then develop speeches based on these discussions and work with a partner to create, edit and deliver the speech. Students will be expected to provide critical feedback to their peers in an effort to foster collaboration and deeper thinking around the celebration of differences.

4. Student-Led Courageous Conversations: Many events happen in the classroom space that are reflective of the larger society. Create a parking lot in the classroom where students can privately share struggles they may have inside or outside of school that are race-related. Each week, have a student choose one of the parking lot struggles and lead a courageous conversation which is a protocol for engaging in interracial dialogue.

5. Celebrate One Another: It is critical when doing this work to celebrate one another’s growth through embracing a community model of radical self-care rooted in kindness, respect and the understanding that each of us carry our own biases and have our own journeys of learning and unlearning. Examples of celebrations include community potlucks (invite parents and the larger community) and social emotional learning centered awards tied to unity and understanding.

Using these 5 tips will help develop and sustain a classroom culture rooted in empathy, love, critical pedagogy and collective healing. More importantly, these tips are actively anti-racist in nature, pushing everyone in the space to be better to themselves and others through dialogue, reading, writing and strategic thinking. Although racism is not going away today or tomorrow, daily and intentional actions can heal its impact on our hearts, minds and souls, thus leading to a more equitable world for all of us.



Crystal Belle, PhD

Dr. Crystal Belle is an educator, scholar and founder of Self Love Life 101. Her first book, Start with Radical Love, is set to debut with Corwin press in 2024