Let’s Talk About Anti-Blackness

Uneasy about how to talk to your students about Anti-Black racism and related issues like colorism, U.S. history of slavery, and police brutality? Here are some resources to start the conversation.

While we often hear the words “racism,” “white privilege,” and “intersectionality” in today’s discourse around racial justice, “anti-Blackness” and “anti-Black racism” almost always get left behind. What many people don’t realize is that anti-Blackness is the root of most oppression and racism in the United States.

Even for non-Black people with dark skin, such as Indians and Filipinos, some of the racism they experience is rooted in anti-Blackness. There’s also colorism, a type of discrimination in which lighter skin is privileged over darker skin, that exists among people of the same race or ethnicity. Non-Black communities have negative stereotypes about Black people, and these communities will distance themselves in order to maintain some level of power.  

In this “Let’s Talk About” edition, we provide resources to help educate your students about how anti-Blackness shows up in our everyday lives and how it is erased from public discussion. By having a clearer understanding of the root of much of the racism in this country, we can be better equipped to dismantle harmful structures and institutions. 

NOTE:  Talking about racism can be uncomfortable. There may be students in your class who may feel self-conscious or vulnerable if there is a discussion about anti-Blackness and how dark-skinned people are treated in society, including your school.  Proceed with care and sensitivity. You know your students best. Scroll down for “Some Tips for Talking About Tough Topics.”

How to Use This Collection

Suggested below are steps to a thoughtful and meaningful discussion with your students about anti-Blackness and its impact on their personal lives and in society. Choose what is appropriate for your class.

  1. Have students complete a pre-survey (optional).
  2. Choose at least one YES! article and another site’s article for a robust compare-and-contrast activity. 
  3. Use the discussion questions—or craft your own—to gauge your students’ understanding and opinions.
  4. Have students complete a post-survey (optional). 
  5. Explore the suggested curriculum if you’d like to dive deeper.

Some Tips for Talking About Tough Topics

We recognize that talking about tough topics—such as race, immigration, and, even fat-shaming—with your students may be uncomfortable, not necessarily age-appropriate—and may not even be allowed in your building. 

Good conversations are deliberative.  They encourage reflection, understanding of different voices and perspectives, and respect for complexity. They also take time.

Devin Hess of UC-Berkeley’s History-Social Science Project is passionate about “deliberative dialogue.” Rather than debate an issue, deliberative dialogue has students exploring a topic together from multiple perspectives. Eventually, students may gain clarity on their personal opinion, and the class may even come to a resolution.

How might you and your students have a deliberative dialogue?

Provide a safe environment.  If you choose to have this discussion, it’s important to provide a safe environment where students can voice their opinions honestly without fear of being judged or silenced. In your discussion space, while you may wish to welcome controversy and passion, be careful that this energy does not spill over to “othering” students and out-of-control vitriol.

Keep the armor off. Think about making these discussions about discourse, rather than debate. As John Esterle of The Whitman Institute explains, one enters discourse with vulnerability and their armor off.  They listen with the mindset that they might change their minds. Whereas one enters a debate with their armor on. They listen to prepare their rebuttal and to win the argument, not to understand.

Allow students to explore issues from different stakeholders’ perspectives. Your students can get to clarity by understanding the experiences of the people who are affected by the particular issue. Have them assume the mindset of the stakeholder to gain introspection and empathy—even if it’s a point of view they would disagree with or can’t relate to.

Be careful of the questions you ask. You don’t want to invite topics or specifics that target or insult someone in your classroom or feed into fake news frenzy, such as “The Holocaust is a hoax.” Think about the conversations you don’t want in your classroom—this depends on your students. Do ask questions that get all students talking and diving deeper into understanding.

Shut down conversations that are hurtful and ignorant. When the conversation strays to hurtful and perpetuating ignorance, reconnect dialogue to the content.

Bridge divides with key questions. Your students can take a position and still appreciate other perspectives. When the room is boiling with disagreement, ask your students: Where is there common ground? What are the aspects of the divide? Why is there no compromise?

Own your politics responsibly. There’s an assumption that teachers need to be neutral. Not true. Take responsibility for your position and share it, when appropriate, professionally and respectfully. Look at the issue beforehand and provide direction for a positive, deliberative discussion.

Resources for guidelines on difficult and deliberative conversations:

Deliberative Discourse Planning Guide (UC-Berkeley History-Social Science Project)

Preparing Students for Difficult Conversations (Facing History) 

Civil Discourse in the Classroom and Beyond Teaching Tolerance (Teaching Tolerance)

Reading Materials

YES! Articles

Racial Profiling and the Loss of Black Boyhood

3 Things Schools Should Teach About America’s History of White Supremacy

Confederate Statues Have Been Invisible to Most White People

It’s Not Just the South: How Everyone Can Resist White Supremacy

My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to Explain White Privilege: I Decided to Be Honest.

Outside Articles

Getting Killed By Police is a Leading Cause of Death for Young Black Men in America (Los Angeles Times)

Anti-Blackness in Preschool Classrooms: Combatting Conditioning Early to Save Our Kids (The Black Youth Project) 

Shades of Black: How Readers Responded to Our Series on the Colorism Taboo (The Guardian)

This article is part of The Guardian’s “Shades of Black” series that explores the roots and impact of colorism—discrimination faced by darker-skinned people, often from within their own community. 


Teaching for Black Lives (Rethinking Schools)

Sample chapters and lessons, plus teaching materials related to Teaching for Black Lives, a book published by Rethinking Schools, that grows directly out of the Black Lives Matter movement. Click on “Additional Resources” to access free Teaching for Black Lives resources.

Discussion Questions

  1. When was the first time you were aware of the color of your skin? Describe how you saw yourself when you realized that other people—even within your own race or ethnicity— had a range of light to dark skin. If you feel comfortable, share an example of when you experienced colorism.
  2. What is anti-Blackness? How are some ways that anti-Blackness present itself in America and in non-Black communities of color? 
  3. What are unique challenges Black people face in society, different from Indigenous and other people of color? 
  4. What does White supremacy have to do with anti-Blackness? 
  5. Describe how you can push back against anti-Blackness within your friend group and your family, school, or community. 

Like what you see? Discover discussion guides on other tough topics.

Inspiration in Your Inbox

Get the free daily newsletter from YES! Magazine:
Stories of people creating a better world to inspire you and your students.

Sign Up