Skip to content

History Nerdfest 2018: Unpacking color consciousness

It ranks right up there with the Holiday season, KC Chiefs football, and the first weekend of the college basketball tournament. It’s National Council for the Social Studies conference week. I’m lucky enough to get front row seats and am trying to live blog my way through it.


Bob Marley was playing as I walked into Saturday’s first session.

I’m not complaining. #NCSS week is always awesome (and I was able to catch Hamilton last night so even awesomer) but Saturday morning is hard. Since Wednesday, I’ve met old friends, made some new ones, preformed my civic duty at House of Delegates, sat in on some committee meetings, and generally jumped into the deep end of history nerdness. But Saturday is when this stuff gets real. Multiple sessions today – back to back. Learning because harder.

So Bob in the morning makes life just a little easier.

And a quote from Yuri Kochiyama, American activist, set the tone:

“Remember that consciousness is power. Consciousness is education and knowledge. Consciousness is becoming aware. It is the perfect vehicle for students. Consciousness-raising is pertinent for power, and be sure that power will not be abusively used, but used for building trust and goodwill domestically and internationally. Tomorrow’s world is yours to build.”

Ruth Berson from Note Dame High School in San Jose is guiding the conversation this morning about encouraging and implementing a color conscious learning environment. Her first piece of advice in the process in becoming more aware and color conscience is becoming aware of the issues.

We talked quite a bit about the types of bias and the differences between bias and racism by digging into implicit and confirmation bias. And chatted about how that can lead to what Ruth labeled “theying” and how that can become acts of racism.

Implicit bias?
This refers to the idea that as humans we have a tendency to group things and people into categories. We associate certain attitudes or beliefs with certain things are people. We are inclined, for example, to view people we consider a member of our own group to be more trustworthy than those of a different group.

Conformation bias?
The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.If information confirms our already held beliefs, that we accept that information. So if we already believe that former President Obama was born in Nigeria, than any article that supports that view is seen as true (even when it’s not.) Any article that disagrees with that view is perceived by us as untrue.

It’s important to realize that these biases exist. And by the way, that not all of these biases are “bad.” We have implicit biases for or against certain fruits and vegetables, for example. Associating delicious with blueberries is, at worst, a neutral sort of view. I realize that I have an implicit bias for my children over someone else children.

But it does become a problem when our implicit bias creates and reinforces an us vs them situation. Ruth suggests that this is what leads to racist behavior.

The New York Times has put together a quick video that can help us make sense of implicit bias:

(Get other NYT bias videos here.)

Another example of implicit bias is a video created by Unicef. The video documents behavior shown towards a child who is first dressed well and then dressed poorly. Wanna guess how we treated these “two different” children? Implicit bias can help explain why we treat one child differently than the other.


Ruth went on to suggest that racism is the action that results from these biases. And that the more we talk about and explore these biases, the more we can encourage better learning environments for our students. The more we can find ways to bridge across group lines and find similarities.

She also asked us to think about how white privilege is connected to all of this. One participant comment that resonated with me?

White privilege is the ability to not think about white privilege.

Obviously 60 minutes is not nearly enough time to really dig into what this can look like in your classrooms and buildings, it was a great way to kick off the day and remind me about how important our jobs really are.

Cause Bob Marley isn’t always there to make life easier, try some of these resources:

And Teaching Tolerance should always be one of your gotos:







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: