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Creating and Sustaining Culturally Responsive Learning Environment Part Three

How many of you remember diagramming sentences as a way to visually learn how the different parts of a sentence fit together? The subject of a clause went into one slot, the verb in another, and so on. Words that modify another word are attached to the word they modify to indicate the relationship between them.

In a similar fashion, the activity within this module will ask educators to diagram the current headlines in order to understand the larger socio-political context that fuels the deficit ideology regarding racism, racial inequality, and implicit bias, especially how it shows up in the policies, procedures, and practices we employ in education. Also, to create understanding for how students, families, communities, educators, and leaders of color feel as members of a system that does not always see or recognize the enormity of their individual and collective struggles. It simply is not enough to be outraged over implicit bias and explicit racism, but as educators, we should want to understand the dominant messages inferred and underneath the actions. This is NOT about individuals behaving badly or making poor (and in several cases) deadly split-second decisions, but how people act in relationship to the dominant messages about Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) (Hammond, 2019).

Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer, social justice activist, and Founder/CEO of the Equal Justice Initiative, calls this messaging the “narrative of racial difference” that was used to justify the differential treatment of people of color in this country. The most blatant use was the narratives that permeated American society and institutions about people of African descent as less “human” that justified our enslavement and continuous systemic racism and dehumanization for 402 years. The same narratives are in place for American Indian/Indigenous and Mexican/Latinx/Chicano/Hispanic people who occupied North America before it was the United States.

In order to de-bias ourselves, we have to be able to hear these dominant messages that are operational through our policies, procedures, organizational structures, curriculum choices, and instructional decisions. These messages are usually subtle, seem rational, and are not overtly racist. Therefore, diagramming the headlines—the heading indicating the nature of the text that follows—allows us to trace the historical roots of narratives and dominant messages of racial difference at the core of bias (Hammond, 2019).

In his TED Talk, satirist and writer Baratunde Thurston uses humor to deconstruct some ways that deficit ideology and narratives of racial differences are showing up in our news headlines. Note, this TED Talk is from 2018, but still holds relevance in 2021.  Watch and see if you can identify and understand the dominant narratives in this TED Talk. The strategy that Mr. Thurston employs is adaptable and could be used as part of a professional development/learning sessions with educators, as well as instructionally with students. The activity that follows can be adapted in its design to also help students digest informational text and apply skills in deciphering or determining slant, bias, satire, author's purpose, credibility, etc.

Disclaimer: Because there is one short statement that is adult in nature, please do not use this TED Talk with elementary students.

It is important to note and remember that the individuals at the center of the headlines used by Mr. Thurston are NOT just White people behaving badly. They are not super racist individuals being called out for their actions. They are however, everyday citizens reflecting the systemic and stereotypical core messaging that people of color are inferior morally, intellectually, and socially and therefore, need to be monitored.


Reflect and participate in the game he introduces, but insert narratives of students of color, students whose first language is not English, students who have IEPs, and students with behavioral issues. Here are the questions to ask yourselves regarding the aforementioned group of students. They will make more sense after you view the TED Talk.

  1. Who is the subject?
  2. Who is the target?
  3. What activity is the target engaged in that requires the subject to monitor?
  4. What action does the subject take against the target as a result of the monitored activity? Is the action disproportionately applied to certain demography groups in comparison to others?
  5. Is the subject’s action(s) based in a deficit ideology and/or the dominant narratives believed about the target’s demographic association? If so, what action(s) can the subject employ to ensure the counter narrative becomes the dominant narrative?

TED Talk link:

Next Module: Creating and Sustaining Culturally Responsive Learning Environment Part Four