In recent decades, the hegemonic monocultural vision that the school had from its founding origins, as well as the vision of the modern subject as a homogeneous and universal entity, are being increasingly questioned. This situation has contributed to the attention to diversity becoming an important indicator of inclusion and equity in the construction of democratic societies. Thus, the 2030 Agenda, promoted by the Sustainable Development Summit (2015), incorporates inclusion, equity and cultural diversity as strategic objectives to work on education in order to achieve a sustainable world in 2030. This implies putting in value all the cultural groups that make up society, as well as their different worldviews. Particularly, in a multiethnic and multicultural region like ours.
Afro-descendant and indigenous populations face profound inequalities in our societies, especially because they are affected by racism and discrimination. This is furthermore compounded because they are also affected by racism and discrimination. Racism installs hierarchies between people. These hierarchies are reproduced and naturalized through family, school, political institutions and the media, among others. Racism manifests itself and runs through our institutions, and this is why we speak of the existence of institutional racism. Unfortunately, we live in a society that ranks cultural diversity, to the point that some differences are seen as a mark of inferiority and are used to legitimize inequalities.
In order to acknowledge and embrace the different identities that are present in the school space, it is essential both for schools to reflect upon the role that these groups play in the educational proposal and for teachers to review our perception of the diversity of cultures that inhabit our educational institutions. The school was conceived on the basis of an "old paradigm" of homogenization, which resulted in silencing the “other” voices, the “other” identities, the “other” cultures. Thus, in order to strengthen the anti-racist struggle and to make the school space more democratic, the challenge today is to reflect upon the voices that have been marginalized, suppressed and muzzled, as well as to break silences.
It is necessary to reflect and question ourselves:
What place do those cultures -for a long time denied, invisible, hidden or considered "uneducated"- occupy today in the school setting?
What is the knowledge that enters the classrooms and which is left outside it? What consequences does this situation entail?
How to democratize the content that has been hidden and/or “proscribed” by epistemic racism?
How to retrace the Eurocentric hegemony when it is so normalized?
How to produce breaks on the hegemonic discourse? What pedagogical alternatives can we build to confront racism?
All these questions go beyond the school task, but they also require intervention and work from school.
Epistemic racism in the pedagogical-curricular framework
The colonial rule of Europe over America was based not only on military subjugation, genocide and the control of its resources, it also meant the establishment of a system of ideas that postulated the natural biological and cultural superiority of Europeans. This discourse built the European as a civilizing subject, and other peoples as beings to be dominated. This matrix of thought, frequently reproduced by our educational systems, shapes and sustains epistemic racism.
As a system of historical thought, epistemic racism subalternizes, inferiorizes, hides and makes other knowledge and wisdom invisible. In reality, it is an hegemonic epistemic matrix that displaces, silences and extinguishes other knowledge systems. The hegemony of Eurocentric knowledge was imposed together with the dispossession and, in many cases, the annihilation of other ways of knowing and inhabiting the world. Epistemic racism imposes the superiority of one culture over another, to the point of assimilating, denying or suppressing it (Ocoró, 2019). It has a close relationship with the monocultural, Western hegemonic, Eurocentric primacy, where certain knowledge, traditions and cultures have been made invisible or inferiorized. This has been the case of African, indigenous and aphrodysporic epistemologies, all of them linked to other cultural repertoires, ones in which knowledge and knowledge are inseparable from the territory since they merge with it. These are holistic, plural epistemologies, that understand that the human condition cannot reproduce and maintain itself in balance without thinking about the territory, and without thinking about other beings and ecosystems that also inhabit it.
Epistemic racism also produces subjectivities that internalize values, practices and ways of seeing the world, of seeing others and their place in history. This form of racism is inserted in the knowledge/power structure that imposed Eurocentrism as the only legitimate place for the enunciation of knowledge. It is then our responsibility to generate strategies to confront it, since Eurocentrism has had an hegemonic presence in educational institutions. This matrix imposes European culture as dominant, silencing and belittling indigenous and African epistemologies. This matrix is manifested, for example, in national stories that postulate a uniquely “white” Argentinean, heir to Europe, making other populations invisible and excluding from the curriculum, despite the cultural diversity existing in our country. It is also present in curricular plans and school texts, which have been one of the devices that have helped to sustain racist ideologies that inferiorize certain populations, and that tend to reproduce, in many cases, stereotypical images about indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants. The curriculum is produced only from the voice and from the history of some groups, with which, as Dubet (2006) affirms, “if equality of opportunities has not been achieved, it is not only because society is unequal, but also because the school game is more favorable for the most favored” (p. 15).
Towards an intercultural and anti-racist education
Thinking about an anti-racist education in Latin America does not consist only in paying attention to school coexistence; it also implies ensuring that the identity, history and contributions of different groups and cultures are valued and made visible in the school space. The first step in promoting an anti-racist education is to recognize the existence of racism, to recognize that it lies hidden in many places, including schools. It may be difficult for us to recognize it, but if we understand that school is part of a society, and that it is not isolated from what happens in it, we will be able to “migrate” from denial to a more active attitude that allow us to see how racism is produced and reproduced from the school space.
Recognizing the existence of racism does not mean disqualifying the formative work that teachers carry out daily and in a committed way. However, this work, very important and valued, is insufficient to face a structural and far-reaching phenomenon that has accompanied the formation of our Latin American societies for decades. Another issue that we must consider is that racism does not reduced itself to explicit episodes of segregation or discrimination. There are other forms of hidden racism, silent yet not less lexical to human dignity. The challenge is to identify those multiple faces of racism in our society and see how they appear, intersect and express themselves in school. It also implies paying attention to the different dimensions of the school environment: language, daily practices, the curriculum, didactic materials, training, evaluation processes, ephemeris, among many other aspects.
Today more than ever, we need to strengthen the training of teachers, so that present and future generations appropriate critical, anti-racist and intercultural knowledge. It is of great relevance that we can debate what knowledge should be present today in the training of teachers and our students, and what knowledge has to be reconsidered in order to move towards more egalitarian societies. It is important to work towards a school that allows the expression of all voices and all actors in history; a school that breaks with the mandate of homogenization that was entrusted to it, and that above all accompanies, from the curricular contents, educational practices and teacher-training, the discursive construction of a new intercultural and anti-racist educational project that recognizes and incorporates the contributions of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples to the history and present life of our societies.
Anny Ocoró Loango is a Professor / Researcher Flacso Argentina. Member of the Unesco Chair "Higher Education, Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples" at the National University of Tres de Febrero.