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Race talk tensions: practicing racial literacy in a fourth-grade classroom

Annie Daly (Department of Curriculum and Instruction, The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas, USA)

English Teaching: Practice & Critique

ISSN: 1175-8708

Article publication date: 2 December 2022

Issue publication date: 20 March 2023




There is a pressing need to teach students how to talk critically about race to understand the personal and political implications of racism in the contemporary US society. Classroom race talk, however, often includes moments of discomfort or confusion as teachers and students navigate new norms for making sense of race and racism. The purpose of this paper is to examine how one white teacher and her multiracial class of fourth-grade students navigated race talk tensions while reading and discussing shared texts.


Data for this paper were collected as part of a larger, year-long qualitative study on antiracist pedagogy. In this paper, the author analyzes video data of classroom race talk recorded during whole-class and small-group literacy lessons. Using inductive coding and reconstructive critical discourse analysis, the author examines how the teacher and students co-constructed meaning during tense or confusing conversational moments.


The findings demonstrate that the teacher and students jointly mediated tensions by using the practices of racial literacy, which included learning about the history of racial inequality in the USA, considering racism as structural and systemic rather than individual and asking and answering questions for continued inquiry and critical self-reflection. While previous research studies have characterized race talk tensions as problems or obstacles to student learning, the findings from this study suggest that tensions can be generative to developing and enacting racial literacy.


In the current political climate, alarmist rhetoric issued by conservative politicians and media outlets has discredited race talk as harmful or damaging to children. This study offers a positive reframing of tensions, which may provide teachers encouragement to pursue literacy instruction that equips students with knowledge and skills to better understand and confront racism.



First and foremost, the author thanks Ms. Allen and students for the invitation to learn and be a part of the classroom. The author thanks Drs Jocius, Maloch, Roland and Wetzel for comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. Finally, the author thanks the reviewers and editorial team for their generous feedback and support throughout the revision process.


Daly, A. (2023), "Race talk tensions: practicing racial literacy in a fourth-grade classroom", English Teaching: Practice & Critique, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 61-78.



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