Episode 113: Are We Doing Anti-Racism Wrong? with Dr. Sheena Mason

*Racism* is the social construction that necessitates our continued & (mostly) blind belief in & upholding of “race” ideology & its correlated languages/practices. We just continue to fool ourselves into thinking that “race” is *just* “skin color,” phenotype, DNA, or culture.

Dr. Sheena Mason

With the rise of anti-racist discourse and initiatives, many people are unintentionally promoting racist ideas and missing opportunities to identify and celebrate functional diversity, or diversity of thought over perceived diversity based largely on phenotype and social constructions. Dr. Sheena Mason earned her PhD from Howard University. She is now at SUNY Oneonta in Oneonta, NY, as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in African American literature. Dr. Mason has been thinking about and working on ways to discuss race and racism in a way that she believes can move us in the right direction as a human race. Sheena and I discuss the ways these ideas could be the next evolution of race deconstruction in education and in culture. We also discuss how this can be accomplished WITHOUT ignoring the injustice that has flown from the belief in race.

Dr. Sheena Mason

The core tenets of the Theory of Racelessness are as follows:

  • Race does not exist in nature.
  • Race does not exist as a social construction.
  • Everyone is raceless.
  • Racism includes the belief in race as biological or a construction and the practice of racialization.
  • Racism is not everywhere and is not the cause for every perceived “racial” disparity or negative interaction.
  • Racism can be overcome.
Episode 113

While not rooted in biology or science, she explains how the concept of race continues to be naturalized and viewed as something “of nature.” The camouflaging of racism as race remains, in large part, why many people and institutions have failed to partially, entirely, or meaningfully address racism even when actively participating in anti-racist efforts. Once liberated from race(ism), you will feel lighter, uplifted, seen, and valued.

Signs that Some Race Activism May be Misguided (If the shoe fits)

  • Does it insist that racial categories are real, useful, or impossible to rid ourselves of? (Making it seem as if the way a person looks is the most important part of their contribution.)
  • Does it seem to shy away from the celebration of progress?
  • Does it treat the world as if it is a fixed pie through the use of reductionist racial category quotas? (Black, White, Brown, Indigenous) or even worse, a racial binary? (white, non-white.)
  • Does it confuse or conflate real phenomena such as culture, class, ethnicity, and ancestry with the fiction of race? (Like co-equal humans, or as “avatars” for a racialized group?)
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Theory of Racelessness educates organizations & institutions on how racism masquerades as race in society.


Dr. Sheena Mason earned her Ph.D. in English literature “with distinction” in May 2021 from Howard University. She joined the faculty at SUNY Oneonta in Oneonta, NY, in August 2021, as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in African American literature. She has taught at the College of William and Mary, California Lutheran University, and Howard University. Her book titled Theory of Racelessness: A Case for Philosophies of Antirace(ism) is scheduled to be released by Palgrave Macmillan on September 23, 2022. Additionally, she co-authored “Harlem Renaissance: An Interpretation of Racialized Art and Ethics,” a chapter of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Ethics and Art examining what, if anything, is the proper role of race in the aesthetic productions of or about members of racialized populations.

Dr. Mason works actively to improve and free our language and, therefore, our thoughts. In “No Malcolm X in My History Text” (2018), she examines the iterations of the folklore figure Staggerlee, the figure’s relation to the public sphere, and racism. Ultimately, she concludes that Staggerlee persists in the American imagination and is a simultaneously and paradoxically subversive and stereotypical figure, highlighting the pervasiveness of racism and society’s response to racism. In her scholarship, Dr. Mason consistently and unwaveringly works to promote anti-racism through her publications and teaching.

Vist Dr. Mason on YouTube

Episode 112: Arts of Personhood and Shining Eyes

LIVE at Alabama ACDA

“Who am I being that my children’s eyes are not shining?”

Benjamin Zander

This week I had the honor and privilege visiting with ACDA members in Alabama at their state Conference. We must turn the mirror on ourselves to ensure that we are WORTHY to stand in front of our students. After all, we have some level of control over whether or not we are a part of their school. They have almost none. So I say, it’s on ME to make sure that their experience in my class is enriching, engaging and life affirming. In this discussion, we will discuss the importance of the teacher’s “mind, body and spirit” health. We also discuss the concepts of Anti-Fragility, and Cognitive Distortions that lead to unhappiness and professional ineffectiveness, as well as the wisdom of “The First Days of School” by Harry Wong. This is a jam packed hour full of challenges and ideas for you to consider before you begin your school year. The slides for this presentation are available on Patreon.

Chris Munce at Alabama ACDA
Episode 112
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YouTube Version

Ep 111: The Righteous Musician with Reena Esmail

True diversity is the varied life experiences and cultural upbringings that lead us to our widely disparate moral “palettes.” As we gather together in classrooms, ensembles, businesses and organizations we talk a good diversity game. But rarely do we attempt to measure these things in our diversity matrix. This episode is a “Choralosophy Book Club” discussion about a book that gives us the tools to do just that.

Reena Esmail

Reena Esmail returns to the show to discuss the book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Psychologist Jonathan Haidt. If you are interested in how YOUR mind brings you to your decisions about right and wrong, about good and evil and much more, then this book and this conversation is for you. Western philosophy has emphasized reason and logic over emotions for thousands of years. This tendency still prevails, but a growing body of research proves that emotions should no longer be regarded as secondary to logic.

Episode 111

Moral judgments arise from our intuitions because humans are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. In addition, the reasoning that follows our intuitions does not work like a judge, guiding us to sober moral wisdom. It works more like a lawyer, justifying our moral judgments to others and ourselves, supporting our reputation and our self-interest.

If you want to persuade others, appeal to their sentiments.

If you want to win a moral argument, never say “you’re wrong.” You can never win someone over to your principles through purely rational arguments. Instead, if you want to persuade the other person, first of all smile and be a good listener. THIS is being an effective ensemble member, teacher and EVEN the path forward for more effective political activism. But it only works if you are genuinely able to hold the possibility that it could have been YOU that was wrong all along. Or, that there was never a “right” answer to be found anyway.

Discussed at the end of the episode.

Indian-American composer Reena Esmail works between the worlds of Indian and Western classical music, and brings communities together through the creation of equitable musical spaces. 

Esmail’s work has been commissioned by ensembles including the Los Angeles Master Chorale,  Kronos QuartetImani WindsRichmond Symphony, Town Music Seattle,  Albany Symphony, Chicago Sinfonietta,  River Oaks Chamber OrchestraSan Francisco Girls ChorusThe Elora FestivalJuilliard415, and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Upcoming seasons include new work for Seattle SymphonyBaltimore Symphony OrchestraSanta Fe Desert ChoraleAmherst College Choir and OrchestraSanta Fe Pro Musica, and Conspirare.

Esmail is the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 2020-2023 Swan Family Artist in Residence, and Seattle Symphony’s 2020-21 Composer-in-Residence.  Previously, she was named a 2019 United States Artist Fellow in Music, and the 2019 Grand Prize Winner of the S & R Foundation’s Washington Award.  Esmail was also a 2017-18 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow. She was the 2012 Walter Hinrichsen Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (and subsequent publication of a work by C.F. Peters)

Esmail holds degrees in composition from The Juilliard School (BM’05) and the Yale School of Music (MM’11, MMA’14, DMA’18). Her primary teachers have included Susan BottiAaron Jay KernisChristopher Theofanidis and Martin BresnickChristopher Rouse and Samuel Adler. She received a Fulbright-Nehru grant to study Hindustani music in India. Her Hindustani music teachers include Srimati Lakshmi Shankar and Gaurav Mazundar, and she currently studies and collaborates with Saili Oak. Her doctoral thesis, entitled Finding Common Ground: Uniting Practices in Hindustani and Western Art Musicians explores the methods and challenges of the collaborative process between Hindustani musicians and Western composers.

Episode 110: Creating Laboratories for Friction with Mónica Guzmán

Mónica Guzmán

Classrooms have become ground zero for the problem of political polarization. What is being taught, who is teaching it, how it’s being taught, how it is funded, etc. Are we teaching Critical Race Theory, or are we not? Should we be? If the Roe v. Wade case comes up, what is the teacher’s posture? These and many questions have become a toxic political football. The problem of this polarization impacts the classroom in a unique way largely because many people on all sides of political conversations do not want their children caught in the middle. As a result, I believe that teachers are morally bound to model curiosity, radical inclusivity of viewpoints, as well as the respect that most easily comes from “trying on each other’s shoes.”

Sadly though, our politicians, teachers unions and professional organizations don’t model this. We are swimming in almost an entirely politically homogeneous pool within the education profession. The problem is that our students AREN’T. It’s time for us to share the pool. I am joined in this talk by author and journalist, and recent TED Talker Mónica Guzmán to discuss why most of our assumptions about the beliefs of others are probably wrong.

We are so divided, we are blinded. Opening our eyes means being less certain, more courageous, and a LOT more curious about the views we don’t want to see.

Mónica Guzmán

A “laboratory for friction” is a term Mónica uses to describe the ideal classroom in which the educator has made the radically inclusive decision to intentionally create a space in which students are able to learn from each other through open dialogue and the safety to be the only dissenting voice.

Episode 110

Mónica Guzmán, author of “I Never Thought of It That Way,” is a bridge builder, journalist, and entrepreneur who lives for great conversations sparked by curious questions. She’s director of digital and storytelling at Braver Angels, the nation’s largest cross-partisan grassroots organization working to depolarize America; host of live interview series at Crosscut; and cofounder of the award-winning Seattle newsletter The Evergrey. She was a 2019 fellow at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, where she studied social and political division, and a 2016 fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, where she researched how journalists can rethink their roles to better meet the needs of a participatory public. She was named one of the 50 most influential women in Seattle, served twice as a juror for the Pulitzer Prizes, and plays a barbarian named Shadrack in her besties’ Dungeons & Dragons campaign. A Mexican immigrant, Latina, and dual US/Mexico citizen, she lives in Seattle with her husband and two kids and is the proud liberal daughter of conservative parents.

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Two Other Episodes Related to Political Polarization in Education