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Introduction to Critical Race Studies in Physical Education

This is an excerpt from Critical Race Studies in Physical Education by Tara B. Blackshear & Brian Culp.

Extensive literature searches on Black youth in physical education result in zero texts. In other words, Black youth are not meaningfully represented in health and physical education. Black children are narrowly limited to two extremes, fostering polarized stereotypical narratives of athletically gifted or fat and inactive. As Black scholars, we are committed to equity, social justice, and anti-racist education with intentions to foster cultural awareness and competencies among physical education (PE) faculty and teacher candidates. The intentional focus on culturally relevant topics must occur to aid in moving transformative racial justice in education forward. Our in-boxes are flooded with requests to provide resources toward the betterment of Black lives in physical education. Hence, it is our duty to answer these calls for equity and social justice. Critical Race Studies in Physical Education centers Black youth and the complexities of Black culture into the conversation.

Amid the continued dehumanization of Blackness in American communities, Black Lives Matter and related movements have incited a renewed focus on the inequities and social injustices Black people encounter in all facets of society. Schools are no exception, because these sites are places where youth spend a large amount of time navigating attitudes, curriculum requirements, extracurricular activities, and social interactions. While the national and international dialogue for Black lives has gained traction, the attention to Black lives in physical education is still perilously and noticeably silent. Consequently, we created this text to elevate Black youth and to normalize positive experiences for Black students in physical education. This text has three aims:

  1. To amplify critical issues that negatively affect Black people
  2. To address the litany of intentional and covert racist practices directed toward Black youth
  3. To provide culturally aware teaching strategies that affirm the worth of Black students

The primary audience for this book is preservice teachers and their instructors in physical education teacher education (PETE) programs who do not yet know how to accomplish the task of teaching for the success of Black students. Preservice teachers must be trained to identify and support pupils’ diverse learning needs. This helps teachers identify and address barriers to learning and encourages linkages between the home and the school. Student teachers in university programs need information that will help them reflect and challenge biases as they explore notions of diversity, human dignity, social justice, and democratic citizenship for Black youth. PETE instructors need content that will help future teachers make connections while challenging misconceptions on teaching Black youth. Additionally, we feel that these teachers need to consider their actions in challenging situations and reflect on how they can begin their journey to become allies who take an active role in sustaining Black youths’ lives.

Complementing Blackshear and Culp’s (2021) transformative PETE standards developed to advance racial equity and social justice in physical education, eight case studies are presented to help reshape PETE programming with immediate implementation opportunities. Each case study includes background or contextual factors that help the reader understand the main characters and the presenting racial problem or problems. All the case studies are inspired by real events, but we changed the names of the people involved. We hope this will better allow the studies to serve as examples to prepare teachers to deal with similar situations in their own careers, rather than focus on specific individuals from the past. Although there is a dominant issue, several elements underpin each case study; they are designed to encourage robust dialogue among students and faculty and highlight the complexities of Black people’s educational experiences. Each case study addresses the effects of anti-Black institutional policies and legislation (e.g., slavery, Jim Crow) related to schooling that have undermined the liberation of Black youth.