Racial Inequity in Textbooks was the focus of three guest speakers Wednesday on the Madison College Campus.
“Illustrating inequalities, unmasking biases: dual exploration of textbook representation in education” is the first in the Madison College Racial Equity series. Wednesday’s speakers included Chidiebere Ibe, Dr. Cystasany Turner and Dr. Michele Turner, and focused on textbooks used to teach medical students and early childhood educators.
Ibe went viral in 2021 for his illustration of a black fetus in the womb, highlighting the fact that fetuses are drawn almost exclusively as white in medical textbooks. His talk expanded on these ideas, as well as diving into his biography.
As a young man in Nigeria, he was inspired to become a doctor due to the death of his mother from ovarian cancer, and spent 10 years attempting to enter medical school before finally doing so in 2021.
His talk included the story behind some of his illustrations, all of which included dark-skinned subjects that wouldn’t normally be included in medical illustrations. He mentioned that the lack of diversity in the textbooks can lead to the misdiagnosis and mistreatment of dark skinned people for a host of diseases including sickle cell, malaria, PCOS, endometriosis and tourette syndrome.
The story behind his endometriosis illustration was particularly striking. The illustration depicts a pregnant black woman, and she is smiling. Ibe explained that this is because the most common treatment offered to black women with Endometriosis is a full hysterectomy. He said that he wanted his illustration to give those facing the disease “hope” for the future.
Ibe mentioned that in response to his illustrations people have asked if it’s possible for black people to have the diseases he depicts. “Of course it is,” He said.
His work aims to diversify the illustrations and make them accessible to those in the medical field. With that in mind, he has published his own book, “Beyond Skin: Why Representation Matters in Medicine,” and his work will soon be made available in a free online database sponsored by Johnson and Johnson.
The main consequence of non-diverse illustration, Ibe said, was viewing white patients as the only “norm” and comparing patients of color to white patients as if they are opposite ends of the spectrum to one another.
This sentiment was something that carried over into the second session, a discussion interrogating white supremacy in teacher education textbooks by mother-daughter duo Dr. Michelle Turner and Dr. Crystansany Turner.
Their presentation focused on instances of bias — cultural, economic and racial — throughout textbooks viewed as the foundation for early childhood educators. They talked about the dangers of situating white, christian, heteronormative values as the norm, and putting white children as the automatic “opposite” to black children.
At the beginning of their presentation they identified six areas of bias including assumption of privilege and coded language, then continued to provide examples of each from the three main textbooks.
The evidence they found was startling. One book noted that the purported “Black male achievement gap” could easily be solved by working with families to “eliminate chaotic home lives.”
Another one noted that “low income children may live with grandmothers,” then continued to attribute that environment to unhealthy eating patterns developed by small children. It continued to say that the grandmothers. “Promote eating patterns that in other times & places, may have protected against starvation.” This language manages to demonize low income families, non traditional family structures, and xenophobia, and these kinds of coded and obvious messages can be found throughout these textbooks.
As for why they chose to focus on this issue, the reason, much like Ibe’s, is personal. “I want my grandchildren to be taught with an unbiased foundation,” Dr. Michele Turner said.