diversity

White Privilege Resources

During the Rodney King protests in 1992, I didn’t understand how the protest on my campus related to me. I think of numerous times in my teens and 20s when I did not speak up, made biased-filled assumptions or turned a situation that was not about me into a tear-filled response.

In my junior year in college, I began to read about white privilege. A lightbulb went off inside my head, but it seemed more like a checklist item.

Recognize privilege?

Acknowledge privilege now and then?

For far too long, I didn’t connect my privilege to the larger systems of power. Even when I looked critically at how the legal system, immigration law, and academia have been structured to perpetuate racial disparities, I didn’t delve into how my career roles and my whiteness made me complicit in these systems.

I know better now.

In Fall 2015, I taught a class using an article about racial health disparities that I had used successfully in previous years. A student comment led to some tension in the class. I learned that I needed to provide more of a background on structural racism, bias and privilege before asking students to examine health disparities in particular.  I also invited two experienced speakers from the Black Student Alliance to class the following week. One student opened with, “We are all racists.” The room was silent…uncomfortably silent. But, what followed was one of the best discussions I’ve witnessed and led to several productive conversations outside of class.

I’ve been speaking up about diversity and equity issues over the past several years, and I’m always willing to field a question from friends about whether a resource is problematic. Here’s the thing, though. Everything has some bias…all research…all writing…all people…even this site. I see critical thinking as allowing us to recognize and acknowledge biases so we can better analyze and interpret a source. I’ve also found that it helps me to educate myself more before I talk to Roya. I need time to process my thoughts and feelings before I help her navigate hers, while recognizing that there are many systems that benefit me that will marginalize her.

So where to start to learn about white privilege?

Here are some resources that I’ve found useful:

  • What is white privilege? I appreciate how this Cory Collins piece for Teaching Tolerance references the 1988 Peggy McIntosh essay that coined the “white privilege” phrase. Collins also explains the importance distinction and relationship between white privilege, racism and power.
  • In the US, children learn how Abe Lincoln freed the slaves. How do we as adults look beyond the history books? This piece by Dr. Mackubin T. Owens discusses how Black slaves freed themselves and what the Emancipation Proclamation accomplished. There are strong online lists of movies to learn about Black history, but it’s worth recognizing how these films have adapted true stories for Hollywood audiences. If you’re watching these films to learn about the past, I recommend an online search and reading a few critiques first. What’s factually accurate, and what isn’t? Why were these choices made? For an example of a good critique, check out this article about the controversy surrounding The Green Book.

In several classes, I’ve assigned a set group of resources that laid a good foundation for exploring privilege and biases and enhancing discussion:

  • I Don’t Discuss Racism with White People” — I reference this quote by John Metta frequently: The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings. As a white person, I can feel and acknowledge my feelings. But, if I don’t move past my discomfort, then I’m centering myself – and my whiteness – in the conversation.
    • How can those of us who do not identify as Black look for reliable information on our own? How do we know what we don’t know?
    • If we read, watch and learn, what’s next? What does accountability look like?
    • How is this connected to the systems of power we benefit from? What can we do to help change these systems?
  • What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege” by Lori Lakin Hutcherson — White individuals can ask Black friends for help, but it is not the obligation of any Black loved one to do so. In fact, asking individuals from a marginalized group to educate someone who benefits from racist structures of power can be further traumatizing or isolating, as explored in this journal article from Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
  • Park Avenue: Money, Power and The American Dream (PBS 2012) – “As of 2010, the 400 richest Americans controlled more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the populace — 150 million people.” I’ve found this documentary useful to show the connection between power, government and economics in the US. Why is the American Dream an elusive myth? How do current institutions protect the wealthiest few at the expense of the majority?
  • 13th Documentary (Netflix 2016) — “In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.”

If these resources are new to you, then I recommend picking one at a time and not feeling rushed to get through them all at once. In my next post, I’ll focus on talking about white privilege with children.

What resources regarding white privilege have you found to be valuable? Comment below!

Doing Diversity Well at Predominantly-White Schools

In my previous post, I asked whether predominantly-white schools center whiteness in a way that “others” black families. I hear from fellow white parents that their children’s school does diversity well. But, how do we know? How does the school know? Is diversity code for diversity for white people?

Here are my thoughts to help spur conversation and hopefully action:

  1. Definitions: What does diversity mean at your child’s school?
    • Does diversity just refer to race or is it more comprehensive? The National Education Association includes “race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture, religion, mental and physical ability, class, and immigration status” under the dimensions of diversity.
    • Is there a difference between diversity, inclusion and equity (also known as DEI) in practice at your child’s school? Should there be and if so, in what ways?
  2. Strategic Plan: Is there a strategic plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at your child’s school? If not, why not? Should there be? If so, take the time to read it, noting questions or comments.
  3. Benchmarking against Other Schools: What are similar schools doing with respect to DEI? (By similar schools, if your child attends a parochial middle school in a suburb, then other parochial middle schools would be most similar to your child’s school. But, there is a lot to learn from schools that don’t fit the same criteria, too. )
  4. Facilitated Conversations for Educators: Are administrators from your child’s school in conversation with their peers at other schools about DEI? Who facilitates those discussions? (Ideally, there will be opportunities for individuals to learn and not feel judged by their mistakes. But, there also needs to be some outside facilitation to challenge the status quo and provide more objective assessment.)
  5. DEI Work: Who leads or should lead DEI efforts at your child’s school? How should DEI responsibilities be allocated? What are the responsibilities and limitations of a formal position?
    • Is it worth establishing a Task Force or committee to have more people from different roles at the school (staff, teachers, administrators and parents) involved in these efforts?
  6. Benchmarks and Accountability: What are benchmarks that are or should be established? Having a plan is good, but how do you as a parent or school administrator know if that plan is working?
    • Is there a timeline to meet specific goals?
    • How are or should benchmarks be assessed, and by whom? If the assessment is done by someone at the school, are there checks and balances to ensure that this is done well?
    • What does accountability look like?
  7. Buy-In: Is there buy-in for this from administrators, faculty, staff, the board, and the PTA? (Note that these groups are not monolithic. Every person within each of those groups has their own life experiences, knowledge base and interest in DEI. )
    • How much buy-in is needed for these efforts to be successful?
    • How will buy-in be assessed?
    • What support and resources are needed to effectuate a plan or the designated benchmarks? Recognize that support and resources involve time, money and an open mind.
  8. Parent Education: What expectations do parents have for the role that the school will/won’t play in educating their children and parent education?
    • Is it worth setting up a survey (possibly anonymous) to help check the pulse of the community?
    • What programming is of interest for parents, for children and for the whole community? Should the school encourage and provide a space for parent/family education such as a monthly book club? There could also be a secure parent education portal with vetted articles and resources divided by topics (like disability, class, race, gender identity, intersectionality, talking to kids about [X] topics, etc.). This could be a standing and living repository.
    • Are PTA meetings and newsletters accessible to all parents regardless of technological access, visual and hearing impairments, and English-language literacy?
  9. Curriculum: How does the curriculum work with DEI goals? Ideally, the DEI strategic plan and assessments will work with the larger strategic plan and assessments for the school.
    • Love Sees No Color: For some, in-class exercises and books that stress how we’re all the same on the inside are viewed as good thing. But, what is problematic about these exercises? How can DEI be taught in age-appropriate and more realistic ways? How can DEI incorporate discussions of power, agency and oppression?
    • Community service: How can community service, volunteering and service-learning be connected more effectively to DEI and curricular goals? This could be anything from presenting on othering language to discussions about power and wages
      • Can there be a fact sheet or myth busters to connect with community-service assignments? How can the community (parents, students and staff) be educated along with their children? How can service be framed in a way that doesn’t perpetuate othering and the white-savior complex?
    • How can DEI be infused in the curriculum and programming throughout the year (not just MLK Day or Black History Month, and not just related to race)? Why is this important?
  10. Grading Equity: How does your child’s school currently assess grading and feedback? How does/should that assessment factor in bias?
    • Should professional development for administrators and teachers look at bias in grading and feedback (everything from the words we use to describe work by girls over work by boys to evaluating non-native English speakers to racial bias)? In his article in Education Week, Joe Feldman provides the following example: In classrooms taught by white teachers, African-American students are typically rated as poorer “classroom citizens” than their white peers, and thereby are more likely to have a lower grade for those behaviors because of the teacher’s biased perceptions.
  11. Discipline and Opportunities: How does your child’s school approach student discipline and which children have access to certain opportunities (advanced coursework, leadership roles, etc.)?
    • You might wish to go onto Ed.gov’s Civil Rights Data Collection to search for a public school in the US. I find the site easiest to navigate by just searching by zip code and then clicking on the link for a specific school.
    • What are the demographics of the school you chose? What are the rates of AP classes by gender identity, race and ethnicity? What are the rates of school suspensions by gender identity, race and ethnicity? What does this data tell you?
    • If your child’s school is on this list, are these numbers that could/should be improved upon? If so, how and by whom?
    • If your child’s school is not on this list, has the school gathered and analyzed demographic data on disciplinary action and access to gifted classes and leadership roles? If so, what has the data shown, and what are the school’s next steps? If not, is there a plan to do this, and by whom?
    • Whether or not your child’s school is on this list, what are the school’s objectives related to this item?
    • Does your school utilize healing circles or restorative justice practices?
  12. School Demographics and Retention: What is the school’s demographic breakdown in terms of student body, teachers, staff, and administrators? Are those percentages similar or different from comparable schools? Have these percentages been stagnant?
    • Is the school retaining teachers, staff and students of color?
    • Is the school promoting and hiring teachers and staff of color for administrator roles?
    • Are administrators and staff trained to prevent or reduce bias in student admissions, hiring and promotion decisions?
    • Are there exit interviews when families and school employees leave the school?
  13. Bias Reporting: Is there a clear procedure for reporting bias concerns? Are these procedures the same or different for students and school employees, and why? Who handles bias concerns? Are school employees required to report bias concerns to someone in their chain of command? How are bias concerns addressed?

Again, my hope in writing this post was to start a dialogue. What did I miss? What are your thoughts? What are schools (without naming them) doing well?