Excuse Me, Your Privilege Is Showing (White Privilege in Ed Reform)


It always starts when someone brings up a point about race within your “own” ranks.

Whatever that means.

I’m OK with taking on the role as education’s Race Man, but the more I write about it, the more prevalent these discussions become. It’s almost as if people are waiting for [insert name of favorite White leader / blogger / activist / ed professor] to come in and tell you what you need to hear instead of listening to the concerned citizens of color right next to you, so let me come out and say this: this ride has many seats, so if you fall into the following, sit in all of them at once.

People within education reform ostensibly fall into three rails: the education reformers, the neo-lib-conservative conglomerate that calls themselves education reformers, and the maker-spacers / ed-techers who don’t want to get too involved with the politics because it’s so yucky-ucky-ucky. In all cases, everyone’s in agreement that these reforms and laws aren’t about rich students, but poor students. The dialogue always goes rich-poor-rich-poor when in reality, we also mean “richwhite-poorblack-richwhite-poorblack.” Most of us get that even when some of my White brethren have a hard time saying Black and use African-American instead. (It’s cool, but I’m not African American. I’m Black. See?)

What I and so many of us also see is that race also works as a sort of shield for people whenever they want to take a higher moral position on things, yet these aforementioned rails don’t want to tackle racism (and sexism and classism) within their own ranks.

How often do we put race as a corner discussion? How often does a White person need to speak up whenever there’s a lack of diversity before a person gets it? How often does a person only get it when the blame isn’t on them or when a Black person pats them on the head and says “It’ll be OK?” How often can you count on the leaders of your movement to be anything other than White?

That’s why when people say, “Oh, talking about white privilege is divisive,” I’m quick to point out that white privilege itself is divisive, and the more you treat us as if we should just shut up and fall in line with whatever the leader says, the more we’re inclined to step away even if we agree with the leadership’s politics.

If you’re an educator on any level, you can’t escape out of the race discussion either. How do you discuss school without discussing who attends, who teaches them, who they learn about and who funds their schooling? How do you discuss school without looking at your colleagues and comparing them to the make-up of the student body? How do you discuss school without struggling to sift through the pertinent angst all people of color feel in a set of reforms that’s specifically meant for children of color?

This discussion merits depth and honesty, and it shouldn’t just find a home in my blog. I’m fortunate I have an audience for these thoughts. What of my other thousands of colleagues who don’t? You better listen.