White People Tell White People About Privilege, And That’s OK [Patrick, Chris, and Gretel] #educolor

Jose 3 Comments

First, I’ve always maintained that this site is a safe space to hash out issues of race and class for anyone willing to listen and learn. Even if people don’t come out of this site with the same exact understandings, I like to think we can agree without being disagreeable. In other words, let’s not troll.

Check some of these comments out featuring smart folks:

When Jose says “I can’t help but feel odd about the outrage about this.. ” I know something of what he’s saying. My kids are in NYC public schools and I sit on our (fake) school board and am constantly reminded of how badly parents are treated here by those who purport to be saving our schools. Duncan’s comments pale in comparison to the derision Bloomberg has directed at public school parents. Few in the suburbs cared much about our fate.

Of course, within NYC there’s the divide between schools serving middle class and working class/poor families. Take the cell phone ban. It’s total in schools with metal detectors yet goes virtually unenforced in many schools. DOE random scanning operations stopped after raids on the Upper West Side and Flushing drew bad media coverage.

So I see Jose is just saying what needs to be said. All things considered. He’s being exceedingly polite about it.

I’m following Duncan’s war on white suburban moms and the outrage over the common core testing rollout with great interest. Maybe when everyone else gets treated like urban parents we’ll have enough critical mass to finally push back.

- Patrick J Sullivan, PEP member

…And even when there are more authentic, probing, honest conversations about diversity and privilege in many of our schools–beyond the scope of policy, and entering the territory of pedagogy and practice–many folks’ concerns as teachers and leaders, as parents and children, as people of color and white folks, remain relegated to some ‘value added’ territory of affective, environmental, or ‘cultural’ conditions which are understood as secondary to the ‘real’ business of learning.

Many folks continue to view ‘diversity’ as a matter having primarily to do with ‘cultural sensitivity’ (which implies that a normative, primarily white constituency, should be sympathetic to the ‘plight’ of people of color. That’s not it.). When do we shift our collective conversation to one about cultural competency at the core of the learning experience itself–every bit as critical, and inextricably intertwined with, those ‘twenty-first century skills’ we can all list off on 4, 5, or 6 fingers. . . Can we foster an understanding that ‘diversity’ isn’t only about ‘representation,’ ‘fairness,’ or ‘community’ to which learning and teaching are tethered–but that cross-cultural competency is essential for all children to collaborate, to create, to think critically, to communicate, to solve problems, and to learn to function in a democracy?

- Christopher Thinnes

So… thinking about what I meant and reflecting on some of the other comments that have been made on here since, I think I can unpack some of the “solving something for yourself” that some white folks are doing.

When I first visited New Orleans, (a lot of years ago, and long before I was a teacher) somebody made a comment about “yankees” and then looked at me and said, “no offense”. And I had a weird moment, where I thought, “Oh, right. I guess I am a Yankee.” Similarly, when I was first in the classroom, my students would make comments about “white people” and look at me and say “no offense” and I would startle a bit because I didn’t consider myself one of THOSE white people.

And I think one of the most insidious characteristics of white privilege is how you can not think about your race when you’re white. I walk around and I’m a person, not a white person. That makes the race conversations seem optional. And I think a lot of the folks who talk about not talking about it so much because it’s too stressful or uncomfortable… that makes sense if it’s optional.

One of the things I’ve learned through teaching a bunch of non-white kids and having my own little brown baby is that race isn’t optional for them. It’s not optional and they are not just made uncomfortable by racism, they are disenfranchised and even endangered. (Ranisha McBride comes to mind as my step-son turns 16 in Michigan and gets his license.)

So when I say they’ve “solved it for themselves,” I guess what I mean is that they don’t talk about it. They don’t make overtly racist remarks most of the time, and then they don’t have to worry about it, because it doesn’t come up. And those of us who don’t think of it as optional keep trying to start the conversation.

- Gretel

Loved ending with Gretel’s comment, because it’s so right on.

Jose

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 3

  1. chris thinnes

    Thanks Jose for seeding and fertilizing these great discussions! Honored by the repost. Highly recommend that folks scroll through the full thread of honest, vulnerable, and brave comments, questions, and exchanges from which you pulled it, in case they missed it, at http://ow.ly/r6ybX

    Chris
    @CurtisCFEE

  2. Michael Kaechele

    “And I think one of the most insidious characteristics of white privilege is how you can not think about your race when you’re white. I walk around and I’m a person, not a white person. That makes the race conversations seem optional. And I think a lot of the folks who talk about not talking about it so much because it’s too stressful or uncomfortable… that makes sense if it’s optional.”

    Gretel’s example really has me thinking. I have tried somewhat unsuccessfully in my mind to address white privilege with my students. It is very hard for people so young without much life experience to see something so invisible to themselves. I feel like this does articulate it in a way that could open a discussion.

    The problem also is that my non-white students (not surprisingly) are usually silent in these conversations. I understand that they don’t want to be the token representative of their race or ethnicity on the one hand, but on the other hand I know the power of a personal story on students from among their friends. High school is such a confusing time for students and many don’t have the confidence to share personal things publicly. But in the moments when students have shared honestly powerful conversations have happened.

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