Confronting White Privilege

Image courtesy of EliasSchewel via Creative Commons.
When I was in school, we never talked about race or privilege.

Even the fact that more than 20% of our fellow students were Latino didn't spark any conversation about such topics. When I was in college, I had the same experience. In fact, even though I grew more aware of discrimination and inequality as I got older, I think the first time it was addressed in a class was not until my studies in humane education -- after 2.5 bachelor's degrees and a graduate degree. Even after being a classroom teacher myself. Since I hadn't been taught to discuss or explore issues of race and privilege, it never occurred to me to do so in my first years as an educator.

Privilege is one of the elephants in the room that rarely gets more than cursory attention in our schools. But it is so integral to how our society views and treats certain populations, that it's essential to explore.

In a recent article in Teaching Tolerance magazine, professor Katy Stallwell addresses the importance of  "Confronting White Privilege." As she says:

"For teachers working within homogeneous groups privileged by race and class, providing a critical multicultural education is of tremendous importance. A robust, diverse democracy depends not on self-interested, uncritical kids, but on young people who are willing to step outside of their comfort zones. To do that, students must understand how race and class influence their lives and want to work to make the world a better place."

Stallwell shares two case studies from her research on bringing issues of privilege into homogeneous classrooms of privilege. Her examples show that even the best intentioned efforts can fall short.

At the end of one class on urban history, taught in a suburban school, students were left feeling confused and without a deeper understanding of the issues and solutions. As Stallwell says, "By the end of the semester, the majority of the students advocated charity over addressing root problems. While presenting the world as either 'inside' or 'outside' the bubble ('Us' and 'Them') may fit the way these students view the suburbs, it does little to challenge how such ideas can limit their critical thinking.

In another classroom, while students may have had a better understanding intellectually, many of them were left without a deeper sense of empathy and connection for those lacking privilege.

Read the complete article.

Despite the challenges of introducing these tough topics, it's vital that we do so. For some additional ideas, check out these resources for teaching about white privilege.

~ Marsha

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