By Marion Dear
Themes from the White Privilege Conference in Philly 2016
- White privilege defines “normal” as white (and Christian, of European heritage, and heterosexual). White privilege marginalizes the many people and students who do not fit these categories.
- White privilege also damages whites with an inflated view of their ability.
- Many whites were raised to be “color blind” meaning that it was impolite to talk about race. The subject created discomfort. Currently, there is a belief that whites especially need to break this code of silence to become “racially literate.” This pulls people and students of color into our community from the margins. Racial literacy makes us whole.
Applying what I learned.
Here is an example lesson on racial identity scheduled during our 5th grade Olweus anti-bullying Class Meeting. It comes from a workshop called: Combating White Privilege in the Classroom, from Meadowbrook School outside Boston, with teachers Jenna Handler-Ward and Alethea White.
Underlying Question: What practice embodies bullying more than institutionalized racism? Dismantling white privilege shuts down bullying based on race.
Concept – When whites acknowledge their own racial identity, they stop the assumption that being white is “normal”. It is the first step to bringing in people of color from the margins of our lives and curriculum.
- First we unpacked the term “Euro-centric” to describe how history is told in the United States. White privilege means seeing the world and our place in it through the lense of European white descendents. This perspective marginalizes people of color and gives us a skewed view of history.
- Our identity wheel included some lofty terms such as religious affiliation, sexual orientation, national origin, and socio-economic status. In retrospect, I think the current fifth graders were eager to use and understand such sophisticated concepts. I shared with the class how I self identify using the wheel.
- As a class, we looked at our Drum Dream Girl from Lower School’s One Story Week. In Cuba, she was marginalized when people told her she could not drum because of her gender. In her story, she pushed back into the mainstream and became an accomplished female drummer. She took ownership of her identity, with support from her father and a teacher.
- After these warm ups, each student filled in his or her identity wheel to self identify individually. As students shared these identity elements in small groups, they were mindful of which elements were easy to share and which made them uncomfortable. We discussed as a group the issue of our comfort level. This is the beginning of pulling people back in from the margins and admitting that everything we see is through a certain lense based on our race, heritage, socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc. Acknowledging the lense that is considered “normal” validates the variety of lenses, views, and experiences that are less common, yet quite important.
This activity was a step in each eleven year old’s journey to define themselves, and to do so in a way that includes everyone to make our community whole. I am delighted to be on this important journey with my students.