When I started writing this post, I found myself focusing on explaining the concept of privilege — and particularly white privilege. I feel led, however, to just write from the heart rather than by the book. If you want to read about white privilege prior to reading the rest of this post, there are some great resources here, here, and here.
When you’re finished reading, please go and read what Tamara, from Mrs. Russell’s Room, has to say about discussing race. I’m thrilled to be partnering with her to start a dialogue on this important issue.
I’m white. I say this first because while it’s an obvious fact if you’re staring at my smiling face on the sidebar of my blog, it’s important to emphasize that I am writing this post as a white woman.
I’m writing this post as a white woman charged with educating primarily children of color.
I make that distinction because it’s a distinction I have to be aware of each day. While I do share some common experiences with the children I teach — living with extended family members like grandparents, for example — I cannot directly relate to their experiences of being a racial minority. I cannot understand what it is like to lack the societal, economic, and cultural privileges attached to being white.
As educators, I firmly believe we have a responsibility to talk about all manner of privilege in our communities — socioeconomic, ability, gender, language, and yes, racial privilege. We have to know how to advance our community, and to do that, we have to acknowledge the barriers that may exist. In order to fight for equity, we have to know what it is that we’re up against.
Because it is we not them. As we love our students, their families, our colleagues, and neighbors — and want the best for them — we have to see their success and place in this world as our own.
So how do we talk about privilege? How do we talk about race?
I know firsthand how uncomfortable it can be to enter into these conversations with our colleagues and peers. I know that it can often feel, as a white educator, that we have no business engaging in conversations about this. I hear that, all too often, whether for reasons of not wanting to offend or genuinely thinking it’s not our problem.
It is our problem. It’s our responsibility to be uncomfortable so that we can learn and grow. So that we can be an ally. Love thy neighbor enough to experience that discomfort and thrive in it.
So what CAN you do?
1. Check your judgments and reflect. When you find yourself making a judgment about a student, their family, or colleague, stop. Ask yourself — “What is this judgment rooted in? How did I get from point A to point Z?” The answer may be your own prior experiences, it may be what you’ve seen or heard from the experiences or others, or it may be prejudice. Whatever it is, ask yourself — “Is this really true about this person? Do I know this to be fact? What is the benefit to me believing this?”
Where our own thoughts are coming from color our worldview. We can’t begin to make a difference and be a positive force in our community for equity if we are not first looking for the answers at home in our own hearts and minds.
2. Before anything else, LISTEN. When you’re engaged in a conversation about privilege with someone, listen far more than you speak. Actively listen and consider their perspective, even if it varies widely from your own. Listen as if your life depends on it because theirs may.
Everything isn’t about you. We can’t begin to understand how privilege works in our world and how it impacts our students if we do not truly listen when others reach out to help us understand. Listen, especially when it comes from a place of anger because behind that anger is a world of hurt that we have a responsibility to honor.
3. Affirm. Be an ally. When you’re engaged in that likely uncomfortable conversation, use the words “I hear you. I’m listening and thinking.” more than any others. Mean them. Before you ask questions or share your perspective, consider what has been said. Think about what you want to convey.
It’s okay to take your time. You don’t have to say anything just to say something. If you aren’t sure what to say because you need more time to consider your position or reflect, say so. Validate the feelings and perspective that’s been expressed to you. Ask for feedback — “What can I do?” — and use it.
The discomfort I feel talking about race, socioeconomic, ability, male, and language privilege is necessary. The world does not seek to make me comfortable, and to feel uncomfortable is to grow. I ask my students, day-in, day-out to do hard work. I, too, must do the hard work to brick by brick take down the wall that impedes them — that impedes their family, that impedes some of my colleagues. Love thy neighbor enough to seek out that discomfort.