Teaching White Privilege in Education: Is it Important?

23 Jan

The other day, I came across a tweet about a Wisconsin school being investigated for teaching white privilege. Apparently, a parent at this particular school became very upset after reading the content of a course her son was taking titled “American Diversity.” The mother felt the curriculum was being used to teach white students that they are racist and oppressive. She also felt the lesson on white privilege made her son feel unearned guilt for being white.

I can’t speak to how the material was presented or what the exact lesson plans were, but my takeaway is simple: kids aren’t the only ones who need these lesson—adults do, too.

I went to a diverse high school in Seattle, but I had no idea what white privilege was back then. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college when I took a class called “The African-American Experience” that something clicked for me. A lot of little things I had experienced in high school started to make sense. Like why most of the people in my honors class were white. Or why our school didn’t get funding like most other schools in the area. Or why people stared at my volleyball team when we travelled to games out of Seattle city limits (the team was mostly students of Color).

A switch had been turned on for me, and it’s like Alice Hoffman once said: Once you know some things, you can’t unknow them. It’s a burden that can never be given away.

I did feel burdened. I felt guilty. I felt angry. I felt a lot of bad feelings about what it meant for me to be white. But then I got fired up. I read books I would have never read before, I watched documentaries, joined anti-racist organizations, and started asking more questions.

I started looking at the world through a different lens.

I stopped feeling guilty and started feeling responsible to transform myself and the world around me.

That class changed me. It opened my eyes and pushed me to be introspective. It didn’t happen overnight, but the seed had been planted. I was 20 years old when I took that college course, and I wish someone had taught it to me earlier.

As a parent, I don’t want my daughter to hurt and I don’t want guilt to consume her—but I also don’t value my child’s comfort over another child’s sense of value.

I hope the students in that Wisconsin classroom can move past feeling guilty and oppressive and begin to be change agents in their lives and communities. I hope their parents can start to feel that way, too.

Here’s the article, “School under fire for class that teaches white people are oppressors.”

What do you think about teaching whiteness in curriculum?

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140 Responses to “Teaching White Privilege in Education: Is it Important?”

  1. The Offbeat Oddity January 26, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    Reblogged this on The Offbeat Oddity and commented:
    This makes me think an awful lot about what there is to come as a future teacher. This is a good read, and it encourages you to think more about multicultural education.

  2. Rachennial January 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    Interesting! I grew up in a very diverse place, and so grew up pretty self aware of what ‘white privilege’ means, and its definitely not just money. I’ve noticed that white kids on both ends of the spectrum politically are guilty of being unaware of ‘white privilege’.

  3. midnighthues January 26, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    When education is myopic, you will read and write
    When education is “diverse” you will examine, think and assimilate…
    now the answer lies in which education you want to get. ….
    Lovely post! Thanks!

  4. alixnm January 26, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    I spent my high school years in a little town in Wisconsin. There is very little diversity there if you aren’t in the heart of the few big cities that exist there. I also had a teacher that was very liberal and adamant about teaching us about diversity, culture and the “white privilege.” I did feel the guilt for a while but it is very inspirational for some to want to make a change in the world. It is a little rough at first but children need to have that learning experience, the pain of the past, in order to better their future. Great topic!

  5. The Life Mosaic January 26, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    I appreciate the story of your personal experience to help give us context for where you’re at. It can be difficult to reconcile one’s privilege. In a way, we are not culpable but responsible. When I first read the article, I thought for sure this would be in Milwaukee given its history of addressing race and culture in school, but it’s not, it’s in a much smaller city southwest of it and Madison.

  6. shunpwrites January 26, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    A thoughtful and needed posting on a oft neglected topic, kudo’s to you!

  7. entitledmillennial January 26, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    Teaching privilege is incredibly important in any context. White privilege, male privilege, American privilege, class privilege. They are all topics that we like to ignore because they point out something about ourselves or our background that is not so appealing.

    Recognizing privilege also shatters the notion that we alone are the stewards of our own destiny and that our individual stations in life are the sole product of how much or how litte effort we’ve put in.

    • White Mom January 27, 2013 at 12:28 am #

      I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Jessica January 27, 2013 at 12:06 am #

    I couldn’t agree with this more! I spent the last three years teaching in Asia. It’s funny, because over there people like “whites.” They whiten their skin and generally venerate many things about Western culture. It’s like they too have bought into the idea that whites are privileged. That whites are better. Ugh. There is nothing worse. I feel strongly that it should be taught everywhere that all people are equal and should be treated equally. I agree with the above comment: ” Recognizing privilege shatters the idea that we are stewards of our own destiny…” As an American, I still believe in that dream, even if it surely is a more difficult road to “success” for some people than it is for others.

  9. wearywanderer64 January 27, 2013 at 2:44 am #

    I’d say it was less to do with white privilege and more to do with middle-upper class priviege. I live and have lived in diverse places and the rich (insert nationality) don’t mix with their same nationality, but rather with those in the same economic class. Just as you wouldn’t see Oprah sharing a McDonalds with a factory worker, you also wouldn’t see Mitt Romney having a beer with a factory worker. So I’d say it was class privilege more than anything as many white people I know have been as disadvantaged in life as non-whites or non-natives. And thanks to family connections (bush’s) in the upper echeleons of society, most people are kept out of those circles whether they are black or white.

  10. tlhumphries January 27, 2013 at 5:46 am #

    I am so glad I stumbled across your blog! I saw the title and thought it might reflect the polar opposite of your position and was hesitant to click on it. But curiosity won out and I am so glad! Thank you for sharing your insight and experience. You make some excellent points!

    • White Mom January 27, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

      I’m glad you checked in! Thank you for visiting!

  11. thuriayaa January 27, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    I liked the post, this is the sad reality.

    This is the same is done to the Muslims in the US now. I work as a substitute paraprofessional for NYC DOE in public schools, i am a muslim face veiled woman (have been regular since 2009 summer), i graduated from high school in brooklyn, study in a CUNY college, i have finger print done, i never had any bad records in my life

    but it hurts me a lot, the moment i enter the school everyone look at me like i am the criminal, they are so scared, all those looks, a lady once said it sitting behind me, [Allah’s (God’s) aid is sought), they become so concerned for their security.

    the more i see the more if feel, how dumb they could be to be scared of me, I AM BUT A SINGLE WOMAN and they are full of school, who should be more scared? me (one who is all alone) or them (full of school)??!!!

    you know what’s more shocking, the schools that have more Muslims, and they see women with all coverings, they seem to be more scared of me!!!!??? i mean how does it make sense, you see muslims all day long, why are you so scared.

    i am really friendly and easy going but such discriminations just makes me a mute, so unless people talk to me, i am just on my own, keep quiet, finish the day, leave that’s it, i just need money for my survival, rest is forgotten. at least i got the job without discriminations. Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah/God).

    i wish people learn about Islam and Muslims more and become more open hearted, just as they learned to tolerate colored people (although still it is out there in the discriminations list). Some day this US people will learn Muslims are free of what they accuse them of, Alhamdulillah. future is ahead. Just as a black man is the president of US.

    • White Mom January 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

      Thank you so much for commenting. Sadly people are afraid of what they don’t know. I worked with a group of girls and their parents from Somalia this last Spring and I learned so much about their religion and culture that I didn’t know. It was really eye opening to me how little I know about the Muslim religion and culture. I am really interesting in learning more. I hope you keep reading and sharing your experiences here. Thank you!

      • thuriayaa January 27, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

        Thank you “white mom.” honestly, i am pleased and happy to meet such a nice person like you.

        I will do so. sincerely, Nasrin.

  12. Melissa Barlow (@mcbarlow36) January 27, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    I agree that there is “white” privilege, as well as privilege for those who are wealthy. Although it doesn’t fall under the topic of your post, I also feel, however, that affirmative action, if it is going to exist, should be based on economics as well as race. Interesting post!

  13. wadingacross January 27, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    I grew up in south Louisiana and went to a public high school with a substantial or majority percentage of students who were black – I’m white. I never felt privileged and even after learning about the realities of history vis-a-vis how minorities in the west and the US have been treated, I’ve never felt guilty or ashamed. My best friend in high school was black and I was even smitten with a couple of black female classmates. But I do find these privilege classes and progressive/liberal views on whites to be a lot of self loathing and flagellation. Perhaps that’s why liberals don’t see anything wrong with affirmative action while conservatives see it for what it has become, reverse racism with no demands on merit.

    • White Mom January 27, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

      I have to be honest that I’m really sick the conservative/liberal banter. I don’t hate myself- I’m not trying to beat myself with my white stick. But thank you for telling me so. This probably isn’t the blog for you.

      Here’s a video from a white man about affirmative action- maybe he says it in a way that makes sense to you.

  14. hiberniangypsy January 27, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    I grew up in apartheid South Africa where education had a very different slant. Louis Althusser was right when he described schools as ideological state institutions. Schools definitely have a role in shaping the way we think as adults. Ironically, it was not until I went to a private school that I was exposed to a different curriculum that I began to realise what a mess our country was in.

  15. travels with mary January 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Reblogged this on travels with mary and commented:
    This is an interesting thought on teaching white privilege– “As a parent, I don’t want my daughter to hurt and I don’t want guilt to consume her—but I also don’t value my child’s comfort over another child’s sense of value”– White Mom Blog hit the nail on the head!

  16. wmabel217 January 27, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing. As an African-American that grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods, attending predominantly white schools, I can now appreciate the lengths my parents went to keep my perspective balanced. My father was a chaplain at the county hospital, and I was able to see first hand, not only the sick, but the poor of all colors. Those experiences kept me grounded and allowed me to become the person that I am today. One who works very hard at making sure that I treat everyone that comes in my circle, no matter how brief the time, are welcomed and appreciated…

  17. ianamclennan January 27, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    I was intrigued your blog and have written a post in response. It’s a subject that will interest my readers but I’d love to hear your thoughts as well

    http://mycitymusings.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/white-privilege-and-historical-methodology/

  18. Phoenix January 27, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    Great blog post. I grew up in Stockton California and my friends were predominately people of color, especially asian-americans and african-americans. I definitely value the experience of growing up in a multi-cultural environment. I can’t imagine anything different and wouldn’t want it any other way.

  19. supremeconcepts January 27, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    Thanks for sharing, If Guilt has to be ridden, The superiority complex which is at the other end of polarity also has to be ridden. The sure way to feel balanced and content is to realize our true identity,transcending all polarities

  20. fojap January 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    A blog post about the same subject caused me to write a post about it as well. I, too, went to a school with an integrated population. I don’t think I ever went through a phase of feeling guilty. If I did, it was too short to recall. I don’t think the concept of privilege is supposed to be about feeling guilty. That’s a misconception made by people who don’t really understand it.

    Very good post, by the way.

  21. lisaloveforever January 27, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    Reblogged this on green slimming base and commented:
    Children’s new day.

  22. judybatson January 27, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    Reblogged this on judybatson.

  23. Kreon Led Lighting January 27, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    Nice post. I would like to say that your blog looks quite interesting. I will bring me back here again and again.

  24. jsharvan January 28, 2013 at 3:37 am #

    Teaching privilege is incredibly important in any context. White privilege, male privilege, American privilege, class privilege. They are all topics that we like to ignore because they point out something about ourselves or our background that is not so appealing.

    Recognizing privilege also shatters the notion that we alone are the stewards of our own destiny and that our individual stations in life are the sole product of how much or how litte effort we’ve put in.

  25. Pastry Artist Kay January 28, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    I attended a Roman Catholic all girls high school primarily Italians and Irish. I’ve seen it all! You could count the Latin and AA girls on one hand. It wasn’t until Black History Month that I bear witnessed to white privilege. The students wrote on our posters “nigg#$S go home”! And, it wasn’t until I got to college that I realized my Guidance Counselor didn’t educate me on the resources available to me in college. I had no idea about financial aid as I paid for my first and second year tuition out of my pocket from my trust fund from a car accident. It exists and it should be taught more on a junior or high school level. Let’s no subject children to it.

  26. karenspath January 28, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    Interesting…. I confess that I never felt the burden of “white privilege” growwing up. As a child in grade school (the lowest income school, I might add) some of my closest friends were black or brown. In high school my immediate group of friends that I identified with where so diverse that only our personalities and intellectual pursuits could have pulled us together. As far as I knew not not of us cared about the color of the others.

    I believe I have suffered more from “white expectation” as an adult. I married a man from Guatemala and lived there for three years. Before people knew me they automatically assumed I was rich, although, to be strictly honest, I haven’t ever been able to decide if it was my skin color or the fact that I came from the United States. People in our neighborhood sent beggars to my house because I was a gringa and I could help.

    My husband and I are very open about race with our “Beige” children. Color of your skin should never ever be the ONE identifying factor of a person because we are so much more than skin. Black, Brown, White, Creamy, Red, or whatever color you describe yourself as, I hope you don’t think that defines who you are or what you will become.

    • White Mom January 28, 2013 at 9:55 am #

      I don’t define myself in a singular way. Thank you for your comment.

      • karenspath January 28, 2013 at 10:07 am #

        Whoops, that last sentence didn’t mean you personally. I meant “you” in the much broader sense of the word, as in people in general.

  27. Vitality2day January 28, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    What a great and important post!! Thank you!

  28. anbrooks2013 January 28, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    I am an African American female and I felt lukewarm about this post. We are still seeing segregation today. It is through our school systems. Inner City schools are the worst and the Suburban area is the best. Condolezza Rice had a speech on this and it made sense. The only way we can solve this race issue and education is through integration.

    • White Mom January 28, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

      I agree, Seattle in itself is a very segregated city. I’m curious what you read in my post that makes you think I want more separation? Far from it.

      • anbrooks2013 January 28, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

        I’d don’t think you want separation at all. Quite the contrary. I believe you are very freaked out about why we still have racism in America. Thats Good, I want white people and everybody to talk about. You should not be afraid to talk about it. I think as African Americans we tend to put the fear in other races to question us. You doing this blog, I think is a good idea. But stop feeling guilty of what your ancestors did. You were not even born.

      • White Mom January 28, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

        I don’t feel guilty- that’s sort of the point of my post. Feeling guilty doesn’t do anything for anyone. My ancestors didn’t even come to this country until the 1950’s even- so you’re right and I wasn’t even born then either. I think what freaks me out- is how systemic racism is. Thanks for the comment.

  29. theincessantbitchingblog January 28, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Race Is A SOCIAL Construct

    I don’t think I’ll be having the “white privilege” conversation with my daughter. I don’t want to perpetuate the mentality behind this shallow notion—socioeconomic status, a major source of inequality, needs to be the determining factor where “privilege” is concerned. Shouldn’t we be addressing social issues as social issues, not as racial ones? To focus on race is to add fuel to the fire. Racial separatism will never cease to exist if we continue to brand society based on skin pigmentation—the “most obvious phenotype that distinguishes members of our species.” We must dispel the very notion of race in its entirety. STOP identifying, categorizing, surveying, including, and precluding on the basis of race.

    The government offers programs that further emphasize the social/economic gaps, like Affirmative Action, Minority Telecommunications Development Program, or Federal preference programs that assist individuals solely based upon race, ethnicity and gender. These programs, despite being beneficial to the targeted group, do not truly lead to social progress, but deepen the racial divide. America’s social attitude is conditioned to associate the very ailments of society with race—that above all needs to change. Issues like poverty, homelessness, lack of education and unemployment need to be addressed at face value.

    You are very thoughtful in your exploratory efforts on this subject. But I totally agree with DesiValentine, in that “I’m not convinced we’re helping our kids embrace multiculturalism by reinforcing the color lines.” We should teach our children to be amazed by diversity; teach them to have a genuine interest in exploring the different cultures of the world. We, as parents, need to contribute to their education, more so than just the haphazard standard of helping with homework or reading for twenty minutes. We need to lessen our reliance on the public educational system—because it needs a major overhaul. The government has put education on the back burner and it’s time we stirred the pot.

    • White Mom January 28, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      “We should teach our children to be amazed by diversity; teach them to have a genuine interest in exploring the different cultures of the world.”

      –I completely agree. Listen, I don’t think that teaching white privilege should be taught by throwing this lesson at kids and then being like- you’re white– you are horrible bad people that oppress others. Really, who in their right minds thinks that is a good way to teach kids? But it can be taught in a transformative way that encourages kids to fight the systems the perpetuate stereotypes and examine how they interact with the world. I’ve taken several courses and workshops like this and most have been done in a really positive, yet thought provoking way. Exploring diversity IS about seeing the differences in each other.

      I don’t have any control over what you teach your daughter, if you don’t think it’s important- that’s your own choice. But this is something that will be taught in our home.

      • theincessantbitchingblog January 28, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

        I’m not attacking your position. I’m here because obviously the topic interests me and I aim to contribute to the topic, and hopefully learn something. I totally get what you’re saying, I do. But why is “diversity” of skin color and the privileges it affords at the top of your list? Diversity and racial diversity are not synonymous. There are so many other factors that contribute to diversity: gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, socioeconomic status, disabilities…and race, the most simplistic and easily identifiable.

        Out of curiosity, how would you start a conversation about “white privilege” with a nine year old? And the purpose of starting that conversation about white privilege is to “fight the systems that perpetuate stereotypes”? Well, that would be every system…

      • White Mom January 28, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

        “But why is “diversity” of skin color and the privileges it affords at the top of your list?”

        Because that’s what this article was about and something I think is interesting and worth talking about. I know we will cross into a lot of other areas as well. No one can be solely defined by one aspect of their life- there are many intersections of our identities.

        I’m not suggesting that nine years old is a good age to talk to kids about this. It needs to be age appropriate. The kids in this story were in high school and old enough to have these conversations. I don’t think you’re attacking me but you’re definitely making some gross assumptions about what I’m getting at.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Teaching White Privilege in Education: Is it Important? « The Turning Spiral - January 26, 2013

    [...] Teaching White Privilege in Education: Is it Important?. [...]

  2. white privilege and historical methodology « my city musings - January 27, 2013

    [...] recently read a post called “Teaching White Privilege in Education: Is it Important?” on whitemomblog.com that has really had me thinking.  She discusses a case from a Wisconsin school [...]

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