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?