11th July 05:05
How We Are White
How We Are White By Gary Howard from the Southern Poverty Law Journal,
The break is over and I am ready to begin the second half of a four hour
multicultural curriculum workshop. Twenty-five teachers and staff are
scrunched into 2nd grade desks, all eyes and White faces turned toward
their one African American colleague, who has asked to address the
group. He announces that he will be leaving this workshop immediately
and resigning at the end of the year. He has lost hope in their
! willingness, and ability to deal with issues of race.
After he leaves, a painful silence grips the room. I realize that my
planned agenda is no longer appropriate. Gradually the participants
begin to talk. Their comments are rife with guilt, shame, anger, blame,
denial, sadness and frustration. It becomes clear there has been a long
history leading to this moment. Together they are experiencing a
collective meltdown over the realities of race and their own whiteness.
One faculty member remarks, "I feel so helpless. What am I supposed to
do as a white teacher?"
In my 25 years of work in multicultural education, I have encountered an
almost universal uneasiness about race among White educators. Since the
publication of my book “We Can't teach What We Don't Know”: White
teachers, multiracial schools, many people have shared their stories
with me. A White teacher from California reports, "I realize that I have
contribut! ed to the failure of my students of color by not being able to
drop the mask of privilege that I wear. Another White teacher writes, "I
thought I was going crazy. It was helpful to hear that other White
teachers feel similar confusion."
As White educators, we are collectively bound and unavoidably complicit
in the arrangements of dominance that have systematically favored our
racial group over others. In my own family, the farm was in Minnesota
that I cherish as part of our heritage was actually stolen from the
Ojibwe people only a few years before my great-grandparents acquired it.
This is only one of the countless ways I am inextricably tied to
privilege. I did not personally take the land, yet I continue to benefit
from its possession.
But privilege and complicity are only part of the story. The police
officers who brutally assaulted civil rights activists during the Selma
march in 1965 were certainly White, but ! so were many of the marchers who
stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on
that awful Sunday. It is true that three White men dragged James Byrd to
a horrific death in Jasper , Texas, but it is also true that many White
townspeople and a predominantly White jury condemned this act of racist
In the course of my work and personal reflection, I have discovered
there are many ways of being white. Some Whites are bound by
fundamentalist White orientation. They view the world through a single
lens that is always right and always white. White supremacist hate
groups represent one particularly hostile form of fundamentalist White
orientation, but there is also an uninformed and well-intentioned
version that simply has never been exposed to other perspectives. This
was my orientation from birth through my high school years, when I had
never met a person who wasn't white. Fundamentalist White! teachers often
say, "I don't see color. I treat all my students the same."
Other Whites live from an integrationist White orientation, where
differences are acknowledged and tolerated but still not fully accepted.
Integrationist Whites are self-congratulatory in their apparent openness
to racial differences, yet often paternalistic and condescending of
people of color. In this way of being White, we prefer to keep the
peace, avoid confrontation and maintain control, rather that actually
get to the core of our separate truths and unique racial perspectives.
Integrationist White teachers say to students of color, "I know how you
feel," even when we have no real connection to their reality. This was
my first orientation when I first began "helping" Black kids in the
ghetto in the 1960s. I thought I was the answer, rather than the question.
Finally, there is the transformationist White identity, which is a place
of hum! ility and active engagement in one's own continuing growth and
reformation. Transformationist Whites have acquired a paradoxical
identity, which allows us to acknowledge our inevitable privilege and
racism while at the same time actively working to dismantle our legacy
of dominance. Transformationist White teachers know it is our place and
our responsibility to engage issues of race and multicultural education
in the classroom.
White educators do have a choice to grow beyond our ignorance, denial,
and guilt. There is a journey, which I envision is like a river that
carries us through many confusing currents and treacherous rapids, but
which eventually can lead to a place of authentic multicultural White
identity. Ultimately, good teaching is not a function of the color of
our skin. It is much more closely related to the temperament of our mind
and the hue of our heart. We did not choose whether to be White, but we
can ! effect how we are White. This is both our challenge and our hope. In
the last few years I have returned several times to work with the
elementary staff who experienced such a painful meltdown over issues of
race. With courage they have stayed on the river, chosen to look deeply
into the reflective pool of their own difficult history together, and
have come to a place of honesty and renewed commitment to a
multicultural vision for their school. At our last meeting, when the
painful event was alluded to in discussion, a newly hired Asian American
asked, "What happened?" A veteran White teacher responded, "Its a long
story we need to share with you. It will help you know who we are."
Gary Howard is currently President of the REACH Center for Multicultural
Education in Seattle. He is the author of “We Can't Teach What We Don't
Know”, available from REACH 206-545-04977
11th July 21:17
How We Are White
Wow, man, what a ****ing good article! I'm gonna have to read
"Nowadays, atheism is itself *culpa levis*, as compared
with criticism of existing property relations."
"All history is nothing but a continuous transformation
of human nature."
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