Like a lot of white parents in our community I have denounced the mounting acts of prejudice taking place in our schools. Though, until recently, I did so from a safe distance.
I was white and my white children were neither perpetrators nor victims, so I didn’t feel compelled to get involved. I know this is common. Many well-meaning people believe compassion for the cause and a duty to “be a good person to everyone” is all that’s required from them.
But the path forward to ending racial discrimination requires more introspection and action from us.
If you have considered yourself one of those well-meaning people, I invite you to read on while I share how my position has changed.
Fighting for equity is about white kids too.
While creating equity for students of color is the priority and focus, the truth is, this effort is important for all students. The current tension in our schools makes for a poor learning environment for everyone.
Also, when institutional racism (produced by policy and procedures versus personal beliefs) permeates the school district, white students shoulder the burden of being part of a system that holds people of color back on their behalf. In the words of my 10-year-old, “That feels yucky.”
When white students benefit under a system where implicit or explicit bias favors them and they feel a sense of entitlement (whether they act on it or not), they may grow up to accept this imbalance of power as the norm and perpetuate it in our society.
No child can reach their full potential when either they are being discriminated against or part of a system that unfairly favors them.
Inaction helps white supremacy flourish.
I didn’t intend to become an activist against racial discrimination, but a funny thing happened when I started educating myself on these issues.
When I say “funny” what I really mean is, I got mighty uncomfortable with how we became a country that perpetuates inequity.
That discomfort became a sense of urgency, as I learned it would take white people, me included — and a lot of us — to create real change.
What I learned about our American history was not the glossed-over, cherry-picked version I remember from school. On deeper inspection, the entire foundation and fabric of our country was created with principles, rulings, laws and legislation that disproportionately benefit those who are white — from employment and housing to healthcare and the legal system. And, of course, education.
This happened, perhaps not always with malice, but certainly with intent. Now our generation can be as intentional about unraveling institutional racism and making sure our country actually does operate on the principle we aspire to: that all are created equal.
Racism can thrive even without obvious racists.
Imagine if every student came to school treating each other respectfully, being thoughtful and kind toward all, and embracing each other’s differences. As wonderful as it sounds, there would still be racism.
White people, even “good white people” — in our own oblivious self-interest — have been conditioned to deny the underlying racism so deeply ingrained in our institutions and culture. Or, dismiss as “just the way things are or have always been.”
By acknowledging that it exists, we can look more closely at imbalances of power and work toward real equity. Once you know better, you do better. Better is putting your kindness and good intentions to work.
Taking action can start with just this simple step: inform yourself outside of your white experience. I highly recommend listening to the Scene on Radio Podcast, “Seeing White” (www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white).
There are many great books out there, including these, which are all available at any Carver County Library:
- “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo
- “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism,” by Robin DiAngelo
- “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota,” Edited by Sun Yung Shin, which the Carver County Library makes available for book groups.
There is no question in my mind that Eastern Carver County Schools can become a district that embraces and functions with equity and inclusion for all students — in large part because residents are coming together and demanding it.
The more this predominately white community knows about the history and current experience of people of color the quicker we can get there.
I hope you’ll join me.