Owning White Privilege

Last week, while waiting in front of the Hyatt for his transport to the U.S. Open to fulfill corporate commitments, retired American tennis star James Blake was tackled to the ground and handcuffed by an undercover NYC police officer. The police chief (somewhat) quickly issued an apology to Mr. Blake, and called the incident a case of mistaken identity.

The incident surfaced many issues, but rarely mentioned in the press was the issue of white privilege. I don’t know about you, but never have my white friends, nor I, ever been tackled to the ground while being mistaken for a white criminal. The Blake incident brought to mind the Dee Brown incident near the suburb where I once worked. I can only imagine the countless cases of such acts that go unreported across the country each year because the recipients are not famous. To his credit, Mr. Blake, a former Harvard student, handled the incident with class.

Professor Peggy McIntosh, Associate Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, contends that white males are rarely aware of the advantages they cash in each day. It’s not that others are disadvantaged, according to McIntosh, but that white males are overprivileged. These benefits remain invisible to those who enjoy them. Many white males refute this concept, not accepting the invisible system conferring dominance onto their group. They cite meritocracy–that the best and hardest working rise to the top–for their status. Pure meritocracy is a myth, even in the land of the American dream.

Here are a few (of countless) unearned privileges to contemplate, taken from McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”:

  1. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

  2. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

  3. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

  4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

  5. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

  6. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

  7. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

  8. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

I don’t mean any disrespect to those embroiled in the well-publicized race issues in the U.S. this past year, but I feel that privilege is perhaps more germane to our society these days. While we are clearly not yet post-racial, the wealth gap continues to grow wider. The haves have more, and the have nots go deeper into the financial abyss.  Despite the disastrous long-term and intergenerational effects that failing to accumulate wealth has on the individual, the effects on society can be widespread and profound. The greater the wealth gap grows, the more likely the haves will live in gated communities, withdraw support for public services, and send their children to private schools. We go back to a segregated, separate but not equal society (and still, mostly white). Full circle for the Land of the Free.

What can we do to address white privilege? Quite a bit, actually. Start by looking in the mirror. Am I cashing in privileges at the expense of others, such as networking my way to get what I want? If so, allow others to gain access to your network. Get over the guilt you may have for these privileges. It’s self-serving and lacks utility. Don’t make invisible those who lack power or strength, due to their stigmatized position in society. Accept white as a racial identity (race as social, not biological), and stop acting colorblind. Face and acknowledge Robert Jenson’s The Fears of White People

Finally, consider doing this white privilege activity, developed by Professor McIntosh. The exercise never fails to produce the predicted results, and astound and confound its participants. They will come to see the glass ceilings that hold back a true meritocracy. Educate. Enlighten. Grow.

Straight Down the Middle – Parent Edition – September, 2015

Dear Parents:

Though ISG is not a school, per se, each of the seven schools is part of a larger ISG community. In that spirit, I would like to pass along some items that are germane to the schools.

The start of the year was smooth across the five campuses, with Dammam opening a week late, but in a new school! Tragedy struck the Aramco and ISG communities a week later with the Radium fire. DHS lost one of its new tenth graders. Tragic.

Improvements for the new school year
ISG has embarked on an ambitious improvement agenda, which we call the 21st Century Initiative. Specifically, we aim to create technology rich classrooms, achieve alignment on literacy instruction (in particular, reading and writing), and promote a culture of collaboration. Increased attention has been given to homework, digital citizenship, and digital literacy.

Building on last year’s efforts, we have again doubled bandwidth in each school (to where connectivity is strong), and have been able to make devices readily available to students across the grades. Focus is now on ensuring the technology enhances learning, and does not distract.

Each school has achieved consistency and alignment in the reading and writing programs (there is a value to having the whole team using a similar program). You should be seeing this at home through your children’s work samples.

Leasehold improvements
ISG wants its learning spaces to match its modern and relevant curriculum, and have invested heavily to meet this goal. With either new or renovated classrooms, play equipment, community spaces, and even restrooms, we are providing the spaces students and staff deserve. See this link for some pictures. Much more is planned for the future!

Site School Councils
In an effort to promote site-based voice in improvement initiatives, ISG will establish a School Council at each school. The advisory group to the Principal/Headteacher will consist of up to seven elected parents, three (older) students, and three teachers. Meetings will take place quarterly, based on a pre-determined agenda. In October, you will hear from your respective school principal on how this group will launch, and how parents will be elected.

Child Safety & Security Update
Safety, both in the school setting, and on our campuses, remains paramount in importance. Staff are trained annually in child safeguarding, and additional supports have been put in place this year, including strengthening the school-based Student Support Teams (SST).

Last year, the district worked with a security firm (RMI) to do an audit. This year, the same consultant is guiding the implementation stage of the improvements. Additional infrastructure, personnel, and procedures/practices have been put in place. The standard for this is very high.

Climate Survey
Each year, the district facilitates a parent survey to gauge school climate, attitudes, and general satisfaction with the program. Summative data (but no specific comments) is shared with only the Principal, and it serves as discussion and potential action items for the administration. Looking at the seven schools as a whole, last winter’s data provided the following generalizations:

  • Strong satisfaction around programs and supports, with the exception of parents wanting more robust extra- and co-curricular programs
  • Some concerns about teacher quality
  • Positive ratings for leadership, communication, and representation of ISG’s core values
  • Poor ratings on the statement, “ISG provides value for the tuition”

While the schools focus on addressing these items, I have been pondering the “value for tuition” question. We’ll take this up a the Board level for a generative conversation. Stay tuned for the 2016 version of the survey this winter.

Enrollment Contract
Thank you for returning the enrollment contract, which simplifies the enrollment process and needs of the schools.

Have a restful break, which starts this Tuesday. Eid Mubarek!

Dr. Paul Richards, ISG Superintendent