White Fragility and Perspectives

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This summer I’ve had the chance to read a few books on my list. Now with just a few weeks left before school starts I’m left with an opportunity to reflect on what I’ve read and am looking forward to applying what I gleaned from the pages.  Two books in particular have peeked my interest related to white fragility and awareness:  White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and This is Not a Test by José Luis Vilson.  My local library was able to find a copy of each through their interlibrary loan system.

To start I’ll talk about White Fragility.  This book was eye-opening and powerful (also has an amazing discussion guide for educators).  Kudos to Sonja for giving the recommendation. To be honest, I’ve had my own fair share of “equity” type of pd trainings and whenever the discussion of race is brought up the room gets very quiet. I hear statements like “I treat all students the same” or “I don’t see color.”  The author discusses these specific phrases among others and why people get defensive. White privilege exists. White people might squirm in their seats and censor their language carefully during discussions that creep towards equity and racism.  The book discusses why white people feel uncomfortable while discussing racism.  The historical perspective detained was thought-provoking and brought me an awareness piece that I haven’t encountered before.  One particular quote that stood out is below.

“I repeat:  stopping our racist patterns must be more important than convincing others that we don’t have them.” White Fragility p. 129

Many equity trainings often start with “getting to know you” activities.  These are generally designed so that participants feel comfortable discussing racism and their perspective.  An enormous time is set aside for this.  The author suggests that this isn’t because participants don’t feel physically safe, but it’s more because they want to convince others in the room that they certainly aren’t racist.  Being willing to discuss the important issue of systematic racism means being able to accept our own white fragility and the role that plays in often hindering these important conversations from moving forward.  Also need to keep in mind white consensus and how quickly people are at defending each other when being asked to reflect on actions.

The second book that I read was called This is Not a Test by José Luis Vilson.  I enjoyed reading about his experience growing up in NYC and how he went from being a computer science major to moving into teaching.  I enjoyed how José discusses his life and how he landed on being a teacher.  The end of the second part and the third resonated.  I appreciate how the author illustrates how teachers can have a voice in the current system that often perpetuates the status quo. José also addresses power structures and the different dynamics involved with standardized testing and teacher shaming.  I thought this quote was interesting:

“Educators have to get involved in planning curriculum and pedagogy.  We also have to believe in ourselves as powerful change agents or else we perpetuate the same power structures we say we’re against.” This is Not a Test p. 108

This hit home.  Teachers need to get involved in the curriculum and instruction development and rollout.  It’s challenging for me and it’s most likely due to my own white fragility, but educators need to be vocal and address systematic policies or pedagogy that might not be as inclusive as needed.  Same goes with resources.  Say no to historical simulations involving slavery, the holocaust and a myriad of other painful scenarios.  Be culturally aware that situations involving escaping from ______ might not be a good options.  Having the students recreate objects of hate such at the confederate flag shouldn’t exist.  Speak up.  If we’re silent than that inaction continues to kick the can down the road.  This should also apply to specialized advanced programs in schools.  Take a peek at the demographics and look at how they compare to the overall population. One concept that the book emphasizes is that intent isn’t enough. – the idea of intent vs. impact.  People need to take the initiative while also understanding that teachers are in a position that isn’t always recognized as a place where decisions are made.  Teachers have a voice and using it is important.

Both of these books have given me an opportunity to think about my perspective and privilege.  I’m kicking myself because I should’ve read these earlier.  Realizing how you’re raised, perception of what’s defined as racism, the history behind white supremacy, systematic pieces related to education, availability to access, status, and why it’s so hard to discuss racism all play a role in how you can make an impact moving forward. Both books have reinforced the idea that intent isn’t enough. I’m becoming more aware of my thoughts on white privilege and am still learning.  As I look at my school calendar I’m looking forward to seeing and possibly sharing how these two books have impacted my perspective with others.



Author: Matt Coaty

I've taught elementary students for the past 14 years. I enjoy reading educational research and learning from my PLN. Words on this blog are my own.

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