Saturday, March 25, 2017

Teaching Black Consciousness and White Privilege

One matter we've gotten over very quickly as a country is the notion, beginning in 2008 and carried throughout the Obama presidency, that we now live in a post-racial society.  The fact that an African American was twice elected to the nation's highest office gave rise to the idea that racial discord can now be a thing of the past; that race was obviously no longer an inhibition to achievement or access to opportunity.  That, in fact, all Americans were treated equal.

It did not take long for this phrase to dissolve in the midst of social realities.  The growing attention to police violence and the onset of the Black Lives Matter movement served as reminders that the U. S. has some way to go before it is "post-racial."

I usually include a unit on white privilege after our discussion on apartheid in South Africa. A study of the extreme nature of segregation there, I hope, helps students recognize the nature of segregation and racism in America, both historical and contemporary.  A focus of our study of South Africa is the writings of Steve Biko and his philosophy of Black Consciousness.  As we move to our own society, we read Peggy McIntosh's classic essay on white privilege, "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" and a short thought-provoking article by Gina Crosley-Corcoran, "Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person."

I teach in a school of predominantly white students, so discussions about white privilege can be intense. It's difficult, especially in American culture where we live under illusions of equality, easily accessible class mobility and rugged individualism, to convince others that they might be in a position of privilege.  So I usually give students a more structured discussion, usually around a set of questions on the reading.  Also, I set more clear ground rules for the discussion itself.  Some of these may include:

  • Every student has the opportunity to contribute to the discussion before someone speaks twice.
  • Questions or comments directed to other student's statements must focus on the content of the statement and not the student herself.
  • All statements and questions must be courteous and non-accusatory.
  • Of course students will personalize these readings; however, in the discussion, ask students to try to avoid "I" and "me" and focus on the larger society.
  • Similar to how the conversation started, end by giving students the opportunity to state one thing that impacted them the most about the readings or the discussion with no other student feedback.
Lessons on white privilege can be an uncomfortable topic for many students, but one that gets students to think about the complexities and subtleties of racism and to help them understand their own ideas and attitudes.

Steve Biko, "Black Consciousness and the Quest for True Humanity"
Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack"
Gina Crosley-Corcoran, "Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person"

The GOP plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act has failed!  Which is a good thing.  But this country is still very far from declaring health care a human right.

Donald Trump blames Democrats

It's Time for a Single-Payer Healthcare System