The following blog is written by guest blogger Jon Greenberg, a high school teacher, activist and writer. I wanted to present this take on white privilege because I believe that it is important in this time of hyperpartisanship, ethnic divisions, and political demagoguery. I am pretty much on the left when it comes to how I feel about race, racism, privilege, institutionalized racism, etc. That is to say that I am not all the way to the left; for example, I find Mr. Greenberg’s use of capitalization in the phrase “People of Color” to be silly and overdone. However, it is only slightly more mistaken than a lot of the beliefs and customs that my fellow European Americans to the right of me hold. Somewhere in between political correctness and social justice is where I come down on this topic. What follows is why Mr. Greenberg believes ethnic studies courses are useful for his white children (and white Americans everywhere):
I’m very White, which makes me right at home as a public school teacher – a profession over 80 percent White. My wife is also White. So are our children. In fact, when one of our White friends (with whom I had never discussed race) met our first child, even she said, “Damn, that’s one White baby.”
And our children have been cashing in on their Whiteness, romping around our White Seattle neighborhood – blending right in, oblivious to racial discrimination. Because of these privileges, they will unlikely catch on anytime soon (at least not without conscientious parenting) that they are living during a movement for racial justice. And I don’t mean the Black Lives Matter movement (at least not in this article).
No, I mean the movement to expand Ethnic Studies in our schools.
What are Ethnic Studies? Emerging out of the civil rights movement and “the concerns of minority students on college campuses throughout the United States,” Ethnic Studies center the curriculum – history, literature, perspectives – on People of Color who have been historically marginalized and generally poorly represented in education.
In the recent student protests against racism on college campuses nationwide, Ethnic Studies are once again one of the top demands. I know many White Americans also want racial justice, but the step that follows awareness always trips us up. …And activists agree that talking only gets us so far.
Well, here’s a concrete step: Lobby your teachers, principals, school board members, and legislators to mandate Ethnic Studies!These courses undeniably benefit students of Color, who have been poorly served by our public education system – benefits recently confirmed by the Stanford Graduate School of Education. In fact, the researchers who conducted the study were “shocked” by how effectively Ethnic Studies served struggling students in San Francisco, a district predominately composed of students of Color.
“Attendance for those encouraged to enroll in the class increased by 21 percentage points,” they reported, “GPA [increased] by 1.4 grade points and credits earned by 23.” These results are not breaking news. In 2011, the dropout rate for Tucson Unified’s now-banned Mexican American Studies program, which served primarily Latinx students, was just 2.5%, while the national dropout rate for Latinx students soared at 56%. Even Hogwarts couldn’t pull that off kind of magic.
The existing arguments for Ethnic Studies (check out here, here, here, here, and here for starters) – making public education matter to students of Color, drastically reducing racial disparities, and stemming the school-to-prison pipeline – should be enough to get everyone on board with Ethnic Studies, but I fear it will take even more to spur White Americans to action.
So here’s more: it’s in our own best interests as White Americans to take Ethnic Studies courses. Here are six reasons why:
1. They Ensure That White Students Learn More Accurate American History
Perhaps you’ve heard the proverb: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Conventional history is undeniably biased in favor of White Americans, the one group that has consistently benefited from centuries of discrimination. That’s why slavery is too often sanitized, for example, through perpetuating the happy slave narrative in a children’s book or mislabeling enslaved people as “workers” in a textbook. That’s why we too often call the invasion of indigenous lands “Manifest Destiny” or “westward expansion.” That’s why we too often call the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent “internment.”
That’s why US history textbooks rarely include “White” as a racial group in the index – unless otherwise noted, the entire book is about White people. Ethnic Studies challenge this bias, and in the process, students – and teachers – benefit through the inclusion of voices that rarely make the curricular cut. We teachers teach who we are and teach what we know.
Consequently, in a profession so White, White teachers invariably teach curricula thoroughly bleached and warped by our Whiteness. Ethnic Studies ensures that White teachers are not just replicating the whitewashed lessons we were taught.
They also ensure that both White teachers and students alike receive a counter-education to media’s miseducation.
In short, Ethnic Studies decenter White as the dominant perspective of our education system – at least in one class. If White people are sincere about their desire for racial justice, they inevitably have to give up something. Wouldn’t giving up the role of protagonist in one class, a role that too heavily relies on distorting history, in exchange for honest history constitute a fair trade? Once White Americans overcome their fear of facing our history, they may even learn that this “loss” is ultimately a gain.
For lessons 2-6 on ethnic studies, please visit Mr. Greenberg’s original article HERE.
For Mr. Greenberg’s bio and homepage, click HERE
To read a blog I wrote about social justice, click below: