Well-Meaning White People: The Start of a Conversation

The other day, I was approached by a colleague about doing an online chat focused on the topic of ‘well-meaning white people.’  I immediately accepted.  This is a topic that doesn’t have enough light shed on it.  The topic is something that I know quite a bit about from my own experiences as a once and sometimes still well-meaning white person.  The truth is— the majority of white people fit into this category.   All of these things are done without malice.  They are well-meaning and well-intentioned, but are helping to perpetuate the problematic race relations in this country.  They are doing damage without even realizing it.  

Well-meaning white people show up everywhere.  When in the company of other well-meaning white people, their words and actions usualy go unchecked.   About a year ago, I went to a community forum on police violence in a community neighboring the one that I grew up in.  The conversation was mostly dominated by white people— each of them starting off by saying something to the effect of : “Let me first say, I don’t see color.  I don’t care if you’re white, black, brown, yellow or green (as if someone wouldn’t look at a green person in quandary).”  To their credit, each of these people was courageous enough to come out to the event and speak their truth.  They were there to stand in solidarity with those who have been harmed by police violence.  The stream of people came up to speak their truth until finally the organizer, a bi-racial man, came back to the microphone and spoke his own truth: “I hear all of you saying that you don’t see color.  Well, if you don’t see color, you don’t see me.”  This is the real truth.  White people are constantly trying to find ways to make sure that they don’t come off as racist.  We have developed our own language and phrasing to help get this point across.  This comes from a place of wanting to think of ourselves as inherently good people.  The truth is, that no matter who you are, you carry with you a set of implicit biases that are created through your lived experiences.

Well-meaning white people enter the classroom each day to teach students who do not look like them and who do not share the same set of lived experiences. Without knowing it, their own biases create a classroom environment that at best devalues the students’ background and often shows up as  lower expectations that continue to perpetuate the achievement gap.  Many of these teachers care deeply about the students that they serve and are working to do the best they can.  Like well-meaning white people in other arenas, they haven’t given a second thought to the issue of race and culture that whether they acknowledge it or not are at play each and every day in the classroom. They choose not to discuss or bring up these topics because of the discomfort that it might cause them.  Their own privilege allows them to ignore the topic of race and culture.  Their students don’t have the privilege— they don’t have a choice.  I understand where they are coming from— I have been there too.  In my 8 years of teaching, I have moved from being “non-racist” to actively anti-racist.  The more that I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s a topic that I could not ignore as an urban educator.  I have made the choice to do the “me work” and continually uncover and discover my own biases.  The topics of race and culture are both acknowledged and openly discussed in my classroom.  We want to see each other for who we are— both different and the same.  We share our background and celebrate our difference.  These differences are what make the classroom and our school a beautiful place to learn and work.  The change is something that has not come easy and it’s a continual process— but the work has been well worth it.

I agreed to the chat because I believe that there is so much latent potential in waking up some people to the reality that race is something that is still very much relevant.  There are many people who are quick to  place blame, but few who are willing to help others embark on their personal journey. The topics of race and culture are at play whether white people choose to acknowledge it or not.  Despite the fact that we have had our first black president, we are not living in a post-racial society.  This can be very clearly evidenced by the current administration.  If you are a well-meaning white person, I encourage you to do the “me work” — to sit with the discomfort.  It’s one of the only ways that we can hope to change the current fabric of race relations in this country.   I find myself speaking to the same people while people lurk around the edges of the conversations.  White people: it’s time for us to jump in, get woke and speak out.  We need your voices. 

Final Thought

For those of you interested in starting your journey or moving further along the path, I encourage you to join us in an online conversation on the evening of April 4th.  I will be posting more about this discussion on Facebook and Twitter.  

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