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The ABCs of R-A-C-E 

A list of privileges white students can count on that their black counterparts cannot

click to enlarge |caleb walsh illustration
  • |caleb walsh illustration

When it comes to the reality of racism, ignorance is only bliss for those who hold the power of majority. As our kids get back into the swing of their scholastics, perhaps a refresher course on where history has brought us — and how it affects our lives in the here and now — would be helpful.

To get started, let's establish the ABCs of the situation. A) Spokane is majority white (with an approximately 2 percent black population), and there is a vast majority of the Caucasian persuasion in the student, staff, administrative and teaching population of the schools. B) Acknowledge it or not, white privilege exists here. It plays at recess, meanders down the sidewalk and is printed in the pages of textbooks. C) White privilege is an undercurrent pulling at our children's psychological development, and ignoring it won't help any of our kids be prepared for the globalized, intercultural, multilingual world they will live and work in.

Here is a 10-step guide to literacy in white privilege as it plays out in Spokane schools:

1. By default, white students here are around people who look like them all of the time. When seeing someone of a darker hue or with an ethnic hairstyle, let's face it: many white kids in Spokane stare.

2. In the classroom, when learning about the United States, human history, or even "civilization" in general, white students are shown that people of their appearance are intelligent and capable leaders.

3. On the way home from school, white kids can count on their neighbors being amiable to them and not staring or harassing them in any way. Likewise, when they walk into the neighborhood convenience store or go shopping at the mall, they will not be followed, searched or hassled.

4. Whether it's time for prom or just a routine haircut, white teens can easily find a salon that can cut/style their hair.

5. White adolescents in Spokane can freely use poor grammar, swear, have body piercings or tattoos, skip school, dress in any style, and even consume illegal substances without having people attribute these choices to their race.

6. White students are never asked to speak for all people of their racial group and are not put on the spot to talk to the class about their group's history.

7. White pupils in Spokane can be pretty sure that if they need to talk to "the person in charge," they will be facing someone of their own race.

8. White children can feel welcomed and "normal" in school, and when they do well academically, they will be personally credited rather than being called a credit to their race.

9. White kids can go to school feeling included, rather than isolated, out of place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, watched, patronized or feared.

10. The school bandages, stickers, construction paper and color crayons in "skin" color will more or less match a white kid's skin.♦

This piece recalls the lecture that activist Peggy McIntosh gave at Whitworth earlier this year, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." Rachel Dolezal, formerly of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene, teaches courses in art, Africana history and culture at area universities.

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