CQ reader Mr. Michael, a Seattle resident, noticed that the city’s school district has expanded its curriculum to include a particular seminar for the first time. Knute Berger reports at Crosscut Seattle that the district will send students to a “White Privilege” conference at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs next week, first noted by our old friend Stefan Sharkansky at Sound Politics. What would a conference on “white privilege” teach those Seattle students fortunate enough to attend? Let’s see:
The annual White Privilege Conference (WPC) serves as a yearly opportunity to examine and explore difficult issues related to white privilege, white supremacy and oppression. WPC provides a forum for critical discussions about diversity, multicultural education and leadership, social justice, race/racism, sexual orientation, gender relations, religion and other systems of privilege/oppression. WPC is recognized as a challenging, empowering and educational experience. The workshops, keynotes and institutes not only inform participants, but engage and challenge them, while providing practical tips and strategies for combating inequality.
I’m not ignorant of this nation’s history and its impact on society today. Culturally and in general, whites have held a privileged position in the US for almost all of its history; that is undeniable. White culture enslaved Africans for generations and oppressed them for a century after the Civil War freed them. White culture also conquered the native peoples of the continent and oppressed them for generations afterwards. Those dynamics deserve serious study and the ill effects require rational efforts to reverse.
This, however, hardly looks to fit the bill. First, take a look at the laundry list of the topics. I understand the inclusion of diversity and racism, which fits the topic of white privilege. But what about religion? Does a public school system that probably doesn’t allow Christmas celebrations or Easter decorations now want to start teaching about the oppression of religious groups on Americans? Is sexual orientation an issue only among whites? This isn’t a workshop about the specific effects of white privilege in American history and current events; it’s a conference on political correctness.
It also appears to have serious competence issues. For an educational program given by a university for the eighth year in a row, the material is poorly edited:
Q. Is this about proving how bad white folks are?
A. Our attempts to dismantle dominance and oppression must follow a path other than that of either vilifying or obliterating Whiteness… Whites need to acknowledge and work through the negative historical implications of ‘Whiteness’ and create for ourselves a transformed identity as White people committed to equality and social change. Our goal is neither to defy or denigrate Whiteness, but to difuse [sic] its destructive power.
To teach my white students and my own children that they are ‘not White’ is to do them a disservice. To teach them that there a [sic] different ways of being White, and that they have a choice as White people to become champions fo [sic] justice and social healing, is to provide them a positive direction for growth and to grant them the dignity of their own being.
We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools
Gary Howard apparently can’t teach spelling and proofreading, and neither can the University of Colorado. Perhaps spending more time on English would produce students better able to challenge white privilege in American society. Besides, how can one “difuse” the destructive power of Whiteness but not denigrate it? Does one normally oppose something that isn’t subject to vilification or obliteration?
And while I agree that white privilege exists, racism and all the other ills described and decried in this program do not spring from the color of one’s skin, but the nature of the heart and soul. Other cultures in other nations have problems with racism, sexism, religious oppression, and the entire panoply of human afflictions. We see this playing out across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa today. Darfur has managed to become a killing field of racism and hatred without the assistance of white people to make it so. Focusing on the pale seems a bit beyond the pale for those who want to truly learn about racism, sexism, sexual orientation, and diversity.
As Mr. Michael says, this seems like a great argument for school vouchers. Seattle parents may want to closely monitor the curricula offered by their school district even outside of the White Privilege Conference next week.