A few months ago I was invited to speak to parents at a very nice preschool in a very nice neighborhood in the San Francisco Bay Area for a panel discussion about school choice. I was invited because a parent at the school had listened to my podcast episode on white privilege, and wanted to add a voice to the forum that would address issues related to the perpetuation of inequality in education.
The other members of the panel were highly accomplished women, with a variety of backgrounds related to education and educational policy, and seemed to be participating out of a genuine desire to help parents.
I inquired whether the organizers might want to have a person of a non-dominant culture speak in my place (the panelists ended up being all White).
I inquired whether the organizers would be willing to publicize the event to parents whose children attend nearby schools who might not have the resources to organize a panel discussion of this type at their school, and provided several lists of Head Start programs and free or low-cost preschools (all of the attendees ‘looked like they belonged’ at the event. None seemed to have that deer-in-the-headlights look that many people get when they’re out of their element).
The event cost $10 to attend, and while this could be waived by reaching out to the organizers it’s likely that a cash-strapped, time-strapped parent might have seen this as one obstacle too many.
We think that if information is ‘freely available’ (if we have to spend hours finding it), then compiling it into a spreadsheet and sharing it among our networks is a harmless action – after all, anyone could have found this information (and the event I participated in was open to the public).
I like to think that I helped the parents to see and understand issues related to inequality that they hadn’t seen or considered before, but in reality the event that I participated in perpetuated inequality by giving already advantaged parents information and resources (including potential 1:1 conversations with the director of admissions at one of the schools to which these parents might have been applying) that not all parents could access.
We are part of the problem
White parents: We think that if we’re not ‘colorblind’ and ‘don’t see race,’ that we’re doing our part.
We think that if we talk to our children about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King during Black History Month then our children will be ‘culturally aware.’
We think that if we have some books with diverse characters, we’re actively raising anti-racist children.
It’s not enough.
Not even close.
Especially when we perpetuate systemic racism by using our resources to give our child advantages that not all children can access.
Uncover your own privilege
The insidious thing about privilege is that it encourages us not to see it. The easiest, most comfortable thing to do is to keep our blinders on and just keep doing what we’ve been doing (being colorblind; being nice to Black people; having a diverse library).
The first thing we need to do is to recognize our own privilege as White parents. The next (coming in my next blog post) will be to actively take steps to dismantle that privilege.
Think you don’t have privilege? Here are 57 ways you probably do:
- When the family structure that is most common for our race is seen as the ‘norm’ and other family structures are pathologized, we have privilege.
- When White parents go to our regular prenatal checkups without acknowledging that many Black women cannot access healthcare in the same way that we do (and die at higher rates during pregnancy because of it), we have privilege.
- When our healthcare providers believe us when we say we’re in pain, we have privilege.
- When White parents give birth without understanding how the birthing process is deadly for Black women and Black babies, we have privilege.
- When White parents breastfeed at higher rates than Black women do, we have privilege.
- When White parents work with an agency or post an ad to find a nanny and we hire one that meets our needs, we have privilege.
- When White parents can easily find dolls that match our child’s skin color, we have privilege.
- When our child gets a scrape and we can easily find Band Aids that match their skin tone, we have privilege.
- When our children are less likely to suffer from asthma, and less likely to die from asthma, we have privilege.
- When White parents are walking on the street our child is less likely to get hit by a car, and less likely to experience extensive injuries, because we have privilege.
- When White parents can feed our family without traveling to a neighborhood where we don’t feel welcome, we have privilege.
- When our child gets really sick and we can be reasonably sure the doctor will prescribe appropriate medication for the condition, we have privilege.
- When our child needs to access mental health services, we can be reasonably sure that we can access help, that their complaint will be correctly diagnosed, and that the help we receive is reflective of and informed by our culture’s understanding of mental health.
- When White parents consider the way that intergenerational trauma impacts our parenting, we are free from the legacies of slavery and segregation.
- When White parents take our toddler into a store with their own snacks and toys without worrying that store employees will think we’ve stolen them, we have privilege.
- When our child actually steals from a store and we can follow popular parenting advice to return the item with an apology instead of having bystanders call the police who then threaten to shoot us, we have privilege.
- When White parents can walk into any bookstore and find books about people of our race, written by people of our race, we have privilege. (Black, Latinx and Native authors combined wrote just 7% of new children’s books published in 2017 (the number has increased slightly to 11.9% in 2018), and more books were published featuring animals (27%) than Black characters (11%).
- When White parents can flip on the TV to keep our child entertained and know that they won’t even need to look for shows featuring characters that look like them, we have privilege. (Black characters accounted for 5.6% of a sample of 1,500 characters studied by researchers at Tufts University.)
- When White parents don’t even have to think about whether movies and TV shows will depict people of our race in a positive light, we have privilege.
- When White parents choose to put off ‘having the race talk’ with our children because we want to ‘protect their innocence,’ we have privilege.
- When White parents can babysit children without someone calling the police, we have privilege.
- When White parents move to a ‘good neighborhood’ so our child can attend ‘good schools,’ we’re perpetuating racial inequalities.
- When low-income White families are three times as likely to live in a high-resource area than a moderate- or high-income Black family, we have privilege.
- When White parents hire a coach to get our child into a specific kindergarten, we are exercising our privilege.
- When White parents share resources and information about schools that Black parents don’t have time to or find it difficult to access, we are perpetuating systemic racism.
- When White parents don’t have to worry that our child will be one of the only children of their race if we choose a ‘good’ school, we have privilege.
- When White parents can count on zero fingers the number of times our child has heard negative comments about their race, we have privilege. (40% of Black parents need one or more fingers for this exercise. And just think about who must be making those negative comments to Black children?)
- When preschool teachers watch the Black children in the class more closely looking for misbehavior, we have privilege.
- When White parents can buy our child a writing practice workbook and not have to check whether it contains negative stereotypes about our race, we have privilege.
- When our child can wear their natural hairstyle to school and not be sent home or forced to cut it, we have privilege.
- When Black children represent about 18% of the children enrolled in preschool programs in schools, but almost half of the students who were suspended more than once, we have privilege. (When our children engage in undesirable but age-appropriate behavior, they’ll just be redirected and corrected.)
- When White parents advocate for ‘Gifted and Talented’ programs within public schools, we are advocating for de facto segregation within an otherwise integrated school, to perpetuate racial inequality.
- When White parents let our children play with toy guns in public without thinking about how Black children get shot for doing the same thing, we have privilege.
- When our child’s teacher asks us to ‘be involved’ in the child’s learning, and their request seems reasonable to us and doesn’t take into account the ways that parents of different cultures support their children’s learning, we promote the idea that ‘some parents don’t care about their child’s education,’ which perpetuates systemic inequalities.
- When Black parents are labeled by schools as “hard to reach,” while schools promote inflexible ways to participate in children’s learning (volunteering during the work day; attending parent’s evenings when no childcare is provided or bus service available…) that are based on White parents’ needs and expectations, we have privilege.
- When our child’s teacher probably looks like us (79% of public school teachers are White, and only 7% are Black) and mostly understands the kind of experience we had when we attended school, we have privilege.
- When the skills and values our child learns at home matches with the skills and values taught in schools, we have privilege.
- When our child can fully participate in a school project to trace their family name and ancestry, we have privilege.
- When White parents have a spare device and a good internet connection to participate in remote learning while schools are closed, we have privilege.
- When our primary concern about schools being closed is how to keep our child entertained all day while we work, and not where the child is now going to get breakfast and lunch, we have privilege.
- When our children learn from school textbooks to empathize with slave owners more than enslaved people, we have privilege.
- When the history of White ‘settlers’ in America is taught through fun plays that ignore the Native experience, while the history of Blacks in America is taught through mock slave auctions, we have privilege.
- When our children learn that the achievements of people of their race were integral to their country’s narrative, rather than being confined to the topic of achieving equal rights for people of their race and studied during one month of the year, we have privilege.
- When we see a Black girl ‘having an attitude,’ or ‘being defiant’ and decide that they are being ‘aggressive’ when we would see the same behavior in a White child and call it ‘assertive,’ we are perpetuating systemic racism.
- When we put our child in gymnastics, or soccer, or hockey, to ‘give them the experience of playing on a team,’ we’re actually doing it to give our child a leg up in the future. That perpetuates inequality.
- When our children’s teachers expect them to go on to college (but don’t do the same for Black children), we have privilege.
- When Black children depend on school buses (while we drive our child to school), and Black children are unable to attend after-school enrichment programs and may even miss both their free/reduced price breakfast (their first meal of the day) and part of their first class because of inflexible bus schedules and tardy drivers, we are perpetuating inequality.
- When Black children are 3-6 times as likely to be suspended from school as White children, we are perpetuating educational and racial inequality.
- When White parents use our economic and political clout to demand changes in schools that primarily benefit our own children, we perpetuate inequality.
- When our child never has to respond to the statement “You only got into this school/college because of your race,” we have privilege.
- When strangers usually relatively accurately guess our child’s age correctly (rather than over-estimating their age and criticizing them for age-appropriate behaviors, or adultifying and oversexualizing Black girls, or making Black boys 18 times more likely to be tried as an adult as White boys), we have privilege.
- When White parents can avoid daily “I don’t wanna get dressed!” protests by sending our child to school in pajamas without fear that this will signal neglect of our child, we have privilege.
- When we engage in ‘free-range parenting’ and allow our child to walk to school alone or play outside unsupervised, we aren’t likely to face severe consequences like arrest and having the child removed from our care. We have privilege.
- When our child is less like to end up in foster care, and more likely to be able to access employment and housing support, often due to parenting choices like whether to co-sleep with an infant or whether to leave an older child unattended in the home or due to consequences of poverty like multiple children sharing a room or lack of adequate heating, we have privilege.
- When our child is SIX times less likely to have or have had an incarcerated parent, we have privilege.
- When White parents can do the Tik Tok Finger Exercise on white privilege and end up with the majority of our fingers still up, we have privilege.
- If our child were to ever go missing, we would expect a national news event and our Senator’s help. 37% of missing children are Black (more than double the rate we would expect since 14% of children in the U.S. are Black), but Black children only accounted for 7% of media references to missing children. When we privilege White children’s lives, we willingly sacrifice Black children’s lives.
And why do we need endless articles in The Atlantic or Vox to prove to us that our White privilege perpetuates systemic inequality, rather than listening to the Black parents who have been telling us about these issues for years?
Note: After this post was published, several readers got in touch to add ideas to include – these are listed below. If you still think I’ve missed some (and I still don’t claim this list is comprehensive), please reach out (preferably with a source for your idea as well!) and I’ll look at adding it to the list.
About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.
Her Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group supports parents in putting the research into action in their real lives, with their real families. Find more info at www.YourParentingMojo.com/Membership
She also launched the most comprehensive course available to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. Find out more about it – and take a free seven-question quiz to get a personalized assessment of your own homeschooling readiness at www.YourHomeschoolingMojo.com
And for parents who are committed to public school but recognize the limitations in that system, she has a course to help support children's learning in school at https://jenlumanlan.teachable.com/p/school.