October 18, 2021

Edukention: Good Teaching about Race Does Not Make White Children Feel Bad About Themselves

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From the blog Edukention, a response to the concern that teaching about racial history and institutional racism will make white children feel bad. 

One of the myths about teaching accurate racial history and institutional racism is that it will make white children feel bad about themselves. In most cases, this is a trumped up idea intended to dissuade teachers from teaching accurately and it is a rationale for abusing teachers, administrators, and school boards into supporting a white supremacist curriculum. It makes NO SENSE that an accurate education would make the learners “feel bad” about themselves. What they are learning is what was done BEFORE they were alive; they didn’t do anything wrong. They are learning about what OTHER PEOPLE did.

It’s like saying we shouldn’t teach about World War II because it might make Germans, Italians, and Japanese people feel bad about themselves. I’m ¼ German, and I never once felt the slightest bit of guilt or self-loathing when I learned about Nazi Germany. In fact, I felt good because I learned that people who share my heritage who were wrongheaded in their ideas were defeated and then later they made peace with their past, established a better set of conditions, and became important leaders and global citizens–although far from perfect, of course.

It’s not fun to learn about injustice, especially if you are benefitting from that injustice. We can file these feelings under “growing pains,” which is when you learn something that makes you feel temporarily bad but is ultimately important to be a functioning, ethical adult. For example, think about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or any myths that are prominent among children in your culture. Eventually, the truth must out. Life is not fair, and it’s less fair from some than others. Much less fair. To a degree that takes lives and livelihoods from some and makes it much easier for others.

Over the course of centuries, white people have allowed themselves to be treated with a level of care and respect they have not granted to people of color. After so much time, it can seem natural that some deserve more than others. THAT’S where unfair privilege comes in. Some of us (white, wealthy, male, straight, abled) have a lot of privilege. Yeah, it sucks to have that pointed out, but we have to be adults. We need to learn about it, accept it, and make the necessary changes to make ourselves and our world better.

Children and adolescents are especially attuned to fairness, and as they mature they are rarely wounded when they understand that they must share in fair ways.

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