This opinion is being submitted in response to the many individuals who have communicated with me regarding the term white privilege. This term was included in a presentation by motivational speaker Robert Jackson at the professional development conference for teachers held Aug. 2 and has surprisingly stimulated significant controversy.
First, let me commend Superintendent Bryan Johnson and the staff of the Hamilton County Education Department who planned this conference. Special thanks also to the Opportunity Zone staff for your outstanding leadership.
Secondly, the community is very appreciative to the entire body of teachers who chose education as a profession and hope that none will consider discussions related to white privilege as being offensive.
According to statistics published by the Tennessee Department of Education, 85 percent of teachers in Hamilton County are white and provide education to 44 percent of the non-white student population, mostly African Americans. Therefore, the most appropriate place to begin discussions on this issue is with our teachers.
Teachers have a pivotal role to play in rectifying these biases that are well documented by extensive research.The term white privilege was created in 1988 by Dr. Peggy McIntosh, a brilliant, now 85-year-old white lady from Wellesley College. She has authored several books that expand on this concept and you are urged to read her work.
I was first introduced to this concept over 20 years ago at a conference that I attended and have referenced this model in studying the effects on other aspects of our lives such as employment and promotions, housing, economic development, gentrification, criminal justice, and inequities facing women of all racial and ethnic groups.
While I feel blessed over the years to have acquired countless Caucasian friends of whom I dearly love. Yet, like most African Americans, I have experienced a lifetime of overt and covert racial biases. We all have a unique story to tell. Many of the discriminatory practices that we encountered were only resolved after extensive discussions between the involved parties.
The presentation regarding white privilege and racism for teachers is long overdue in initiating vital dialogue.. There is no shame. The shame comes in the inability or unwillingness of some authority figures in Hamilton County to understand that white privilege has serious implications for our society. Learning is a lifelong process, so instead of requesting the slides from Mr. Robert Jackson’s presentation, I am suggesting that interested parties come together and host his return to Hamilton County to present this topic for the enlightenment of the general public.
Former Tennessee State Representative and Hamilton County Commissioner
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For what it’s worth, here is my take on “white privilege.” If you were, through no fault of your own, born on the unfavorable side of privilege (I think privilege also applies to being born in the middle class or above - no matter what color) you should probably try not to think about it too much - because it will just make you mad, making you less likely to succeed in this society. However, if you were born on the favorable side of “privilege,” you probably should be thankful and be frequently aware that you got a break in life. If you don’t want to be thankful or don’t believe in the concept of privilege, then just ignore it.
But in the words of Galileo: “And yet it moves" or ‘Albeit it does move’ (Italian: E pur si muove or Eppur si muove [ep'pur si 'mw??ve]) is a phrase attributed to the Italian mathematician, physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) in 1633 after being forced to recant his claims that the Earth moves around the Sun, rather than the converse. In this context, the implication of the phrase is: despite his recantation, the Church's proclamations to the contrary, or any other conviction or doctrine of men, the Earth does, in fact, move (around the Sun, and not vice versa).”
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Dear JoAnn Favors:
As a seasoned student of the English language, I've learned: common ground in language and intent is vital to understanding. After reading your letter, I went to the dictionary and the friendly tool: "duckduckgo.com" to review terms.
Here are my findings, on which my response is based:
"White Privilege is the societal privilege that benefits people whom society identifies as white in some countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.
Academic perspectives such as critical race theory and whiteness studies use the concept to analyze how racism and radicalized societies affect the lives of white or white-skinned people."
noun. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
noun. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.
noun. The belief that each race has distinct and intrinsic attributes.
noun. The attitude, state of mind, or behavior characteristic of a bigot; intolerance.
noun. The character or mode of thought of a bigot; obstinate and unreasonable attachment to a particular creed, opinion, practice, ritual, or party organization; excessive zeal or warmth in favor of a party, sect, or opinion; intolerance of the opinions of others.
Peggy McIntosh's work you cited in your letter gave me several hours of reading (which I had read before), still, this provides no clear answers to my sense of inquiry; where is a PhD, peer reviewed study, of the continued existence of each of these "conditions": focused on the continued persistence of "White Privilege", that dismisses the conduct and personal efforts of those whose career track and success were evaluated?
One thing did strike me in Ms. McIntosh's work: Much has changed in the 31 years since her published work. Most important; the fact that most anyone can choose the answers (solutions in their life) to the 26 conditions she writes about.
There is no question these have been beyond reach in some years past. In 1972 I had the privilege of attending the 30 year retirement party of a Philippino - American who came into the U.S. Navy as a non English speaking, non - citizen (yes you can still do that).
Now, 30 years later, he was an American citizen, who earned a lifetime retirement after what included a Vietnam combat tour. He was proud to have secured his citizenship and to have sacrificed for his adopted nation. He was far more proud of his MD daughter who was in her second year of clinical rotations. Her denial of self to achieve her dream could make a movie.
"You work this (enlistment) thru Jim" he said to me that day. "Every American should have this."
Get that last line. "Should have." Just the same way he did: by sweat, toil and hard hard work. He was proud of it and challenged me to succeed as he had. I took his admonishment to heart. Every citizen of this honored nation should.
Ms Favors, no one in my circle, of any race, ascribes to or embraces the principles cited in "bigotry" and "racism" above. I have memory of one person before I retired who treated all light skinned people as dirt. That man refuses to make eye contact, he shrugs, ignores and avoids conversation even to the point of being rude. Today, he is alone, angry and impossible to assist. It breaks my heart because many, including me, have tried. Today, than man toils in troubled obscurity.
He has brought it on himself by his conduct. While he behaves in this manner only to light skinned individuals, I still find it difficult to call that conduct "bigotry or racism". My opinion is; he is only a troubled human.
While reading the earlier description of "White Privilege", it is troubling to me that the author of the earlier description chose these words:
"how racism and radicalized societies affect the lives of white or white-skinned people"
Do "racism and radicalized societies" only impact "white or white-skinned people" as stated in this "definition"?
I think not. This supposition is ridiculous on its face.
Yet, Ms. Favors, you seem to think it does merit attention and expenditure of funds to address. But what specifically constitutes "white privilege." Your article leaves me wondering. The "definition" above and the current real world, inclusive status, of Ms. McIntoshs' 26 conditions, simply "holds no water" today across an all inclusive scale. Does this in fact have statistical relevance?. I think not.
As a disabled citizen I have contributed, as a speaker, to more than 20 panel discussions on diversity over recent years. In the last eight years, every session included individuals under age 20, who were acquainted with someone who died in a drive-by shooting. My point? PTSD, even down to middle school is not limited to "white-skinned people". This description of "white privilege" makes it seem as if it is disproportionately a "white" problem. That's just one example.
I have personally participated in assistance and distribution of food boxes and clothing for families unable to make it week to week for various reasons. The standard deviation of "distribution by race" is "plus or minus" less than one half of one percent.
I can go on.
My best bet is: you would prefer I not.
Because by definition, "White Privilege" simply makes no sense in statistically relevant observation and testing.
Want to know my observations?
Opportunity is equal.
Outcomes are not equal.
The difference? Personal effort and the decision to get along with people.
To expect someone to hand all of life out equally, with no regard for your responsibility and personal effort, is, in my opinion, on its face "Bigotry" as defined for us.
Example: To eliminate classroom grades, so no one "feels bad," discriminates against the person who works the hardest to achieve. One wrong makes it all wrong. It is never right, to do wrong, so you can "do right" in some other persons mind.
The second college I attended, back in the 70's, experimented with no letter grades. Today, a request for transcripts from that school includes a convoluted letter to interpret that short lived program. It might as well say "we have no clue what grades were earned."
Americans have always appreciated a winner.
The best driver to the finish line, the fastest base runner over that 90 feet...
Performance earns our acclaim with hard work. Just ask Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan or the Williams sisters..
To deny this fact is to denigrate what made these hard workers and our very nation great.
That is not racism nor bigotry; look at most every sport for statistically equal (by any measure) examples.
I went to school with a youngster back in the 50's who refused to stay out of trouble. He came to me once, seeking work in the 80's. Man had acquired a jail and prison record that sickened me. He simply couldn't be trusted to even take the trash out of the business I managed.
Did race matter? Not then, not now.
It was his conduct that sealed his doom.
This is the sort of man who feared being pulled over by police: at any hour.
Why? Because of the way he chose to live.
His brother and sister are living productive lives today.
He died of a drug overdose.
Who is to blame for his shambled life?
HE made the bad choices. He lived with it to death. Who is to blame? Not society for sure.
conduct has no skin-tone component, but some would have accused him of "white privilege" today.
If parents are delinquents, the child has fewer opportunities. That is a matter of parenting, not "skin-tone privilege", not "bigotry", not "racism". By the way, the man I described above had excellent parents, he chose to screw up.
When I taught, my classrooms were level ground academically. The rules in my classes were the same for everyone. Every student knew: "Perform to Achieve."
If one wants the "skids greased", grease them with effort.
A recent news item (outside the U.S.) about a student destroying their BMW purposely, because they wanted their parents to buy them a Jaguar, is a perfect example of an individual who needs to be introduced to hard labor.
Inordinately Hard Labor.
Why? Because "spoiled brats" have no skin tone.
They also have no respect.
They are a product of ingratitude: without respect to national origin, creed, religion, color... Lets just get over it.
Parents can ruin a child's opportunity to learn; simply by not allowing a student to learn. One way to ruin them is by making the path "bump free" or "too smooth".
Bumps, Bruises, Blood of experience are excellent teaching tools.
When I was three or four, my mother came home from work daily and started teaching me my numbers and how to read. By age six, my father was teaching me principles of electronics.
That was not "White Privilege".
Dad had an 8th grade education.
At the time he "graduated," his school was: 1st to 8th in one big room. That school was in the poorest county in Arkansas. Dad's father was a cotton and soybean farmer. So much for privilege of any kind.
Dad fought asthma his entire life. It was treated by inhaling burning sulfur. We know today, that may have contributed to killing him. But it was ancient Indian medicine and what they knew.
At "graduation" from 8th grade, he knew Geometry and Trig to an A level. He continued to use it daily to his death. He also left that school with a working knowledge of Calculus.
That excellence occurred because the teacher sent homework, and he did it every night, beside a pot-belly stove. They had one light bulb in the house.
So much for "white privilege".
Dad succeeded in life and pressed his own children to work, because his parents had insisted on it.
When I was not quite 15, my father learned (but hid from us) that he had only months to live. Suddenly I was being pressed to take him on mile long walks with him daily; not knowing my dad was dying.
Daily on these hikes dad discussed history, his family fears and my responsibility as an adult. There I also learned a secret. We were not white. Our family was of old Chickasaw heritage. Having dodged the hike at the point of a gun in the 1820's; over five generations, our family worked and lived in obscurity, fearful of being sent to Oklahoma. Then, in the ultimate irony, the military did move my dad to Oklahoma after Germany was calm again, following World War II.
In those walks, I discovered my fathers "racial" fear of losing his freedom, never having time to process that statement before he died.
So naturally, I have deep respect for any persons concern of both "racism" and "bigotry".
But my larger point is; I knew at age five what hard work, effort, responsibility meant.
Ms. Favors, the 85 percent "white teachers" in Hamilton County do not need respect and appreciation for what they accomplish. Rather, all teachers deserve respect and appreciation for what they accomplish together. Ms. Favors, do you not see the importance of this? Seriously, do you get it?
Where is that call of support and respect for all in your letter?
To denigrate the concern these teachers bring to the classroom, for our children, (while earning a mere 12 percent of what the front office people accusing them of being "white" are earning), solely because they are white is worse than wrong.
It is Bigotry (see definition above).
We need to all get out of our teachers way.
Allow them to teach reading, professional writing and mathematics including Calculus...
Stop the name calling, guilt trips and denigrating with extraneous "programs".
JoAnne Favors; help grant our teachers the "Privilege" of doing their job.
JoAnne Favors; facilitate the change of metrics (and pay raises) to grade our teachers only on:
- What percent of students read to their grade level at grade 3, 6, 9, 12
- What percent of students WRITE to their grade level at grade 3, 6, 9, 12
- What percent of students are at an 93% or higher math level in grade 3, 6, 9, 12
- As the percentage of Hamilton County Students requiring remedial mathematics and or English on entry to university declines, reward these teachers richly with performance bonuses proportional to their "Won the War" effort..
-- Our singular goal should be to get these remedial college classes to zero percent among Hamilton County students entering college. --
How to accomplish all this? Re-structure Middle School for a coming transition: As students leave Middle School allow them to enter one of three "tracks" of High School. There is still Math and English, but focus changes for the track they are in:
a: University - Arts & Sciences
b: Trades (house builders, mechanics, assembly line work)
c: Retail: (the old Distributive Education) program for the Entrepreneurial
These are changes that can change students and mold more students into leaders. So long as parents will take time to help their child at night; just as my farmer grandfather did with my dad and as my mom and dad worked with me.
There is no privilege in hard work. The privilege is the reward when we have achieved.
That said, it was my pleasure to teach Statistical Analysis over 10 plus years. Ms. Favors it has been my pleasure to discuss your letter with a number of different psychologist and academic types. The artful dodge received is noted when I asked about my hypothesis for statistically testing for "White Privilege" (remember Ha / Ho is how we test this):
"Disciplined study and work skills; begun at an early age: together with excellent work and study efforts nominalize racial imbalances in hiring, promoting opportunity and financial security."
(alternative null hypothesis: "Discipline, excellence in study skills, work and study efforts have no impact on hiring, promoting and financial security"). Ms. Favors, which do you believe would be most likely to prevail following exhaustive peer review?
The single example cited among my phone calls as a possible actual Statistical Study anyone could suggest was in fact a UTA paper on MARKETING to Millennials'. Far cry from a peer review on "white privilege"
Ms. Favors, I have searched the peer review journals myself. Can you show me statistical proof I am wrong? After the 31 years of circulation of Dr. Peggy McIntosh's work and extensive conversation over it's meaning, impact and veracity; where is peer reviewed evidence of a continued "White Privilege" that dismisses the conduct and personal efforts of those whose career track and success were evaluated?
Please, seriously, show me where I am wrong.