On Aug. 2, Hamilton County Schools held a professional development presented by motivational speaker Robert Jackson. The PD was for the teachers in the Opportunity Zone, which includes the 12 lowest-performing schools in Hamilton County where 90 percent of the students are black.
During the 90-minute presentation, there was a 15-20-minute segment concerning “White Privilege”. I have seen four slides that were shown on the large screen during the white privilege portion of the presentation. The titles of the four screens were, “Racism”, two were titled “White Privilege” and the fourth was titled “Essential Questions”.
The Racism slide stated the following, “People of color cannot be racist because they lack the institutional power to adversely affect white lives. Even if minorities sometimes complain about whites, such complaints serve a coping mechanism to withstand racism rather than actual anti-white bias. Even when minorities express or practice prejudice against whites, they are not racist.”
The two White Privilege slides stated the following as to what White Privilege is, “Less likely to be followed, interrogated or searched by law enforcement. Skin tone will not affect their credit or financial responsibility. When accused of a crime, portrayed as good person. Don’t lose opportunities when mistakes are made. White privilege is both a legacy and a cause of racism. White privilege exists because of historic, enduring racism and biases.”
Teachers were broken into small groups for the Essential Questions which were as follows, “How does my race influence who I am? How are my experiences different from those of other races? What kind of bias and privileges do individuals experience because of their race? What can I do to address racial prejudice?”
Also during this segment a video was shown with the pictures of Pierre Loury, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Adam Lanza and Dylan Roof. The video said the blacks in the video, Loury, Martin and Brown, were referred to as thugs in the news and the whites, Lanza and Roof, were not.
I ask, what does this have to do with education?
There are many things about this presentation that I find offensive, both as a school board member, and a life-long citizen of Hamilton County. First, as a school board member, how does this type of professional development further Hamilton County’s goal of improving student achievement in our lowest performing schools? How did it make the white teachers in attendance feel to know that some of their students look at them and think they are racist just because of their skin color?
What about the white teachers who are married to blacks or the black teachers who are married to whites? What about bi-racial children? Are they supposed to look at their white parents as being “privileged”? How do these teachers now feel knowing that their students can complain about anything concerning them and it will be deemed acceptable because it is a “coping mechanism”?
Why do we want to divide faculties by race? Why do we want to make students bitter at their teachers who have never done anything to them? Why were white teachers singled out for professional development? Are there only two races in HCDE?
The Central Office was very much aware of the uproar this type of “training” caused this March in Williamson County. Why did some administrators choose to bring it here?
As a life-long citizen of Hamilton County, I have a problem with news outlets, teachers and administrators using the word “leaked” when referring to pictures of the slides that were shown at the presentation being made public. The Hamilton County School System belongs to the taxpayers. There should not be anything going on in any capacity at HCDE, (that is being paid for with tax dollars), that must be “leaked” for taxpayers to be made aware of it. For those who love transparency, those who brought “sunshine” to this PD should be praised not vilified.
Some have said that Robert Jackson has freedom of speech and he can say anything he wants. That is true, Mr. Jackson can indeed say anything he wants, except when taxpayers are paying his fee and then they have a right to voice their opinion about how their money is spent.
This PD was also held in a church. A church that has been very generous with the school system allowing them to use their facilities for many graduations, programs and presentations. The church had no idea a controversial presentation was being held in their sanctuary. Many inquiries were made to the church about the presentation which caused the church to have to issue a disclaimer. So, no, Robert Jackson cannot say anything he wants, anywhere he wants, on somebody else’s dime.
At the School Board meeting on Aug. 15, I asked our attorney to look at drafting a policy to make sure that any out-of-town consultants have their presentations vetted before they are booked for professional development. I also asked that the policy include HCDE’s ability to video professional development sessions. Having a copy of all presentations not only protects the School Board, it would also allow public transparency. It would also allow teachers who were unable to attend to watch it.
Our attorney told us that for the last 6-8 months most presenters marked out the portion of the contract that said HCDE reserved the right to video their presentations. They claim it is their intellectual property. If presenters do not want to allow HCDE to film their presentations then HCDE should not contract them. Nothing should be going on that Hamilton County taxpayers are not allowed to see. Also, any church or other organization who allows HCDE to use their facilities, should be able to film it as well so their members can see it.
Some board members do not want a professional development policy, but it is the only way I see for there to be accountability when there are questions about professional development content.
I still do not know how a professional development referencing white privilege is going to advance the academics of any Hamilton County School. All I see that this has done is cause dissension, division and bitterness the week before students showed up for the first day of school.
I hope when plans are made in the future to take a half of a day of a teacher’s class preparation time the week before school, better choices will be made.
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I find it ironic that Rhonda Thurman complains about the idea of “white privilege” when she represents one of the most racist areas in all of Hamilton County.
I say this as a parent who experienced that racism in 2006 or 2007 when our daughter’s basketball team from CSLA played Sale Creek. The CSLA team was mostly African American. As I remember, there was a parent on the Sale Creek side who was very vocal in her denunciation of the CSLA team including racial slurs in which the “n” word was very prominent. Nothing was the response from the officials or from the Sale Creek administration until the coach of the CSLA team called a time out and informed the officials that CSLA was ready to forfeit unless the individual responsible was removed and order restored.
Bottom line, had the CSLA coach not complained, the abhorrent, racist conduct of the Sale Creek parents would have prevailed. So, Ms Thurman, don’t give me this innocent “there isn’t any racism” nonsense when your community lives it on a daily basis. Oh, and which one was my daughter? The one with the blonde ponytail.
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Dear Mr. Cook
I personally know the current principal at Sale Creek Middle High School, further, I know all of the principals on a personal basis from Sale Creek Middle High School dating back to 1999. Unlike you, I can't speak for all of the residents of Sale Creek and Soddy-Daisy, however, the people I know from that area are good individuals. I resent your statement calling the Northern part of Hamilton County racist. None, I repeat, none of these principals would tolerate their fans, or anyone else's for that matter, using any language that would insult players on the other teams. Also, as an ex TSSAA official, I don't think incident this would be tolerated for one split second.
I feel strange having to defend people that have spent most of their adult life, like me, teaching and coaching, not only white students, but black students. You don't know how many black students are enrolled and have graduated from Sale Creek and Soddy Daisy Schools. You don't know how many rides home, lunches and just plain friendship that have been handed out by these folks.
Based on over 30 years of being in the HCDE I think you need to stop painting everyone with the same brush. Go to some games at these schools and see for yourself whats going on. Don't rely on a 10 year old "memory."
Finally, you owe an apology to the people of the northern end of the county and especially the principals you maligned.
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The greatest trick those with “white privilege” have tried to pull is to convince other people in the world that "white privilege" doesn’t exist.
I didn’t just get to Chattanooga. I’ve been here all my life and “white privilege” have raised its ugly head time, time and again. It's as simple as walking up to a register where there is plenty of room. I walk up first, waiting my turn. The cashier (white) acknowledges my presence while attending to some pressing business. Another person walks up (white). The cashier asks "who's next"? Sometimes I stand my ground, other times I put on a big smile. It is a joke! Never ceases to amaze me.
White privilege is not a myth or a theory. It is real! Those without it, live it everyday. Talking about “white privilege” is like talking about gangs, drugs, how to conduct yourself during a stop and frisk or illiteracy. If you believe that a workshop on “white privilege” should not be discussed in an institution where it affects children in their formidable years, then let’s not talk about gangs, drugs or illiteracy. Dr. Johnson has the courage to unapologetically call it what it is.
Some want to act as if it doesn't exist and we who know better don't want to go into that delusion! Ask any father or mother who has to raise their son “how to act during a stop and frisk”. Recently, in the past year, I attended a workshop where this very question was asked. One gentleman answered “just do what the officer tells you to do”. A realist said “do whatever you have to in order to go home alive”. Hmmm.
This president has spewed “white privilege” and racism all over the U.S. He has given a lot of people the delusion that they can say and/or do anything to people of color.
Now, maybe this is one point those with white privilege aren’t aware of, we are not our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. We will not respond in the same manner. Before you cross the line, be ready to be met halfway. We will look people in the eye and unapologetically call it just what it is. I get stopped, my phone is going on "live". I'll pay the ticket.
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I would appreciate it if every white person opposed to the idea of white privilege would answer this question: would you trade places with a person of color? If the answer (whether said or secretly thought) is no then you finally understand that the color of your skin has given you said privilege and you in your gut knew that people of color have extra issues to go through each day simply because of how they appear. Something that they cannot change (not that they should have to because we are all beautiful) and yet what have we done to stop their negative experiences from happening.
It seems to me that educating teachers on this matter might help them deal with these potential situations.
I’m sorry to say this but, Ms. Thurman, while I have supported you in the past I no longer feel confidence that you are able to get what the needs are of all of our children and this piece will keep me from further support for you.
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Ms. Elliott, we hear you. However, your experience with that white store clerk isn't about white privilege as much as it is about that individual's ignorance, stupidity and personal bigotry. I've had the same or similar experience from black store clerks. Let me share one of the recent experiences I had.
A few months ago I went to a local grocery store to purchase a restaurant gift card as a thank you for someone. I used my bank VISA debit card to make the purchase. When I presented my bank VISA debit card to the African-American (black) checkout clerk she held my card up and shouted out to another store employee "hey! hey! can she purchase gift cards on this?" She obviously couldn't tell the difference between a bank VISA debit card or an EBT card. She appeared to also have been trying to make an impression on the two white customers standing in line behind me. I wanted to explain to her not all debit cards are EBT cards, and not all black people are on public assistance. Instead I just gave her "stop trying to show your a-- look."
I've had similar experiences when I write out a check for purchases. I've had black store clerks ask for my driver's license and spend several seconds writing information from my license on the check. Rather than go through the hassle or argue the next time around I had to make a purchase at the same store I'd just immediately whip out my license only to have the white store clerk to tell me "Mam if you've made purchases by checks here before I don't need to see your driver's license. You're already in the system."
Years ago when a heavy police presence came into the highly racially mixed neighborhood I've lived for over 40 years, born in over 60 years ago, at the request of some white residents based on their exaggerations of crime it wasn't only the white cops who harassed black homeowners and any black living in or entering and exiting the area, but black cops too. The black ones attitudes seem to be "don't you dare even look cross-eyed at our white 'missus' and 'massahs'. We got our eye on y'all black folks." No kidding. Also, there were two black cops, one female other male, who showed up at my home to warn, even threatened me, to remain silent and not to continue to speak out or complain when I spoke out and contacted CPD about the way my son, USAF, was treated and assaulted when he and his wife returned to Chattanooga on a short weekend leave. One of those black cops, the male, was the nighttime supervisor for those two white cops who stopped my son. His job apparently was to cover for his subordinates and discredit and prevent any complaints from going to the next level. The black female cop also had a sordid reputation among many blacks in the black communities they both patrolled, so did he.
Ms. Elliott, my children were abused by both black and white educators pretty much from grade school and well into high school who just assumed they were from poor areas or lived in public housing--May the Spirits help, bless and protect those who do live under those conditions and where such attitudes show their ugly heads. On the other hand, my children were also inspired and encouraged by both black and white teachers to do their very best and to go on to do great things in their lives, and to always reach back to help the person they saw struggling.
The problems aren't as much about white privilege as much as it is about stupid, insecure people who lack self-esteem, humanity and the sense of a moral compass or the ability to deal with and recognize their own darkness. Those people come in all shapes, sizes and colors.