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How should schools address privilege in the classroom? Join the discussion #donowprivilege on Twitter and tag @youthradio in your response.
When you hear the word “privilege,” you might picture a super rich person wearing a tuxedo and eating caviar for breakfast. But it’s not just the “one percenters” who have privilege. Privilege is tied to your race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, immigration or health status, to name just a handful. You don’t necessarily have control over these factors, and yet they can influence the way people treat you and how you move through the world.
One of the most difficult things that comes up when talking about privilege is that it can seem invisible to those who possess it. But when you don’t have privilege, the rules are stacked against you, or at least made without taking your needs and realities into consideration.
Although there are many types of privilege, one phrase you may have heard a lot lately is “white privilege.” It wasn’t that long ago that outright racist U.S. laws were on the books that treated white people as a higher social class than people of color. Many of those laws no longer exist, but stereotypes, implicit and explicit biases, and structural inequalities remain. As then-KQED host Joshua Johnson described in the series So Well Spoken, “[White privilege] is the social perks many whites enjoy today through no fault or effort of their own, including insulation from subtle acts of racism.”
That’s not to say all [insert a type of privileged class] people have it easy. A 2014 study from Johns Hopkins found when looking at children who grew up in poor neighborhoods, hardly any individuals, white or black, successfully obtained a college degree. However, “even without the benefit of a college degree, “whites, and white men especially, had vastly better employment outcomes. At every age, the white men experienced shorter spells of unemployment, were more likely to be working full-time and earned more.”
There’s no doubt privilege is an important concept to discuss. But how should teachers teach or address privilege in the classroom?
Recently, Youth Radio reporter Sierra Fang-Horvath and her high school classmates participated in a survey calculating their privilege, answering questions, “Do bandaids match your skin color?” For Sierra, the answer was no. She was one of the few students of color in her predominantly white class.
“At the end of the quiz, my white classmates had racked up scores suggesting they have three times as much privilege as I do,” Sierra said. “Now, I no longer think of myself as Sierra. I’m brown Sierra.”
The sensitivity (and potential controversy) surrounding topics like race, class and privilege can make them difficult to teach in a classroom setting. Some teachers avoid talking about them altogether. However for students like Sierra, the risk is worth it.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that privilege exists,” Sierra said. “We don’t have to become defensive, and we don’t have to feel guilty for it, but we do have to know when it’s there.”
Featured Resource AUDIO: Mixed Race Privilege?(Youth Radio/KQED)
As a mixed race teen, Sierra Fang-Horvath knew on some level she was different than her white classmates. But she didn’t realize how different until her class took a quiz about privilege. Once she recognized the kind of privilege she did — and didn’t — have, she started thinking about her identity in a whole new way.
AUDIO: Mixed, Passing For White (KQED/Youth Radio)
As part of KQED’s “So Well Spoken” Series, Youth Radio’s Maya Cueva reflects on her mixed race (but white passing) privilege: “Ever since I can remember, my mom has always searched for things that connect our Jewish and Latino identities. But out in the world, I often face identity policing. Because I pass as white, people ask if I’m actually a person of color or not. So I’m constantly having to prove my Peruvian heritage. Like having to tell my dad’s immigration story soon after I meet people. I call it ‘coming out as mixed.’”
AUDIO: Whispers of Racism (KQED/Youth Radio)
When Youth Radio reporter Isabella Ordaz and her family moved from a diverse but higher-crime neighborhood in Antioch, California to a more affluent, gang-free community in Danville, she felt like they had won “the Mexican immigrant lottery.” But the move also came with a new form of culture shock. As one of the only brown kids in her class, Isabella soon found herself missing the acceptance she had in her old neighborhood.
AUDIO: Feeling Like A Foreigner In Class (KCBS/Youth Radio)
Youth Radio’s Darelle Brown shares his perspective as one of the only black students in his college classes. “We have a lot of international students, but sometimes I feel like the one that’s foreign,” he says. “I’m a real outgoing person with my friends, but at school I’m anti-social. I’m afraid to talk to people because I don’t want to get stereotyped.’”