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whiteness and white privilege in early childhood

The purpose of this review is to analyse writings around the area of Anti-racist professional development for white early childhood educators to create positive racial teaching identities and eliminate the colour blind approach in classrooms. These writings will derive from the UK and USA. The theme will be ways in which teachers might prepare white early childhood education students for anti-racist work in their classrooms and the impact of anti-racist professional development on classroom practice. We will in addition be discussing literature which focuses on white privilege from different perspectives, including Tsesis who discusses the theory of black civil rights, Ogletree’s views on interegation and whether the ideal is still worth striving for in the face of societys increasing indifference, and Brown et al who discusses white privilege in a colour blind society.

The review concludes with...................................................................................

Enid Lee (1995) describes racism as ‘any act or idea which limits, denies or grants opportunities, services, resources, rights or respect to a person on the basis of skin colour.

 For many years the education system has attempted to address inequality. Schools see less segregation by implementing a multi-cultural curriculum and communities are becoming more diverse, however although laws have been placed upon schools many are still segregated and students of colour are over represented and placed in special education. This is not seen as a racial issue because of the “laws” which have been put in place and believe racism is over and they do not see colour, so therefore creating a “colour blind approach” to black children being placed into special education over their white counterparts. Colour blind ideology refers to the belief that race is neutral in a social context. It is seen as a barrier that keeps people from raising any concerns surrounding the value of race or racial inequalities in everyday experiences and in a way are ignoring race so helping to propagate racism within a society.

According to Bonilla-Silva (2003) there are four frames of colour blindness, Abstract liberalism, naturalization, cultural racism and minimization of racism. Abstract liberalism is applying an abstract idea about people of colour but in reality what happens is a validation for racially unjust opportunities or situations. Naturalization draws on the principle that things are how they are because it is “natural”. Cultural racism is when people believe people are supposed to stick with their own culture in social situations, sometimes used to give good reason for peoples positions of power within society and minimisation of racism which believes racism no longer exists as it is not in the legal system any longer, thus people believing that racism is really not the foundation of social discrimination but the groups or individuals themselves.

Literature suggests colour blindness is evident in classrooms here in the UK and USA and implementation of Anti Racist Teacher development is present to attempt to combat this approach. Beverly Tatum (1999) during an interview quoted “I’m not prejudice, I don’t notice any differences in these kids, I treat them all the same.” This is a perfect example of how teachers are ignoring race within their classrooms. http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Antiracist_Activism_for_Teachers_and_Students

Racism within schools in particular areas are monocultural rather than multicultural, with white teachers rarely having any interaction with students of colour and their views only being moulded by the stereotypes they hear in the media or what they hear from family and friends. It is clear to see across current literature being a white educator will leave you ill equipped to prepare students both of white and of colour to be able to function well within such a multicultural society such as ours.

Enid Lee (1995) describes racism as ‘any act or idea which limits, denies or grants opportunities, services, resources, rights or respect to a person on the basis of skin colour.

There is an evergrowing need for white educators to have professional development in order for them to increase their perspectives and extend their understandings of race and racism and how it affects not only their education but those of the students (Lawrence&tatum 1997; sleeter 1992;zeichner 1993), yet still today this taboo subject of race is something we do not like to talk about, teachers fear that talks of race will evolve into angry conversations and accusations. When in the classrooms many teachers fail to acknowledge their own racial identity so this alone becomes a wall for understanding the developmental needs of students of colour , this ultimately results in the child of colour not acknowledging theirs and white classmates

White teachers cannot be role models for their pupils and this may cause their pupils to experience confusion about the racial realities of the world in which they live in, which means the ability of white teachers to work effectively in multicultural institutions is imperative but this can only be achieved if white racial identity development is addressed initially (carter and Goodwin 1994)

Racial identity development for Early Childhood Educators looks at the implications psychologically of racial group membership particularly the principle issues which are a result of racial categorization. Helms (1990) believes racial identity exists in all of us to a certain degree but unfolds differently in whites than people of colour mainly due to their social position. For a white person it is all about accepting their whiteness and making their identity socially meaningful, creating a positive view of what it means to be white (helms 1990p55), Janet helms believed progressing along 6 psychological stages is necessary for teachers to be victorious by learning about then teaching in a way that forms antiracist pedagogy. By teaching and learning these anti racist processes we can look at how racism influences the schools as well as the people in them, teach students about the racial stratification and empower teachers to take responsibility and challenge race issues within their institution.

In their work Lawrence and Tatum 1997 conducted a study which analysed white educators and whether by engaging them in professional development and looking at antiracist pedagogy would experience any change in their racial identity

They took 110 suburban white teachers all of whom were part of a voluntary desegregation program in Boston. Its aim was to create intervention that might impact teachers positively in working with black individuals who were participating in the program and for the educators to understand the cultural and personal manifestations of racism and be proactive in their responses to racism within the school settings. Of all of the 110 educators who participated, 48 described 142 specific anti racist actions they had taken during the course, Over half of these actions involved improving relationships between parents teachers and students along with relationships amongst teachers too, nearly a third of these involved curriculum transformations and around a fifth involved changes around support services for students of colour.

Tara Goldstein in her study ‘Im not White’: anti-racist teacher education for white early childhood educators highlighted the need to conceptualise and implement teacher education for racial and cultural diversity in preparing white early childhood education students for anti-racist work in their classrooms. It suggests white teachers acknowledging their white privilege is a key component of anti racist education. In her article on White privilege, anti racist educator Peggy McIntosh (1999) listed 26 privileges that are attached to her white racial identity. These included (1) being able to purchase or rent a house in an area which she would like to live and can afford to live in; (2) being able to turn on the television or go to buy her local newspaper and see people of her race widely represented; (3) being able to swear, dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of her race ; (4) being able to ask for the ‘person in charge’ and find herself facing a person of her own race; and (5) being sure that if she needs legal or medical help , her race will not work against her.

In naming this white privilege it asks white teachers to recognise that racism isn’t only something which puts other people at a disadvantage, it is something that puts white students at a disadvantage. McIntosh (1999) describes white privilege as;

“an invisible package of unearned assets which i can count on cashing in each day, but which i was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas,clothes, tools and blank cheques.”

Therefore learning about white privilege makes white teachers newly responsible in acknowledging this is a key component of anti racist education. McIntosh (1999) suggests it is the silences and denials surrounding privilege that keep on thinking about equality or equality incomplete. Unearned advantage and conferred dominance are protected when they are taboo subjects.

Lawrence & Tatum (1999) highlight that if white teachers are to respond to our learning about white privilege in a constructive way, teachers educators need information about white anti racist educators and activists who have found ways of creating positive-rather than guilty , angry or sad –white identities. Such educators who have achieved this can encourage ongoing self –examination and increase interpersonal effectiveness in multicultural settings.

In her model of white racial identity Janet Helms (1990,1995) described six identity statuses that classify a white individuals pattern of responding to racial situations within an environment. Listed as Contact, Disintegration, Reintegration, Pseudoindependence, Immersion/Emersion and Autonomy. Individuals may take on more than one status at any time and these will vary dependant on situation and environment of the individual.

Furthermore , Lawrence & Tatum (1999)are in agreement with Helms (1990,1995) six statuses and point out that an understanding of all six is extremely helpful in developing anti racist education in white teachers, they felt that by helping and addressing the feelings which arise in white students when talking about white privilege is to have them think through the ways in which they might respond to the racism they witness in their classrooms.

In addition Charles J Ogletree in his book All deliberate speed discussed his school years as a ‘Brown baby’, he looks through the reader strategy that led up to the brown vs board of education which was a decision of the Us supreme court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students and discusses the campaigns for affirmative actions and black reparations. Ogletree’s book principally looks at whether the ideal is still worth striving for in the face of today’s increasing diversity. Although integration provided Ogletree with a first rate education it failed many other black students of his generation.

Therefore some cities such as Boston resisted integration bitterly casting abuse on the defenceless black school children bused in from the other side of town. Others placed black children in lower academic sets or with teachers who believed them un-capable of achieving higher academic outcomes. This led Ogletree to question whether the black community would not be better off pursuing equal funding due to society and its content to pursue integration at all costs. Ogletree is uncertain how far society has come in the fifty years since Brown and the supreme court and sees segregation creeping back into most of the big cities.

Since the heady times Ogletree writes about the UK and US have entered a new phase of Race relations, one that emphasises a colour blind society. Brown et al insists, if racism lodges within the structures of a society, filters through every significant encounter, and passes through every period in our history pretending to be colour blind will simply make matters worse. In addition Brown et al established through public opinion polls that a smaller amount of white people hate blacks, believe them stupid or inferior or wish not to associate with them. This results in racial realists concluding racism is dead, however Brown et al conducted many studies which prove racism is still very evident but is presented in an unintentional, unstated, normal way, embedding itself in a host of behaviours, attitudes, expectations and norms as a system of advantage and exclusion that constantly places whites on top at the expense of others.

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