On Point: The “Whiteness” Trap

Rocky Mountain News (Denver), May 10, 2006

If any school district in Colorado can turn around second-rate achievement among many black and Hispanic students, it should be Cherry Creek. It has the resources, tradition of excellence, quality staff, first-rate facilities, and community confidence required to pull off the feat. And it has a smart pro at the helm in Superintendent Monte Moses. The stars are aligned.

Yet in its quest to eliminate the achievement gap, Cherry Creek has embraced, oddly, a program that is at best offensive, and potentially an obstacle to long-term progress. It’s the brainchild of Glenn E. Singleton of the Pacific Educational Group in California, a man with a one-word explanation for low-scoring blacks and Hispanics: racism.

“It is our belief that the most devastating factor contributing to the lowered achievement of students of color is institutionalized racism,” Singleton writes (with co-author Curtis Linton) in his recent book Courageous Conversations About Race. White teachers (and minority teachers co-opted into the white power structure) stymie black and Hispanic students because they fail to understand their cultures and how daily racial oppression affects their outlook. They also push a curriculum tooled for whites, and are ignorant of the special ways that blacks and Hispanics communicate.

“We will shine the light on racial dominance to uncover how Whiteness challenges the performance of students of color while shaping and reinforcing the racial perspective of White children,” Singleton and Linton promise.

Cherry Creek not only paid Singleton’s outfit a six-figure fee for advice, Moses wrote an endorsement blurb for the back of his book. And the program of “equity teams” and “courageous conversations” is being implemented in district schools.

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The “courageous conversations” of the book’s title are supposed to engage teachers in frank interracial dialogue. But as envisioned by Singleton and Linton, these conversations are successful mainly to the extent they follow a structured format in which participants examine and embrace specific premises, such as the ubiquity of white privilege and racism, and thus raise the consciousness of whites.

Participants must “come to recognize that race impacts every aspect of your life 100 percent of the time.” Meanwhile, “anger, guilt and shame are just a few of the emotions” whites should expect to experience “as they move toward greater understanding of Whiteness.”

Enlightened whites, in the authors’ description, speak in the chastened, cringing language of someone who has emerged from a re-education camp. Singleton and Linton praise the example of a white male teacher in North Carolina who has this to say about his new perspective: “Although I often try to seek counsel of colleagues of color, it is inevitable that times arise where it’s only after the fact that one of them points out some flaw in my reasoning. The flaws are often the result of my ingrained Whiteness and my own blindness to its perpetual presence.”

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