As director of intercultural life at a small Iowa college 12 years ago, Eddie Moore Jr. decided to hold a conference on the advantages white Americans enjoy simply because of their skin color.
He called it the White Privilege Conference.
Every year since, people have suggested changing the name to something less provocative, Moore said.
He stood firm and now points to growing attendance–up from 150 that first year at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, to 3,000 this year in Minneapolis-St. Paul–as a sign the concept is catching on.
Authors of a book purchased by the Omaha Public Schools for cultural sensitivity training say teachers must acknowledge the existence of white privilege to better relate to minority students.
Adherents to the white privilege concept define it generally as the tangible, but sometimes invisible, benefits whites enjoy as the dominant racial group in America.
Critics, however, say that focusing on white privilege distracts from the real challenges facing minority communities and from back-to-basics academic approaches that have been proven to lift poor and minority students’ performance.
Outside of academia, meanwhile, many people have never heard of white privilege.
Advocates of the white privilege viewpoint see a disconnect between white teachers and minority students. Teachers who acknowledge white privilege stand a better chance of forging a productive relationship with students of color, they say.
Advocates see white privilege as a possible factor in persistent academic achievement gaps between white and minority students, which Omaha has suffered.
Omowale Akintunde, chairman of the Black Studies Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, told educators at a recent education summit in Omaha that white people have a hard time seeing their privilege because they are the dominant class.
As a child growing up in Mobile, Ala., Akintunde said he noticed that pictures on the wall of the Lutheran school he attended portrayed Jesus as white. Biblical figures on the chapel’s stained-glass windows were white. The TV cartoon families Flintstones and Jetsons were white, too.
He said he discovered “a world of whiteness.” He realized he had adopted the white race as normal, that the “default race” in America is white.
In his view, schools need to review what they’re teaching to make sure lessons don’t reflect only the white point of view.
[Editor’s Note: For earlier reporting on Omaha Public Schools’ purchase of 8,000 “Diversity Manuals,” see here.]