The Seattle School District is sending students to a 'white privilege' conference

The diversity gathering in Colorado will highlight "the destructive power" of whiteness and empower students to tackle "oppression."
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The White Privilege Conference logo.

The diversity gathering in Colorado will highlight "the destructive power" of whiteness and empower students to tackle "oppression."

For the first time, the Seattle Public Schools is sending students from four high schools and their chaperones to a conference on "white privilege," sponsored by the University of Colorado and a variety of other groups. The conference takes place April 18-21. Sound Politics first reported this briefly last week. What makes it noteworthy is the fact the school district's policies regarding race have been in the news lately. Officially, the district presumes racism is institutionalized in Seattle schools and that students of color are inherently disadvantaged. A particularly strident articulation of this notion was once posted on the school district's Web site. It said, in effect, that in America only whites are racist and that examples of white cultural racism included individualism and expectations that students learn standard English. When it came to light last year, the statements were removed. A brief description of the White Privilege Conference to be held in Colorado Springs, Colo., this month can be found at the school district's Web site in the "Equity and Race Relations" section. The trip will be paid for by a "small learning communities grant." Examination of "white privilege" is part of a re-orientation in the field of diversity to shift the focus from "racism" to the broader socioeconomic context of American Society. According to the White Privilege Conference Web site, the goal of the gathering is to make people more aware of the "negative historical implications of 'Whiteness,'" to "difuse [sic] the destructive power" of whiteness, and to encourage students to become "champions" of social justice and change. The conference organizers further describe it this way: The annual White Privilege Conference (WPC) serves as a yearly opportunity to examine and explore difficult issues related to white privilege, white supremacy and oppression. WPC provides a forum for critical discussions about diversity, multicultural education and leadership, social justice, race/racism, sexual orientation, gender relations, religion and other systems of privilege/oppression. WPC is recognized as a challenging, empowering and educational experience. The workshops, keynotes and institutes not only inform participants, but engage and challenge them, while providing practical tips and strategies for combating inequality." According to the conference Web site, the goal of the gathering is, in part, to make white people aware that they have been purposely kept ignorant of their societal advantages and to make participants more aware of the "negative historical implications of 'Whiteness.'" In the conference's FAQ, we learn: Q: What is privilege?

A: "I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about 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 checks." –Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Q: What does it do?

A: "It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all. Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power, and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already. –Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Q: Is this about proving how bad white folks are?

A: "Our attempts to dismantle dominance and oppression must follow a path other than that of either vilifying or obliterating Whiteness ... Whites need to acknowledge and work through the negative historical implications of "Whiteness" and create for ourselves a transformed identity as White people committed to equality and social change. Our goal is neither to defy or denigrate Whiteness, but to difuse [sic] its destructive power.

"To teach my white students and my own children that they are 'not White' is to do them a disservice. To teach them that there a [sic] different ways of being White, and that they have a choice as White people to become champions fo [sic] justice and social healing, is to provide them a positive direction for growth and to grant them the dignity of their own being. –Gary Howard, We Can't Teach What We Don't Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools The founder of the conference is Eddie Moore Jr., now director of diversity at the elite private Seattle academy The Bush School. It is especially interesting in light of the discussion inspired by a Seattle Times story about white parents feeling unwanted at the Madrona K-8 school. Read about the experience there of Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat and my take on the controversy. Westneat followed up on Sunday, April 8, with a new column about the response to his anguish over his family's experience at Madrona, where white "charity" was deemed as being racist. In response to Danny's column, Chris Drape, principal of The New School in southeast Seattle, said his piece was an example of "unexamined white privilege." Westneat will be taking questions on the topic of race, live on the Times Web site from noon to 1 p.m. on Monday, April 9.


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Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.