Yes, you are privileged. Time to acknowledge your entitlements
Equity Corner by Adonai Mack
August 10, 2020
After my last column, I had an outpouring of thank yous and support for pushing the boundaries on discussing racism in our educational system throughout the country. I truly appreciate all the love. I continue to educate myself by searching for resources and tools to build my knowledge in order to help school leaders eradicate structural racism as we know it. However, we cannot have an honest conversation about race and institutional racism without discussing or acknowledging the privilege, specifically the white privilege, that many in our state and country have enjoyed. Any discussion on privilege is extremely controversial but also extremely important. To illustrate this, I’d like to describe someone I know all too well.   This heterosexual male was born with a silver spoon in his mouth into a middle class, highly educated family. His family included individuals with Ph.D.s and MDs from prestigious universities and others with master’s degrees. In fact, both his parents were college graduates. To ensure he was loved and cared for as a young child, his mother chose not to work so that she could be at home “when his feet hit the door” afterschool. As he grew up, his family lived in affluent communities where he could attend the best schools and have the best opportunities for success. Throughout his youth, this young man’s family participated in country clubs, where he learned to play golf, tennis, soccer, baseball and basketball. His summers were spent traveling with his grandparents to places like Washington, D.C., Vancouver, and Canada, and attending Space Camp. By the time he graduated high school he had traveled throughout Europe. Everyone in his family owned their homes, both grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It wasn’t unusual for this young man to spend summers or weeks at some relative’s house in a different affluent community.  As he matured, he participated in debutant activities and continued to be involved in social clubs within his affluent community. When it was time to attend college, this young man had spent time at various colleges and universities around California and other colleges outside of California. There was never a conversation about whether college was for him, it was about where he would go to college. He of course chose a prestigious school to attend because he had a choice. After graduating from college, he was assisted in obtaining employment through the connections of his mother and father. His parents’ reputations and connections allowed him to start his career path. He met his future wife and was married at a country club that was attended by state and local government officials and local community leaders. Does this upbringing sound familiar? If you haven’t figured it out yet, this person is me. I grew up with all of those privileges. Yes, I am a black man in America with these privileges and yet still succeeded despite the institutionally racist system and barriers. My grandparents laid the foundation for this. They were community organizers and political activists, all to ensure that my parents were given the opportunities to be successful. And in turn, my parents did the same for me. And yet, I’ve been pulled over for driving while black. I’ve been described as aggressive not assertive. Disruptive not innovative. Angry and emotional not passionate. I’ve been considered intimidating, although I am hardly as tall as LeBron James or as big as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. And, my ideas have been dismissed and/or pushed aside.  So I ask you this … what if I was gay? What if I was Muslim? What if my family immigrated to this country and I was a DREAMER? What if I was Japanese and my grandparents were put into internment camps? Would all the privileges that I had even exist?  What if I were white? Does this change my career trajectory? How would I be described or treated by others? The concept of White Privilege is sometimes controversial and full of criticism. However, it is undeniable that many in our society have privileges that others are unable to access.  Peggy McIntosh has stated that “Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do. Access to privilege doesn’t determine one’s outcomes, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability, and aspirations a person with privilege has will result in something positive for them.”  In addition, Paula Rothenberg has noted that “White Privilege is the other side of racism. Unless we name it, we are in danger of wallowing in guilt or moral outrage with no idea of how to move beyond them. It is often easier to deplore racism and its effects than to take responsibility for the privileges some of us receive as a result of it … once we understand how white privilege operates, we can begin addressing it on an individual, and institutional basis.”  Yes, I have had many privileges in my life, and I am thankful. Yet I still face barrier after barrier. If we care to ever break down these institutional and ingrained systems, we must do the hard work of challenging these systems that have institutionalized racism. This work starts internally with ourselves by naming and recognizing those privileges that have existed for a millennia. If I can acknowledge mine, my white friends, colleagues and allies can name and acknowledge their own white privilege. We will never close achievement gaps or see students of color have success if we continue to fail to examine internalized stereotypes, prejudices, discrimination, and racism that we have perpetuated on students either by our silence or ignorance. Nor can we even talk about anti-racism strategies if we can’t work on ourselves first.  To that end, it is time to grow. Start by working on you. You can find great resources at the following websites: Teaching Tolerance:
Adonai Mack is ACSA’s Senior Director of Equity and Inclusion.
Contact Us

© 2020 Association of California School Administrators
ACSA EdCal logo.
Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators