In his essay, “Whites in Multicultural Education: Rethinking our Role,” Gary Howard discusses ways for us to go about participating “in the dance of diversity, a dance in which everyone shares the lead” (Banks, 1996, p. 333). As a White American, a member of the dominant group, Howard discusses how acknowledgement of past oppressions often leads those of “European background to feel a collective sense of complicity, shame, or guilt” (p. 328). While on an emotional level, these feelings are very real, in efforts to break the cycle of guilt, hurt and blame, we must take on new roles and such feelings must be overcome. Facing the reality of privilege should not stop at awareness or even discussion, but should be a catalyst for change, for movement, for action.
Howard suggests ways for White Americans to go about doing this, such as supporting “new historical research aimed at providing a more inclusive and multidimensional view of our nation’s past” (p. 329). This particularly applies to us, as educators. Already, “scholars and educators are searching for the literature, the experiences, the contributions, and the historical perspectives that have been ignored in our Eurocentric schooling” (p. 329). Incorporating these sources and perspectives into the classroom is not only an important part of dismantling cycles of marginalization, but also is key in developing culturally competent individuals who will be active participants in creating a better, more equal America.
An aspect I appreciated about Howard’s writing, was an emphasis on co-responsibility, on balance. White Americans must acknowledge and take responsibility for privilege but at the same time, “our role is not to fall into a kind of morose confessionalism about the sins of our ancestors” (p. 330). In helping students to not be ignorant of their own privilege, we must be clear that while they may not be responsible for the past, they are deeply responsible for the future. And with the future in mind, we as educators must highlight and model both empathy and respect or respeto, which in Spanish means to “acknowledge the full humanness of other people, their right to be who they are, their right to be treated in a good way” (p. 330). These traits must be foundational within our classrooms.
And while facing these realties may feel overwhelming, students should be reminded of this quote from Howard: “racism is not a Black problem or an Indian problem or an Asian problem or a Hispanic problem—or even a White problem. The issue of racism and cultural diversity in the United States is a human problem, a struggle we are all in together. It cannot be solved by any one group” (p. 330). Together, with combined effort and resources we can all work toward the building of a multicultural America.
Banks, J. A. (1996). J.A. Banks (Ed.). Multicultural education, transformative knowledge and action: Historical and contemporary perspectives. New York: Teachers College Press.