Learning About Racism and White Privilege

By Jon Saphier - September 29, 2016

Issues of race and the experience of people of color in America are more central in our national conversation and the media than I can remember since the Civil Rights Era of the 50s and 60s. Bringing this experience to the surface is a good thing.

Fundamental to the forward motion we can and must make toward a more integrated and just society is deepening white people’s understanding of the actual experience of people of color in our country. This is particularly important for educators. Our teacher workforce is predominantly white and our student population nationwide is majority non-white.

At Research for Better Teaching, a school improvement organization working since 1979 on behalf of children, we have spent the last five years studying and sharing experiences to deepen our own understanding of racism and white privilege. Twenty percent of our staff and consultants are people of color.

I am offering here a series of readings we have done together which has a certain logical sequence to it. For example, for all its literary power and depth of emotion, I think Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, is not the first reading that white people beginning the journey to cultural proficiency should undertake if they are beginners in this study and have lived their lives mainly in protected white circles. Yet, for those who are ready, it is essential reading.

Readers may disagree with the sequence and even the reading (and films) in this list. I look forward to suggestions friends and colleagues may offer. Together we can improve this list. I urge others interested in improving our schools and moving social justice forward in our country to begin this study. We have to open our eyes to the current reality and to what our real possibilities are as a multi-racial society.

Here is my starter list of recommendations and a few sentences on where each focuses: PDF of suggested reading and films on racism

I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions.