Equity & Diversity Opinion

What Lies Beyond Becoming Colorblind for Leaders?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — January 17, 2017 3 min read
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If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it - John Lewis

In every nation, there come days or weekends or moments when all of who that nation is converges. We have one now. The transition of leadership in this country sets a model for the world. So, when inauguration weekend fills with protests and joins Martin Luther King Day, what more can be said about democracy in action? It can be messy, and we expect it will be that this weekend. But it has created a nation with a solid foundation and a path to change as needed. Changes have been led, as John Lewis notes, by those who saw those things “that were not right, not fair and not just” and took action.

John Lewis is on our minds as his name is, again, all over the news, a flashpoint of controversy as the target of Donald Trump tweets. Today, we heard Ron Paul assert that even icons can be criticized. Yes, in this nation that is true. But, beware, because in this exchange is the line that makes all the difference for our future. Can a President Elect be criticized in America or not? Can a civil rights hero be criticized or not?

As educators, we may hope to be colorblind. But is there something beyond being colorblind that will make us better and stronger leaders for children of all colors and cultures? Too often we see our good intentions rather than the real lives of others. The society within which schools exists, for the most part, presents as white even though many of our local communities have rapidly changing demographics.

If we wonder sometimes why educators are out of sync with many others. Consider this, the majority fo adults in our country are white and many still have little or no contact with “others”. But, within the population of children under the age of 18 in 2015, Kids Count reports only 52% were white Non -Hispanic. Black, Hispanic/Latino and Asian children comprise nearly half of our students. The change coming to the face of our nation is happening first in schools. It places us on the cutting edge of social, cultural, and political issues.

We want to represent the whole of our student population. Are the images we use to represent school-age children in blogs, articles, and webpages as diverse as the student populations we serve? We may be able to find images of diverse children but, then, how do we show the 16. 4 million children living in poverty? How do images reflect poverty? Do we really believe a billionaire secretary of education will care more about these children than we do? No, we don’t, but we do think that we need to make our eyes and ears more attentive. They ought to be refreshed every day as we scan children and data as well. To some it may seem artificial, but children need and deserve to be seen, not as defined by adult stereotypes, but as themselves and who they may become. If we cannot set old stereotypes aside, we perpetuate a deep problem for the nation.

Leaders matter. They always do. The question of how a classroom, school, and district embraces the journey toward becoming colorblind and choosing to step beyond it depends upon the leader’s own capacity to ask good questions, be present as truths are revealed, walk through this process as a partner, and be sure that everyone feels safe as this process unfolds. These revelations and discussions can be very personal. We are not talking about being colorblind. Instead, we aspire to see color and celebrate its beauty and its potential. If we aspire to not see color, and if we believe one can achievable that goal, then we are put ourselves at risk of not acknowledging the person we are looking at. As educators, we must see each child and their parents and the adults who love them, and we must help them grow and learn because they will define the nation we grow old within.

... because racism has become more subtle, it is all the more difficult to recognize and combat, and it may exert its negative influence with relative ease and impunity (Chin. p.9).

The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination: A revised and condensed edition (2010) Edited by Chin, J.L. Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-CLIO LLC

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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