Sunday, September 22, 2013

Deconstructing Armstrong and Wildman. A Response to "Deconstructing Privilege: Teaching and Learning as Allies in the Classroom."


In chapter five of the book Deconstructing Privilege, authors Margalynne Armstrong and Stephanie Wildman address a modern racial dilemma, a term and practice known as "colorblindness." They argue that colorblindness, our warm and fuzzy friend, and nice friendly alternative to direct and outward in-your-face racism is really not so warm and fuzzy. Armstrong and Wildman say that despite all of our best efforts to see everyone as equal and support diversity and a utopian multicultural society, racism is still alive and kicking. The authors refer to racism as pervasive, and insidious, and say that striving for a world full of colorblindness is absolutely the wrong way to address these very real  issues.

Old News

In many ways these authors sound a lot like their predecessors, people were writing about this same stuff over ten years ago. Armstrong and Wildman sound a lot like Allan Johnson and Lisa Delpit, authors we have carefully examined in class. Johnson's key phrase was to "name it." He asked citizens and educators to put the terms racism, oppression and power on the table. Johnson also included a graphic wheel that illustrated the ways in which we step into and outside of the culture of power. Armstrong and Wildman do much of the same in this chapter of their book. They include a Power Line chart which looks an awful lot like the SCWAMP activity designed years ago. The voice of Lisa Delpit comes through in their writing as well. The authors toss around terms like "white-privilege," "perspectivelessness," and "systemic power" saying that white people often don't realize that they hold the power within society, similar to Delpit's "Culture of Power."Delpit also argued that "good intentions" often resulted in further problems in the realm of race. Colorblindness is a perfect example of good intentions gone awry. By pretending that we are all the same, we are in fact making matters worse. These are not new concepts or realizations in the academic world. They are also not new realizations in the day to day world and life of anyone who has ever read or learned through experience about race issues in the United States.

New Food For Thought  

Armstrong and Wildman do bring a couple of fresh ideas to the table. One particularlly interesting quote was used in regard to President Obama, "commentators describe U.S. society as 'post-racial,' as if the election of a Black man to the nation's highest office meant no more conversation about race was needed." This statement really struck a chord with me. I think that the topic of a Black president is an important one to address. People do tend to use Obama as a cure-all piece of evidence that whites in the U.S. are finally done being racist. However, when the media is carefully examined, our president is often painted in a negative light, not just because of his politics, but often because of his race and potential religious background. People continue to argue about whether or not he is truly a citizen. His middle name, Hussein, is often used in a derogatory way. Think about the number of times you have hear him called "Barack Hussein Obama" rather than Barack H. Obama. George W. Bush was NEVER referred to as George William Bush. One individual I know refers to President Obama as the "Commander in Thug." The President is a prime example of the ways in which our society still demonizes those who are "other."

 Obama-Jimmy-Carter-in-thug.jpg image by itsforthechildren

One final piece of the text that I appreciated were the example educator lessons provided. These lessons were pertinent and thoughtful, and really seem like great ways to engage students in the thought process necessary to understand why our society is not O.K. I like the idea of having students observe the world around them for a 24 hour period. To take note of all of the small ways in which white people are given privilege. Privilege in today's world doesn't look like separate bathrooms and restaurants, but "white hands on the fasten seat-belt sign." It looks like white people working on computers in the airport, and people of color cleaning the bathrooms and working behind the scenes. I don't know that the provided lessons would be appropriate for seventh graders, but I think they are applicable to our every day lives and the world around us. Armstrong and Wildman encourage readers to look carefully below the surface, to scratch the exterior, because the more we become aware of the ways in which the world around us functions, the more we will see that this is still a white man's world.


  1. I didn't include any of the classroom techniques in my writing because I was stuck trying to figure out a way to do this in a science class. However, I too really liked this technique in particular. It really forces the student to acknowledge the disadvantages or privileges that are part of their everyday lives. It also reminded me of the quote from Johnson's work in which he challenged someone (the reader? ... I can't find it) to tell his loved ones that he/she is "queer" (I remembered that part). Anyway, they are in their own way forcing individuals to be more aware of their whole world, not just the half that is more convenient.

    1. Hi Polly, I like that you use the word "convenient." It's true that we do look for ways to function in society that are most convenient, and an emphasis on color insight is much less convenient than colorblindness. I just posted a comment on your blog that kind of touched on the same thing. There are so many ways in which we have become disengaged with the world around us, that it's hard to imagine everyone being so intentional in their daily lives. I do think that colorblindness is a lazy approach to teaching, but also struggle with the issues of equality vs. equity. Fair is not always equal.

  2. Brittany, I love your point about Barack Obama's religion and middle name and place of birth and "American-ness" being scrutinized like those of no other president. Good point! You're right, it's almost like he's had more to prove from the get-go just by virtue of being black. We are definitely not yet "post-racial" America.

  3. I appreciate how you are able to name what is old and new here. Sadly, this conversation isn't really so different than it was 20 years ago when Delpit first published her piece. Great commentary... the Obama poster is so disturbing.