Whiteness, Privilege, and Bias

Racism and bias (both interpersonal and internalized) exist and persist throughout CPS.

  • “We all have internalized biases that impact our environment -- we expect certain things from certain people and we turn a blind eye to information that does not conform to our view of society.”1

  • “My child is in elementary school, but I honestly feel like some of the white teachers treat him like he’s a teenager. And, then when they forget to treat him like he’s a child, he really internalizes that. I hate having these conversations with my Black son about this because why can’t he just be a kid? He’s ten years old.” Another caregiver shared, “I hate that I have to give my child particular advice about being Black at school. I have to tell him to not draw attention to himself. I have to tell him to not make any waves, not make any noise, and not give them any reason to notice you. I hate that. I hate that I even have to tell him that. It’s not fair, but I think that’s the only way he’s going to get through this school.”2

  • “Educators of color expressed that unconscious bias is... a root cause of inequity in the district… Oftentimes, unconscious bias impacts how administrators treat different populations of educators and, in some cases, how evaluations are perceived.”3

Many structures and practices are based on white, middle-class norms that do not support equity.4

  • CPS shows “characteristics of what Jones and Okun call ‘white supremacy culture,’” including: avoidance of discomfort; paternalism; unrealistic timelines and work plans; and a focus on quantity over quality.5  As Jones and Okun write, “we all live in a white supremacy culture, [so] these characteristics show up in… of all of us -- people of color and white people… As a result... while [we say] we want to be multi-cultural, [we] really only allow other people and cultures to come in if they adapt or conform to already existing cultural norms.”

White and privileged families have inequitable amounts of power, access, and influence at the district, school, and classroom levels.6  These families’ advocacy often focuses on their own individual children, rather than on collective needs of the community.

  • “The more affluent, the more present. Our school is basically represented by higher-income families -- decisions are made by those families. Other families tend not to feel included.”7

  • Administrators named Controlled Choice as an example of a system in which current policies and practices reinforce “white power and privilege.” They report that more-privileged families tend to have the knowledge, power, and access to navigate the system for their children’s benefit, while less-privileged families often lack similar knowledge and access.8

  • “There are inconsistent systems in place to ensure that all students and families get equitable access to -- and attention from -- educators.”9  In this context, “it is often challenging for individual teachers, especially those in the early years of their practice, to stand up to families who request an excessive amount of communication or accommodation.” Educators report that white and privileged families “[advocate] more frequently and in a more demanding way for their children. Attending to parent requests/communicating with parents is a significant use of many teachers’ limited time, a valuable resource.”10

  • “Parenting for the common good” is not yet a prominent aspect of district culture, or of most schools’ cultures.11  “Many teachers perceive lower-income, immigrant, and families of color to be more community-minded and trusting of teachers.” But some white and/or privileged families exhibit characteristics of “opportunity hoarding,”12 which has been defined as “[reserving] for one’s own children the best possible educational opportunities, the inevitable flip side of which is excluding others from those same good opportunities.”13

  • As one community member described it, “people in Cambridge are all for doing the right thing, until that right thing impacts what their own child will have access to.”14

  • “There are many families, with and without privilege, who have made the choice to... advocate for school and district policies that benefit all children, not specifically their own. Those families can act as allies and models as our district shapes a new cultural norm.”15

White educators and administrators vary widely in their cultural proficiency and their understanding of race and racism. And white people in Cambridge are often uncomfortable discussing racism directly.

  • Some teachers “lack cultural proficiency,”16 “don’t know how to connect with certain students with different backgrounds,”17 or “have limited tools/resources… for addressing [challenging] issues in the moment.”18

  • Educators shared “a wide range of perceptions” about why CRLS students raise issues of race and racism. These included: students’ experiences of “structural and interpersonal racism”; frustration about “the persistence of racism at school”; students feeling “empowered [and] having the tools to raise their voices”; students “being bated or coerced” by adults; and students “using accusations of racism as an excuse for disengagement.” Some staff expressed uncertainty “because they find it hard to believe that racism exists in their school.”19

  • Educator reactions to recent CRLS Black Student Union videos included “fear, defensiveness, anger, [and] blaming the students… These sentiments were fairly common, and predominantly came from white educators.” Many matched the characteristics of “white fragility,” which has been defined as a state in which “even a minimum amount of racial stress is intolerable [and] the mere suggestion that being white has meaning... [triggers] defensive responses.”21

  • “We should be good at talking about equity, but honestly, we just talk around these issues. We never actually address anything head on. It sometimes feels like, when a situation happens at school, that the school is more interested in marketing that we had an assembly or an X-block about it than actually solving the real problems that caused the incident in the first place.”22

  • “Teachers just aren’t comfortable with addressing certain topics like racism and sexism… Fix that and we’d see an improvement.”23

1 Youth quote, Youth Sense-Making Team
2 Caregiver quotes, Focus Group Report
3 Focus Group Report
4 For additional evidence, see “Coherence” barrier
5 CPAR Preliminary Themes & Recommendations
6 For additional evidence, see the “Power in Decision-Making is Inequitably Distributed” barrier
7 Educator quote, CPAR Study 1
8 Principals’ Input and Reflections
9 CPAR Preliminary Themes and Recommendations
10 CPAR Study 1
11 Student-Educator Relationships Sense-Making Team Fishbone
12 CPAR Study 1
13 Pamela Barnhouse Walters, “Explaining the durable racial divide in American education.” Presented at The Conference on the Social Dimensions of Inequality, UCLA (2007).
14 Focus Group Report
15 CPAR Study 1
16 Student Discipline Sense Making Team Fishbone
17 Student Discipline Sense Making Team Fishbone
18 Student Discipline Sense Making Team Fishbone
19 CRLS Listening Report
20 CRLS Listening Report
21 Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018), 2.
22 Student quote, Focus Group Report
23 Student quote, Focus Group Report

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