Confronting Racism with the Other R Word

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Canter-c65x65Formerly a teacher, now an administrator-in-training, Chris Canter blogs about his yearlong assistant principal internship at Fulton County Public Schools in Atlanta, Ga.

I’m going to blog this week about an issue that has truly hit home during my time at my current school, but it is an issue that makes many uncomfortable: racial discrimination. As a white male at a school with a majority black student population (more than 96 percent), I have witnessed both ends of the spectrum and seen stereotypes labeled on both sides.

If we are to truly create inclusive environments for our students, we must understand that no single group is more prone to engage in racial stereotyping than another; rather, we are all human and humans tend to hunt for differences to confirm stereotypes.

What shocked me the most were the comments I overhead from faculty, some of the comments directly stated to me. The faculty consists of mainly black teachers, with a few white personnel in the building. I was told on day one by several folks, “If you can survive here, you can survive anywhere,” and “Most white faculty at this school aren’t successful. I hope you are.” Another teacher told me, “We’re taking bets on whether or not you will make it here, working with so many black students.”

Needless to say, I was shocked. I have determined, however, to just do my job and do it well. For the most part, I have been very successful in my building, aiming to build relationships with faculty, students, and parents. I have had to acknowledge many of my own stereotypes and prejudices in the process of doing so, while also openly discussing and dispelling stereotypes with colleagues. In meetings with students, some have openly shared with me their distrust of white people (some due to past experiences).

What caused such a divide is probably way beyond my understanding. Since my time here is limited, I probably have little time to fix it. However, I will take this lesson with me to other schools as I work in my internship and finally land in an assistant principal position: I have found that building relationships, one at a time, has helped conquer many stereotypes.

How do some of you handle similar situations? How can we work with all students to create a more inclusive environment for everyone?