MY VIEW • Increasing each person's consciousness is the key to battling racism
I recently read Jennifer Anderson's article, 'Racism in Portland - What are we doing?'(July 1). After engaging in anti-racist work through the Courageous Conversations About Race model, I am convinced there is a missing perspective in the article. We need to examine the presence and role of whiteness. Courageous Conversations About Race teaches us to keep comments personal, local, and immediate, so let me tell you my story:
I wasasked to move from Cleveland High School to Jefferson High School in August 2001 to serve as vice principal in the fourth year after reconstitution at Jefferson.By November, I knew that I wanted to be the principal at Jefferson High School. As many people do, I fell in love with Jefferson and thought in my naiveté that I could lead Jefferson. When Jim Scherzinger decided that I would be the principal at Wilson High School rather than Jefferson, I was heartbroken.
I participated in a Courageous Conversations Beyond Diversity Training in December 2006. As the director of curriculum and instruction in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, I was looking for a way to improve the cultural competence of teachers and administrators to better serve students of color. I initiated and led the Courageous Conversations work in the Tigard-Tualatin School District beginning fall 2007 and continued the work in depth until I returned to Portland Public Schools as the principal at Madison High School in August 2009.
Through the Courageous Conversations work, Iincreased my racial consciousness and gained deeper insight into the presence and role of whiteness in educational and other systems. Denying me the principalship at Jefferson in 2002 was the right decision for PPS at that time in my career. In my whiteness, I didn't understand why I wasn't selected to serve at Jefferson High School.
It is true that people need to dialogue about race and listen to multiple perspectives, but white people need to examine their own racial identity and learn about race without depending on people of color to teach them. In the Tribune article, Lew Frederick, in talking about the PPS board and its recent attempt to overhaul Jefferson or close it, states, 'They were clueless about all of the context to the kinds of things they might be doing.I would never begin to say that the board members who looked at the decision in any way were intentionally racist, because I don't believe that is true; I know them very well. But clueless - yes.'
In my whiteness, I was clueless about being the principal at Jefferson High School. As a white, female, anti-racist instructional leader, I have learned on my journey thus far with Courageous Conversations About Race that the most important thing I can do as an anti-racist leader is to continue to deepen my own racial consciousness. I need to understand white privilege and understand myself as a white person.I plan to continue my journey and lead others to do likewise in my new role as chief academic officer in Portland Public Schools.
I have great confidence in the Courageous Conversations About Race work, because I've seen a change in the belief systems of white educators and I've seen the experiences of people of color validated while engaging in this process.Matt Shelby is correct as quoted in the Tribune article that the work is not about technical solutions.You can train teachers how to use a culturally responsive instructional strategy, but if the teacher lacks racial consciousness, students of color will know, and an opportunity for a meaningful connection and appropriate teaching and learning is lost.
It is my hope and expectation that we continue to dialogue about race and that we develop the will to educate every child.
Carla Randall is chief academic officer for Portland Public Schools.