“You don’t solve the problems you’re not willing to look at…”

Today my school hosted Tim Wise, a well-known antiracist author and educator, who is known for his frank approach to speaking about white privilege and the nature of the systems that continue to favor people based on race, sex, class, etc.   The title of this post came out of his all-school talk this afternoon, and this idea really resonated with me, especially as a member of the leadership team in my school.

Talking about race, whether as a student or an adult, is challenging at best, often for fear of hurting one another by saying something insensitive (something of which I am acutely aware, even as I write this post!).  And yet precisely to Tim’s point, this is what we need to be teaching our students.  If adults model a resistance to dig into challenging issues and step into uncomfortable spaces, we are ultimately not serving our students well.  Instead, adults in a school community must have the courage to acknowledge the ways in which systems we did not create are privileging particular groups over others.

As a school leader – and a white male – I am cognizant of my responsibility to challenge myself, my colleagues, and my institution to think about our roles in perpetuating  a system of privilege.  Where are the places in the school when I can take my race or sex for granted?  Where do my core identifiers serve me (or others who share these same core identifiers) in a way that allow me to feel a greater sense of comfort or familiarity?  Does our school run better for particular groups of students, faculty, or staff?  If so, why, and what are we actively doing to change this?  How does the cummulative effect of these systems impact a student’s ability to demonstrate her potential or a colleague to continue growing in his role?

Ultimately, as a school leader, I need to be willing to ask myself these hard questions and then do something about the answers I generate.  Otherwise, I’m avoiding looking at the problems that are staring me and every one of us right in the face…


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