Fall 2015 • Children and Libraries 5
On Being White
■ Even if a white child is not in the racial majority at her
school, it is likely that the majority of her teachers are white.
She can therefore be fairly certain that she will have teach-
ers who look like her, and who understand and preserve her
cultural norms and beats.
So what can we white people do? The following is, once again,
a starter list.
Nine Suggestions for White People Seeking to
1. Attend a training. It is hard to lead conversations about
race in the classroom; often well-intentioned white people
do the most harm to children’s psyches. Do not assume that
you can do this without training and practice. I highly rec-
ommend the People’s Institute’s Undoing Racism workshop
(pisab.org), Border Crossers’ trainings (bordercrossers.org),
and SEED trainings (nationalseedproject.org). You may be
able to obtain funds from your school or library system to
attend; if you play your cards right, you may be able to advo-
cate for staff-wide trainings.
2. Practice saying “I’m white.” It’s harder than it should be,
but it’s important. If we fail to acknowledge whiteness,
white privilege becomes invisible. Try dropping it in dur-
ing a read-aloud, e.g., “So, most of Anna Hibiscus’ family is
black, and her mother is white, like me.” Say it matter-of-
factly; it’s an observation.
3. Don’t ask your friends of color to teach you everything.
Take responsibility for your own education. See numbers 1,
6, and 7 for places to begin that education.
4. Recognize when you’re having a racist thought, and don’t
brush it off. It is impossible to exist in our current society
without having internalized notions of racial superiority
and inferiority. Studies have shown that white people are
less moved by the pain of black people than by the pain of
white people, that teachers are more likely to respond to
queries from students they believe are white males, that
white people are likely to see black children as older and less
innocent than white children, and that the lighter a person’s
skin, the more likely white people are to view them as intel-
ligent, competent, trustworthy, and reliable.
5. Try not to dodge talking about racism and whiteness in the
United States today. It is so tempting, and easy, to turn a
conversation about racism into a conversation about some-
thing—anything, anywhere—else. There are a lot of “isms”
in the world, and all are important—but many are easier
to talk about than racism. Similarly, when we do talk about
race as it currently stands in the United States, it is tempting
to talk about anything other than whiteness. Have conver-
sations about whiteness, and when you do, don’t escape
into talking about how people of color experience racism;
speak from your own racial experiences.
6. Read books. Read articles. Watch videos. A starter list:
■ What White Children Need to Know About Race by Ali
Michael and Eleanora Bartoli, available via www.nais.org
■ Race: The Power of an Illusion (pbs.org/race)
■ “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account
of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in
Women’s Studies” by Peggy McIntosh
■ The Whiteness Project (whitenessproject.org)
■ Waking Up White by Debbie Irving (Elephant Room Press,
■ White Like Me by Tim Wise (Soft Skull Press, 2008; reis-
sued, 2011, 208p)
7. Mix up your news sources. Try foregoing your regular
newspaper for a month, and read The Root (theroot.com)
instead. Add in Colorlines (colorlines.com), Latina Lista
(latinalista.com), Indian Country Today (indiancountryto-
daymedianetwork.com), Hyphen magazine (hyphenmaga-
zine.com), and The Aerogram (theaerogram.com).
8. Do a headcount the next time you’re at a lunch, dinner, pre-
view, conference, meeting, whatever. Notice who has been
invited “inside” and who hasn’t.
9. Educate children. There are many ways to go about this,
but children deserve to learn about racial justice and white
privilege in developmentally appropriate but overt ways.
I coteach a unit in which sixth graders explore different
aspects of identity using book covers as a starting point
A panel of diverse authors at the 2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting in