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white educators in urban education

eheller's picture

It's that time of year when everyone is scrambling to find internships. I was planning to apply to an internship in the field of education sponsored by Haverford. A few weeks before winter break this year, I had scheduled a meeting with the head of the Haverford program to talk about the internship. I told her my reasons for wanting to apply to the internship. She seeemed to be interested in my reasons and the experience I had with that field, but then informed me that the organization was looking for a person of color, so if I applied for the internship I probably wouldn't get it because I am white.

I was shocked. For one of the first times, my race was a disadvantage, not an advantage. I understood the reason why the organization would look for a person of color- because the intern would be working primarily with students of color, they wanted the role model of a successful college student who was also a minority. In my head, I understood this and it made sense, but in my heart, I was hurt and offended. As someone who wants to work in urban education, it is hard to hear that my race is a disadvantage. I have read articles in my eduation class about how minority students should have a minority teacher and how white, middle-class teachers cannot understand the needs and background of low-income minority students. Where does that put me? Should I limit myself to teaching in a predominately white, middle-class school? Is wanting to teach low-income students part of my white savior complex?

I still do not know the answer to these questions. I hope that this class will give me more insight into what my role as a white, middle class student who wants to be an educator can be. 


jccohen's picture

my race as a disadvantage


Just having the experience of mainstream race and class identity as a 'disadvantage' (rather than 'neutral' and implicit advantage) in something like a job hunt poses, I think, a critical learning opportunity.  As another white, middle-class person who is strongly interested in and involved with urban education, I've also faced and struggled with some of the questions you raise.  And while I think it's important to examine your motives and seek to increase your knowledge of the populations you want to work with, I don't think the "answer" is to back off.  In fact, I think this has to do with the Hall essay we were talking about in class today, and specifically with the negotiation of 'differance' that offers some other ways of understanding yourself in relation to urban students.  While the 'white savior complex' suggests a naive buy-in to a racial binary, honest questioning can position you as both learner and teacher in the kind of context you talk about here.