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Millard principals will read 'White Fragility' as district has conversations on race
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Millard principals will read 'White Fragility' as district has conversations on race

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Millard Public Schools officials are launching several initiatives to improve race relations, including having principals read a book that argues that white people in America are racist and don’t know it or won’t admit it.

In light of the summer race protests, district officials are setting up student diversity councils to advise leaders at the high school and district levels.

Officials will also be reviewing curriculum to ensure that what’s taught reflects multiple viewpoints, as well as working to recruit a diverse teaching staff and making sure board policies and administrative procedures are culturally responsive, officials said.

The social studies curriculum is up for review this year and it will be examined with an eye to whether marginalized groups are included, officials said.

About 77% of the district’s students are white, 9.2% Hispanic, 5.8% Asian, 4.4% two or more races and 3.2% black. Less than 1% are American Indian, Alaska native, native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.

Officials said they want to be more receptive to concerns about race issues.

“Really, listening is the key,” Heather Phipps, the district’s associate superintendent for education services, told the school board last week.

About 70 Millard administrators, including principals and assistant principals, this fall will be reading the book, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism.”

Author Robin DiAngelo, who is white, argues that white people are “racially illiterate,” that American culture is “profoundly anti-black” and that when white people get defensive about racism, their reaction works to “retain our dominance within the racial hierarchy.”

Millard administrators will read the book and participate in a book study. Members of Superintendent Jim Sutfin’s executive team already read the book, officials said.

Sutfin was unavailable for comment late last week.

Spokeswoman Rebecca Kleeman said district officials “are engaging in conversations around this just like our community is.”

“As educators, we read books,” Kleeman said. “Our leadership wants to learn about different viewpoints.”

School board President Linda Poole said she hadn’t read the book but said it is recommended in education circles.

Nationally, reviews of the book are mixed, but DiAngelo recently got invited to appear on one late-night comedy show.

A book reviewer in The New Yorker wrote, “The value in ‘White Fragility’ lies in its methodical, irrefutable exposure of racism in thought and action, and its call for humility and vigilance.”

Another reviewer, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, called it “pseudo-intellectual horse----.”

DiAngelo appeared on the “Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon on June 17 to discuss the book, a New York Times bestseller released in 2018. Fox News host Tucker Carlson took her to task for her theories a week later.

YouTube is replete with videos of her appearances in various interviews and forums discussing her views.

DiAngelo is an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Washington in Seattle.

According to the university, she got her doctorate degree in curriculum and instruction in multicultural education from the university in 2004.

She has a graduate certificate in women’s studies, feminist theory and methods.

Among the topics of her research and writings are microaggressions, “white anti-racist parenting” and heterosexism.

According to DiAngelo, white people have been insulated from racial stress, so confrontation about race makes them uncomfortable.

“Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority, that we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race,” DiAngelo said.

When white people are confronted about their racism, they consider it a challenge to their identities as good moral people, she says.

They get defensive and react in fear, anger or argument, or they withdraw, she says.

“White fragility is triggered by discomfort and anxiety,” she says. “It is born of superiority and entitlement.”

People who haven’t thoroughly studied racism have only a superficial understanding of it, she says.

They don’t understand racism as a system, she says.

As evidence of American racism against minorities, she points to employment discrimination, education discrimination, the “school to prison pipeline,” mass incarceration, biased laws and policing practices, white flight and biased media representation.

White people, she says, are “unconsciously invested in racism.”


Photos: Our best staff images from July 2020

joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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