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Talking about white privilege

Last week I talked about white privilege in my class. It is not easy to talk about race and unearned privileges that come with skin color. There are of course privileges associated with higher education, speaking standard American English, and even with gender. But I find it particularly difficult to talk about race and the under-representation of people of color in speech language pathology—or the lack of culturally and linguistically diverse professionals in our field. The lack of diversity among our professionals may explain why children’s language differences are often viewed as a “language disorder”.  New York City has the highest rates in the nation of children of color in special education—23% of English language learners as compared to 9% across the nation. Thus, low income, not speaking standard American English, and not being of European descent place children at risk for special education. When I asked my students if there is segregation in NYC, everyone assented and said there is. However, several students said it is “natural” and not planned, that this is just the way it is because of where people live. Maybe my students would also think that lack of diversity in our profession is just the way it is, and that children of color in special education is just the way it is… Therefore, the challenge for me as a teacher is to create more spaces for these types of discussions with my students. I need to probe their assumptions with deeper questions, to learn how they think, and to challenge them to consider that maybe things are not just the way they are because of “natural” reasons—I still shudder when I think of that last comment.

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