If we’re going to discuss education, we cannot leave out the family. Students are children first, which means they aren’t born in a classroom, they’re born into families. The family forms the first environment in which a young child develops.
One of my dearly beloved professors and I have wonderful debates on a weekly basis about social justice and education—because I make him have these debates with me, and he kindly obliges (probably secretly rolling his eyes when I walk through the door).
In my last post
, I discussed the issue of teacher quality and the lack of strategies established at the state and federal level to consistently recruit, teach and develop excellent educators. But my professor decided to rail me in our discussion, insisting that, essentially, teachers are only half the story. Parents, he fervently asserted, parents are part of, if not the root of, the reason for students’ lack of achievement. While there is no doubt evidence that family environments have a crucial impact on a child’s cognitive and non-cognitive development
, I think a concerted and genuine effort to bridge the gap between parents and educators can help to mitigate the challenges that parents and children from lower-income communities face.
This requires incorporating social justice classes into teacher education, first and foremost.
What often happens among white, middle class teachers is the otherization of parents from lower classes. This kind of otherization is, I believe, the result of a grave misunderstanding—a misunderstanding that is rooted in the fallacious meritocratic theory of success. When teachers harbor this kind of misconception of the “other,” i.e. parents from lower classes, they not only marginalize those parents further but they also maintain an ideology within the classroom that marginalizes those parents’ children. There is a serious and detrimental lack of cultural synchronization between teacher and child, and teacher and parent.
Too often parents are dismissed as negligent or are perceived as not caring about their child’s success. This kind of assertion teems with misunderstanding and prejudice.
For parents from the working class, caring about their child’s academic success—whether they’re doing well on tests, turning in their homeworking, behaving in class as the teacher demands, learning the essentials—is often not feasible
in the way many educators would like. Not all parents have the time to check their child’s homework, study with their children for their tests, or give them a quiet room in which they can do their work. Many of these parents work multiple jobs, work the night shift, and/or just don’t have the resources.
Furthermore, too many parents—especially those that come from lower-income communities—don’t understand the inherent value of school because they didn’t experience
it. Many parents’ aspirations for their children are to land a job out of high school so they can contribute to the family income. Too many parents have been jaded by the system that has oppressed them—a system that is so ingrained into the fabric of American life that they don’t even think to fight it.
The issue is so much bigger than just parents. I would venture to say that a tiny fraction of parents actually
don’t care about their children. The majority just doesn’t have the time, the resources, or the hope that education will be their ticket out of poverty. The bigger issue—and the issue that future and current teachers alike absolutely must understand—is that our country and the institutional and social structures that comprise it are riddled with racism and classism, which ensures that people of color and the poor are locked out of middle class privileges.
If our teachers learn only pedagogical methods in school and fail to learn and comprehend the social workings of this country (which seems like the very thing a school in conservative Oklahoma would leave out) then they are only half qualified (if even) for the profession.
We cannot blame the oppressed for their own oppression.
I was fortunate to have mostly excellent teachers during my primary and secondary schooling. I went to private Catholic schools from pre-school to fifth grade, and therefore I was practically guaranteed a great education. I moved to a public school—one of the best ones in the state—in sixth grade and was fortunately placed on a more advanced track. My teachers, once again, were experienced, passionate and excellent.
It wasn’t until seventh grade, when the public elementary schools around the district combined into one giant middle school building, and my mother had less of a say regarding which class I was placed in, that I experienced what it was like to have a teacher that taught me virtually nothing. In fact, that year, there were a few.
My stories of these teachers, which I relayed to my mother, compelled her to pull me out of public school the next year and put me back into a private school, where she could rest assured I’d get top quality education—in every classroom in which I sat.
When I went back to public school in high school, the teachers I had were exceptional. But once again, I was placed on the highest academic track offered. Since I was going to a school located in a wealthy suburban area, those teachers were unsurprisingly top notch. But think about how many teachers you had that taught you next to nothing, or had such low standards for you that school seemed to be a joke.
If this country is to maintain a public education system—which I fervently oppose but will go along with for now—the national standard for teachers cannot remain where it is. More experienced teachers are far more likely “to concentrate in schools in which working conditions are easier” (Tooley). This also means that within a single school, the more experienced teachers will teach those students on higher academic tracks, ensuring that lower-academically tracked students will suffer the consequences of poorer quality teachers. I witnessed this in my own grade-A public school.
There should not be such a huge disparity between the best and the worst teachers, but that there is isn’t surprising considering the facts. For one, becoming a teacher is not considered by American society to be a “prestigious” profession, like becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer is. This seems counterintuitive considering that teachers are the ones that make
people eligible for these professions. OECD countries that scored the highest on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests
—such as China, Korea, Finland
, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada—have much more focused, intentional and systematic methods of recruiting excellent students to become teachers.
Such a strategy is utterly lacking in the United States on a national or state level.
Perhaps even more importantly, the standard that students of education must meet to become teachers is abysmally low. The following statistics come from a research brief by Breakthrough Collaborative:
· Only 23% of U.S. teachers come from the top third of the academic pool.
· Only 7% of public school teachers graduated from selective colleges.
· Only 14% of education majors had SAT or ACT scores in the top quartile, as compared to 26% of social sciences majors and 37% of math/science majors.
These statistics may give the impression that teaching is not an intellectually demanding profession, but such a notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Teachers are constantly required to adapt their plans; they must have exceptional communication skills; they must understand how the cognitive and non-cognitive development of a person works; they have to be organized and undaunted by pressure; they must have a breadth of knowledge in pedagogical methods for diverse learners; and they must have a deep social-cultural understanding of different races, ethnicities and religions.
While I fully agree that teachers are not paid half as much as they should be for all the work they must put in to be good and effective educators, becoming a teacher is a privilege. Becoming a teacher means having a first and direct impact on the next generation—on the future of this country and the world. Becoming a teacher means being endowed with the opportunity to change the trajectory of a person’s life.
Like being a brain surgeon, teaching is not a profession to take lightly. There are brilliant teachers that work in the most difficult public schools, teaching kids with the highest need. They aren’t compensated monetarily—and this is a huge flaw in the system—but they see their students’ success as compensation enough to continue putting in the effort to be great. These are the teachers that understand what it means to be a teacher and where the reward in this profession lies.
If education has been deemed so important as to provide it freely for all children ages five to 18 and, furthermore, to mandate it, how is it possible that we do not take the recruitment, education and professional development of future teachers more seriously?
Poor quality teachers are one of the greatest injustices afforded to students, because a great teacher can compensate for a lack of material resources. As we think about the reformation of education, we must remember that our teachers are the foundational first step in the creation of a vibrant and thriving economy, society and world.
The Alchemy of Effectiveness: The Path from High Potential Candidates to Highly Effective Teachers. Research Brief, Breakthrough Collaborative, Breakthrough Collaborative, 2011.
Tooley, James, Kenneth R. Howe, and Harry Brighouse. Educational Equality. Edited by Graham Haydon. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010.
The students that stood on that stage in front of the rest of the graduating class, indeed, would be top students during their four-year college careers. We were the ones that would go on to become doctors, engineers, architects, educators, law school students, and dentists, to name a few. Our schooling experience had been specifically designed to put us ahead of everyone else. It had set us up to be leaders and to be far more successful than the average student.
For the fractional top percent of students in high schools around the country, the tracking system can be a saving grace. But, meanwhile, the vast majority of students that are not on the highest academic track are being denied critical educational opportunities. They are asked to meet a standard that falls far short of excellence.
This is not to say that students on lower academic tracks cannot succeed academically in college or in their careers. They absolutely can—and do. But these are exceptional cases. The question is this: Why do we let some faceless bureaucratic institution decide which children are worthy of high investment and which ones are not?
Think like a parent: You have a child that you love and adore with all your heart. He is, after all, a part of you. You have placed him in what you know to be a good public school just outside your neighborhood. You know that your Johnny is a smart, smart boy. He asks questions, he is articulate, and he always says he wants to be a pilot (Johnny has an obsession with airplanes). But Johnny has real difficulty sitting still and focusing on one task, let alone taking long, standardized tests. He also gets into trouble in class pretty often because he’s a talker. He’s probably not the best reader, you know that, but you also know he’s smart enough to become
an excellent reader. His best subject is math, but because he’s not great at taking long tests, he often scores poorly on his math tests. But you know
he understands the material. He just needs practice with his work ethic and focus.
When presented with the option of whether you’d like to place your son on the lower or higher academic track, what do you choose? Do you choose to lower the standards so that he does well with ease? Or do you choose to raise the standards so that he is challenged and forced to learn more?
Unfortunately, it isn’t your choice. And most likely, Johnny will be placed on a lower academic track. For those persistent parents that do know how the system works, there may be a chance that they have more of a say. But ultimately the decision that will dictate your child’s future is made by that faceless bureaucratic institution. The fact of the matter is that “there is overwhelming research evidence that tracking students by ability has no educational benefit for students and in fact is deleterious to academic achievement, extracurricular participation, self-concept, peer relationships, career aspirations and motivation”
(Black Students and School Failure
, Irvine, p. 10
Despite all the evidence against its benefit, tracking still functions as a means of differentiating education in our public schools. There is no doubt, and empirical evidence proves, that all people are endowed with different strengths and weaknesses. The tracking system, however, does not differentiate on this basis. If this were the case, schools would group students by these strengths and weaknesses so that they were in classes that catered to them.
Instead of differentiating the means and methods of educating students based on their strengths and weaknesses, schools differentiate based on the standards applied to those students. The end result is that the graduating class comprises students on the stage, who are starting college with a college-level educational background; and students on the floor, who barely made it through high school or just breezed by, and lack critical skills they’ll need if
they even go to college. And that’s not to mention those students—about 100 out of my initial class of around 800—that drop out entirely and never graduate.
I can’t help but think that our education system in America is built to perpetuate and worsen the widening gap between rich and poor, white and people of color.
This is the reality—that the increasing achievement gaps in education reflect the growing disparity in our nation as a whole. The statistics, the data, the evidence are all there, but absolutely nothing that addresses the root of the issue is being done.
I’m convinced there is a lack of action for a reason.
When we moved into a real house for the first time, my mother was determined that we should live in the district of the best public school around. And so we did.
For two years, I went to public school before my mother became dissatisfied and sent me, once again, to a private school. I stayed there for a year and a half before money got really tight and I was forced to go back to my public school in the middle of my sophomore year. But having come from all the best schools, and having a mother who was very much involved in my school experience, I was unquestionably placed on the advanced track.
While my other peers were learning how to get by, I was learning how to write college-level essays. While they were bored in class, my teachers constantly challenged me. While they were locked in a classroom culture that devalued achievement, I was surrounded by students with ambition and motivation. While my other peers were expected to pass, I was expected to excel.
I graduated in the top two percent of my class of over 700 students. On the stage of my high school graduation, where all the top students sat, were the same students that had been plucked by the system and placed on the advanced track.
One of the most fundamental problems with the tracking system in primary and secondary education is that it systematically creates and maintains our stratified society. This system deems some students worthy of the best education and some students worthy of the worst. It challenges some students to exceed what is expected of them, and it limits other students to achieve the bare minimum.
The immediate implications of this tracking system are that only a fraction of the students that graduate are ready for college. The medium-term implications are that the standard in colleges, specifically state universities, becomes lowered because so great a percentage of the students don’t have the basic skills necessary for college-level success.
To compound the problem, people of color and the poor tend to be placed on the lowest academic tracks. For example, black students, “particularly black male students, are three times as likely to be in class for the educable mentally retarded as are white students, but only one-half as likely to be in class for the gifted or talented
” (Black Students and School Failure, Irvine, p. 11
). Researchers have concluded that “two-thirds or more of high-ability, high [socioeconomic status] students were in the academic track, but only one-half of the high-ability, low [socioeconomic status] students were enrolled in the academic track
This is an example of the re-segregation taking place in schools today, in which students of color are placed on different academic tracks because of pervasive, conscious and/or subconscious racist beliefs of their inferiority.
The immediate impact of the tracking system in primary and secondary education is displayed in college enrollment and dropout rates. In 2010, 60.5 percent of white students enrolled in college, compared to a mere 14.5 percent of black students, 13 percent of Hispanic students, 6.1 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students, and .9 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students
Moreover, many of those students of color that do make it to college find that they are not prepared—academically, financially or socially—for college. Only 20.4 percent of black students, 27.9 percent of Hispanic students, and 21.8 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students graduated from college in 2008
. The graduation rates for Asian/Pacific Islander and white students were 45 percent and 41.1 percent, respectively.
Programs with a mission to equalize education are not enough. They are a painkiller rather than an antibiotic. The problem is much deeper, much more complex and far too multi-faceted for certain ingredients in the prescription to make any real, lasting difference
. Our schools need holistic reformation. It is more than just misallocation or unfair distribution of resources in the education system. There is something else going on—something far more intentional than we’d like to believe.
We must realize our education system is actively
promoting hierarchies based on racial and ethnic discrimination while hiding behind the glossy shield of programs with “good intentions.”
My mother experienced a setback—a teen mom with no education above a high school diploma, she would seemingly be relegated to menial jobs.
But she wasn’t. She was swooped up by a law firm that wanted a beautiful, young girl to serve as its secretary. The pay wasn’t great, but it was steady and salaried. She wasn’t excited to go to work every day, but she wasn’t miserable. And she was still imbued with the values of the middle class: go to school, climb the social ladder. Since she didn’t get the opportunity, her daughter would.
It was a financial struggle, but she sent me to the best schools in our state—starting at age two. I went through private schools from pre-school through fifth grade. In the meantime, our family had grown. She had married for a short time and had a second daughter, almost six years younger than me. Not long after, she got divorced, then later married a young Mexican man who didn’t have even a high school education. In no time, they had two more girls, ten and eleven years younger than me.
So many of us have stories of our parents or grandparents carrying themselves from rags to riches, or at least from rags to something much better. They are powerful stories of struggle and hardship, and they are sources of many families’ well-deserved pride.
Manuel, my stepfather, came to the U.S. when he was just 17 years old. He didn’t know more than “hello” when he got here, and even still today, though he is fluent in English, he can’t spell a thing to save his life. He learned English on the fly while he lived in Texas, but it was a struggle to gain respect from his peers. They were unkind to the Mexican boy that couldn’t speak English.
He became one of the nearly 45 percent of Hispanic students that do not graduate from high school
. He is a quintessential example of the vulnerability of first-generation Hispanic immigrants
I met Manuel when he was just twenty-one years old. Family dynamics and an illusory competition for my mother’s love, as well as a stiff resistance against each other’s cultures, tainted our relationship in the beginning. But as I have grown older and learned more about him and about the American system that he’s fought, I have nurtured a deep appreciation and respect for him.
This is a man who has worked hard
he has now. For years, his jobs have entailed waking up at four in the morning and working until sometimes eight at night. He works no less than six days a week—finding jobs on the weekend as a handy man for people with whom he has made connections.
Manuel may not have a college degree, or a high school diploma, but he is an extraordinarily intelligent man. He has developed fluency not only in two different languages but in two different cultures. He is well liked by everyone in his circles of Mexican friends, and he is well liked by everyone in his circles of white, middle-class friends.
Indeed, he has instilled within our family the value of working hard. That is the culture of Mexico that he and nearly 12 million other Mexican-born U.S. residents
have brought to this country. It is a culture that should be celebrated, lifted up and encouraged. We should, for not only the benefit of the individual but of this country, show the value of education to students like Manuel while we have the chance.
There is a show on Disney called Handy Manny
about a Hispanic man that works as a handy man. He carries his talking tools along with him to different jobs around the town. Everyone loves Handy Manny—he can fix absolutely anything. While this show is certainly cheery and rosy, it portrays a stereotypical image of a Hispanic man as a manual laborer. It teaches young Hispanic boys that their hard work and intelligence is best expended on fixing things around the house.
We should not be advocating that a portion of our population be automatically relegated to jobs entailing manual labor and paying the lowest wages. These people could be our next engineers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, business-owners, and beyond—jobs that increase their pay substantially, give them more time to spend with their families, and allow them to actuate their potential fully. Immigrant populations from around the globe have, throughout our history, formed the backbone of this country. Without them, we would be utterly immobile, paralyzed as a nation and an economy.
If our biggest complaint is that these people take advantage of welfare, don’t pay taxes, use up our resources (arguments that largely ignore reality and context), let’s give them educational opportunities that put them in a place so that they can rise above poverty.
people like my stepfather Manuel. We have lessons to learn from people like Arturo, Omar, Isabel—people I know that have come from poverty and given up everything back home so that they could come here and make lives for themselves and their families. Let us remember why these immigrants come: because they want their children to have better lives than the one they had back home. My littlest sisters, the daughters of Manuel, will grow up, get a good education, go to college and become anything they want to become.
That’s why he came.
We should never forget the value of these people, nor should we forget the depth and breadth of their potential.
When my family came to the United States, they endured the struggles of immigrants who’d left everything behind on their island home. But they left as upper middle class white Jamaican Anglophiles and arrived, fairly well-received, as middle class whites with strange accents but similar cultural nuances. Assimilation was not exceptionally difficult. America was certainly a far cry from the slow and steady pace of island life, but they still enjoyed certain middle-class luxuries.
My mother was raised in this context. Both her parents worked—one as a teacher the other as an airplane auditor. They had a nice home in Denver, Colorado. They weren’t rich but certainly not poor. Just average, middle-class people.
They moved to Oklahoma when my mother was a teenager, and she became pregnant at the age of 18. It was only then that their middle-class life was rocked by the crises that lower-income families face regularly. My mother experienced a setback—a teen mom with no education above a high school diploma, she would seemingly be relegated to menial jobs.
A great majority of people in this country would say that racism is abhorrent. But what most people don’t understand is that racism is more than just overt prejudice against people of color. Certainly, we can all agree that facial racism unfortunately does still exist, just as it did in the past.
But there is an even more dangerous aspect of racism that is easy to ignore if you don’t know how to see
it. It’s a kind of racism that remains hidden because it is so deeply embedded into the system and into American ideology.
There is a distinction to be made between prejudice and racism. The semantics are important because word meanings translate into ways of thinking and perceiving. I subscribe to David Wellman’s definition of racism as a “system of advantage based on race.” This definition implies that it is not necessary to “embrace overtly prejudicial thinking” in order to be part of the racist system.
The system incorporates “cultural messages and institutional policies and practices as well as beliefs and actions of individuals” that place people of color at a disadvantage, writes Beverly Tatum in her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
This system has produced and maintained “White Privilege.” As white men and women we benefit from a racist system. Without doubt, we do not benefit equally—there are too many other “isms” at play: sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, heterosexism, etc. Nonetheless, we are beneficiaries whether we know it or not.
What is most striking about systemic racism is that the consequences are particularly dire. Poverty rates for people of color, specifically black and Hispanic people, are more than twice that of white people in America. “In 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.1 percent of Asians.
Welfare programs, affirmative action policies and the War on Drugs have done little—if anything at all—to get at the root of the issue. They instead slap a Band-Aid onto the problem, hoping that covering it up will solve it. In reality, the primary source of the poverty trap lies within public schools and the public school system, which fail to provide children of color and children from low-income families the skills and attention they need to succeed.
Instead, schools promote the maintenance of the status quo, which belies the tenets of the American Dream touted by citizens and immigrants alike. The American Dream is about social mobility, and it relies on the premise that we live in a meritocracy. For many this might be at least partially true. For instance, for me, it has been. My mother raised me as a struggling single parent for much of my life, but I’ve been able to work hard, get good scholarships, go to college and graduate with three majors and with highest honors. Even so, my hard work has only done part of it for me. I have also enjoyed white, heterosexual privilege. But the reality for too many other people is that hard work and good decisions are often not enough to realize that great American Dream.
that social mobility is a possibility for all is nice. However, it is only an idea right now.
Realizing this is the first step to making it a reality. But we have a long, long way to go.
My family comes from a small island in the Caribbean, where the racial hierarchies and the legacies of colonialism and slavery were very alive. My grandparents had black maids that lived in their homes—a small step above slaves, for they were actually “free” and “paid.” They lived in a white neighborhood that was maintained and manicured by black hands. White privilege pumped through their veins just like blood—every moment unnoticed but such an integral part of the way life works.
I chose to study international relations when I came to college because I’d always had a love for other cultures. I was especially drawn to Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
But studying the interactions between and within countries can be disheartening. It was in college that I really
learned about colonialism—how the arrogance and greed of the white man has had woeful consequences even almost two hundred years later—and about modern imperialism.
I developed a kind of self-hatred for being white—the same race as the very people that ruined entire countries and the lives of the people within those countries. I was appalled and moreover ashamed that my race
of people could have no sense of justice.
This was my initial reaction to recognizing that I am a race.
Before college, I had never considered myself to be a race. I had never been lumped into a people group, rather I was seen as, and taught that I was, an individual first.
Studying global affairs requires the study of other cultures, other ethnicities, other races. It requires that you take a moment to stop and recognize your own role in the world and your own people group, what it comprises and who holds the power in it. My experience with international studies showed me that I was The Bad Guy since I was affiliated with the white West.
I started feeling hatred toward my own race, and it didn’t feel good. I wanted to remove myself, turn my skin inside out, do anything I could to disassociate myself with whiteness. The color became, for me, the archetype of evil.
I’ve moved past that feeling, but it has taken a while. I still have remnants of animosity toward white people who—knowingly or not—take full advantage of their White Privilege
. But I have to remember that a vast majority doesn’t fully understand the hidden workings of the system. That kind of knowledge is not yet mainstream.
The feeling of shame that I have had for the color of my skin is disappearing because everywhere around me there are white people who do
understand the system, who do
believe in social justice and equality, and who do
want to do what it takes to turn those values into reality. There are even those white Americans that don’t really understand that people of color are systemically marginalized but would do something about it if they did.
The beauty of race is that it is merely a social construct. Humanity, however, is something altogether different. It is for humanity
that we fight for social justice—not for a race of people. Certainly we must recognize the implications of race as they can become barriers to justice and equality, but race does not ever bar us from breaking down those barriers. If anything, it can make us that much more of a force against them.
I feel like I’m getting a quick minor in social justice this semester as I do my pre-work for Teach for America. I have been inundated with information, anecdotes and statistics about poverty and racism in this country. Everything I’ve read has watered the seeds of justice in me enough to force them to crack open the shells and sprout buds. I have been reminded, in each of my daily readings, to be mindful and aware of the realities of the world—the ones we tend to sweep under the rug because they have become as mundane as dust or dirt. I have been forced to quietly reflect on how my own identity has been shaped by the racial and other social dynamics at play in this country.
Like most white Americans, I never had to think about the color of my skin growing up.
I shamefully remember feeling utterly annoyed by a good friend of mine in my high school class that mentioned how black Americans are systemically marginalized. I rolled my eyes, turned up my nose and scoffed, “Black people? Are you kidding me? They’re poor because they don’t work hard enough. Women are the ones that are marginalized!”
Why did I consider women but not people of color to be marginalized? Because as a woman, I am constantly having to compete with, defend myself against and compare myself to the established “norm”: white males. As a white woman, however, I shared at least one of the characteristics of the dominant group: white skin. And so I have a share of the power scheme. The color of my skin has ensured that I am part of the American norm, and therefore it has never needed to be brought to my attention.
That boy in my class was, obviously, worlds ahead of me developmentally. He had clearly done some reading outside of school to learn about the reality of the American system. (They don’t teach you that stuff in school.)
While I was no doubt right that women in American face misogyny and discrimination every day, it is impossible to pretend that race does not also garner abject discrimination of the worst kind.
Criminal injustice, achievement gaps in education, and socioeconomic disparities in the U.S. all share a common denominator: ethnic and racial discrimination. But since the Civil Rights movement has passed, the issue of racism has been habitually swept under the rug by nearly every American that doesn’t explicitly experience it.
Take me, for instance, in my high school years: I was completely unaware that systemic discrimination of people of color still happened.
More than anything, I blame the education system, which has a bad habit of dancing around reality. (Consider what you learned about the treatment of African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latin Americans and immigrant populations throughout history. Rest assured, you didn’t learn the whole story.)
The lie that keeps the cycles of disparity and inequality alive in this country is the one we’re taught from our first days in school: we live in a meritocratic society in which people who put in the work and effort will succeed.
It’s not true. For white people, this notion merely reinforces negative stereotypes of people of color and of the poor in general. For people of color and the poor, this idea informs them that they are to blame for their own marginalization. Also not true.
None of this means that being white is a bad thing. It means that we have a responsibility to lift up the rug and shake it out. See what has been swept under it. Acknowledge that the color of our skin means something. It can mean that we continue to benefit from an inherently racist system and maintain power that way; or it can mean that we become vehement anti-racists and use our power that way.
For a nation that proudly claims to stand for justice, liberty and equality—the fundamental tenets of our civic culture—I think the duty of white Americans and the choice we face is obvious.