As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m currently reading “We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know”, by Gary R. Howard. I promised to share my takeaways as I progress through the book, and I just learned about minimal group theory. If you’re not familiar, you can check it out on Wikipedia here. Basically, it’s a way to verify the minimal conditions required for discrimination to occur between groups of people; there’s an “in-group” and an “out-group.” We all have likely experienced being part of the “out-group” at one point or another in our lives. It brings me back to my high school days.
Although I can completely relate to being part of the “out-group”, I eventually grew up and the labels that classmates had assigned me dissipated. After reading the first two chapters, I have a much deeper understanding of the privilege that allowed me to transcend the trivial discrimination I experienced in elementary and high school. I was able to wipe my slate clean and start my adult life with no strikes against me. I have never experienced discrimination to the degree that a black man has, and I know that I have much more to learn. I have had very few discussions about this with my friends of color, and I now see just how important it is for me to open the door to these discussions.
It appears that by the laws of nature, the human brain favors categorization of even the most trivial differences between people, and we tend to group ourselves with people that look and act like we do. As educators and leaders, we must keep this in the forefront of our minds so we are not building and supporting systems and practices that continue to perpetuate racism and other inequities. We need to talk about this.
I realize this sounds great, and the reality is that it will be extremely difficult for us to engage in the difficult conversations that will hopefully heal the damage that’s been done over hundreds of years. In just two small chapters, Mr. Howard was able to impress upon me the ongoing presence of white dominance in Western civilization; it continues to disrupt my thoughts. Blogging about such a sensitive topic makes me nervous, and I believe that if we don’t start discussing racial equity publicly, then things will never change.