The main themes that I took away from reading the first few chapters of Allan G Johnson's Privilege, Power and Difference were the ambivalence to these issues that people in power have and the use of language as a tool.
Though this point was reiterated many times throughout the piece, I thought that the following sentence was especially poignant for me. It was part of the list that Johnson created on what privilege looks like in everyday life. He said "whites can choose whether to be conscious of their racial identity or to ignore it and regard themselves simply as human beings." As a white person, I never even thought about my race until I started working in an urban school. I think that to this point, Johnson did a very good job of acknowledging his privilege and using that as a springboard for conversation throughout the excerpt.
One of the first things Johnson discussed in Chapter 1, entitled Rodney King's Question, is the language that surrounds the issues of class, race, ethnicity and gender. The point that I really appreciated was in his reflection on King's question, "Can't we all just get along?". Johnson said "Like any serious question, it sits and waits for what it deserves, which is a serious answer." The problem with this is that while we wait for that answer, the divide has grown bigger between classes and races. People often tiptoe around these issues because they are afraid of offending who they are with or because they are not willing to admit their culpability in the controversy surrounding these issues. We will not be able to make any kind of progress without being honest with ourselves and others about equality.
This excerpt made me think extensively about my personal experiences, and then those of my students. For the last two years, I worked in an urban charter school in the greater Boston area. Throughout my career as a student, I was surrounded primarily by people who looked like me - white and middle class. I was fortunate enough to go entirely through Catholic schools, which I now realize kept me in a very limited circle. It was not until I accepted the job at the charter school that I realized how different those students' experiences were from mine. I did not realize the importance of having people of authority who look like you until I saw that my students didn't have that in the way that I did. Most of our students were black or Muslim, but almost all of our teaching staff was made up of young, white, women. Students consistently called teachers racist for small things like asking them to stop talking or running in the hallway. It wasn't until about October or November that I realized they defaulted to that "accusation" because they had been exposed to this systematic racism for their whole lives.
Since I started working at the charter school, I've been much more aware of my privilege and the lens through which I see the world because of that. I try to keep it in check as much as possible and try to see things from my students' perspective as much as I can. Reading the excerpt from Johnson helped guide how I think about these issues more clearly.