The modern globalizing world is going through multiple changes. Diversity brought by merge and migration processes making the boundaries between nations, countries, cultures fade away is getting more and more intense every year. Public awareness of social diversity is also a developing phenomenon.
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It is demonstrated though the reflection of social and cultural diversity and its recognition in various spheres of our life such as healthcare, politics, mass and social media, and education. It is a well known fact that cultures dwelling next to each other have to interact all the time, which sooner or later leads to various reactions such a as acceptance of the differences or confrontation and discrimination on the basis of the differences.
Contemporary society currently experiences both types of reaction to cultural and emotional diversity. People of different backgrounds demonstrate different behavioral patterns, when they find themselves facing diverse individuals. School is the first society people have to interact with.
This is why the role of the classroom carries educational and social functions, it brings knowledge of various subjects such as math, history or science, and it teaches people how to collaborate, tolerate, start friendships and resolve conflicts. Teacher plays the role of mediator and has to know how to position themselves to mediate in the most effective way.
The subject of diversity is fairly recent, and it is a fact that today there still are various cultural and ethnic communities that have limited experience of diversity. The issue of white privilege is connected to limited interactions between white people and people of color, which may be the source of ignorance, complexes and discomfort in the future for both communities.
To my mind, the phenomenon of white privilege is real, although not all white people tend to feel privileged in a diverse society. Besides, not all people of color tend to feel limited, intimidated or repressed facing ignorance from the side of white peers, although such situations are not rare and certainly need to be reduced.
White privilege appears when white people have any kind of advantages over people of other racial background, which makes them more privileged. This problem frequently occurs in diverse classrooms, where some of the students feel as “others” or minorities. Besides, this issue may also challenge the classrooms where a black teacher is working with white students or a white teacher – with black students (Ladson-Billings, 1996).
Unfortunately, not everyone has the required skills to maintain inner balance in such circumstances. Some people start feeling pressure and discomfort and under these circumstances many would prefer to stay silent instead of communicating and defending their point of view.
It is true that until recent times white people in the United States were considered to be the majority. Most mass media did not work on creating awareness of diversity in our society. In order to see proofs of that it is enough to remember the films and TV shows popular in the end of 1990s and beginning of 2000s.
A large number of them were about white people, they had white actors on the leading roles and very few to none actors of color. The public interpretations of schools and workplaces shown on TV did not reflect the reality properly. Today, this phenomenon is noticed, brought up and carefully fixed. White privilege is gradually eliminated, while proud self-identity of people of other ethnic groups is supported.
Racially inhabited silence in the classrooms where white teachers have to discuss racial issues with students of various non-white ethnicities (Mazzei, 2008).
Such classes make both students and teachers feel uncomfortable because neither of the sides usually wants to explore such sensitive subjects, because they border with conflicts and misunderstandings. This issue has to be worked on because statistically these days the majority of the American teachers are white and the majority of the students they work with are not.
Contemporary society is under a lot of pressure trying to find appropriate solutions of racial issues and conflicts. Struggling to defeat the history and habit of white privilege made some of white people feel oppressed for being white. Contemporary educators are determined to find approaches and techniques of working with diverse classrooms without neglecting anyone’s interests (Gillespie et al, 2002).
This is hard to put into practice because the researches revealed that part of the problem is that the majority of white people are cognizant of their own race. Overall, white privilege is based on the habit of considering whiteness as normality, which makes all other races seem deviant.
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Profession of a teacher today is extremely challenging, because even working with homogenous classrooms an educator needs to find the right balance between challenging and inspiring their students without losing their trust or making them shut down.
Work in a diverse classroom is complicated by racial, ethnic, cultural and social differences; it requires a great deal of diplomacy and individual approach.
Reaching out to students that initially feel as “others” because they do not share ethnicity fir their teachers is not easy. White teachers need to be educated to interact with diverse students successfully, make them speak and be prepared to answer their questions however challenging they may be.
Gillespie, D., Ashbaugh, L. & Defiore, J. (2002). White Women Teaching White Women about White Privilege, Race Cognizance and Social Action: toward a pedagogical pragmatics. Race Ethnicity and Education, 5(3), 237-253.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1996). Silences as Weapons: Challenges of a Black Professor Teaching White Students. Theory into Practice, 35(2), 79-85.
Mazzei, L. A. (2008). Silence speaks: Whiteness revealed in the absence of voice. Teaching and Teacher Education 24, 1125–1136.