Conversation Of The Week L: What Is the Role Of White Leaders And Educators In A Multi-Cultural Society?

March 11, 2013
Written by Abby L. Ferber Ph.D. Professor of Sociology in
National Collegiate Dialogue
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Gary R. Howard speaks on Intersections Radio about the role of white leaders and educators in a multi-cultural society as well as civil rights, social justice, equity, education, and diversity. Photo Credit:

Each week, the White Privilege Conference and the Matrix Center for the Advancement of Social Equity and Inclusion, housed at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS), hosts a half hour radio show called Intersections Radio that features an interview with a different author, scholar, and/or speaker.

In this segment, Gary R. Howard, who has 35 years of experience working with issues of civil rights, social justice, equity, education, and diversity, including 30 years as the Founder of the REACH Center for Multicultural Education, discusses those issues on Intersections Radio. He is a keynote speaker, writer, and workshop leader who travels extensively throughout the United States and Australia.

His most recent book, We Can't Teach What We Don't Know, Second Edition (2006), was published by Columbia University and is considered a groundbreaking work examining issues of privilege, power, and the role of White leaders and educators in a multicultural society. His current work is centered on leading Equity Leadership Institutes, which provide organizations with the internal capacity to implement long-term systemic change strategies for achieving greater equity and social justice in their practices.

Intersections Radio is hosted by Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., founder of the White Privilege Conference (WPC), which is held annually in cities across the United States; and Daryl Miller, who works with the WPC and other programs of the Matrix Center. The WPC is an award-winning national diversity conference that serves as a yearly opportunity to examine and explore difficult issues related to white privilege, white supremacy, and oppression, and works to dismantle systems of power, prejudice, and inequality. College students from around the country participate in the conference for academic credit.


National Collegiate Dialogue



Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-6 on

I've come to understand that it's difficult to accept diversity or promote change without first increasing awareness. Gary R. Howard's book raises awareness for an aspect of diversity which will, hopefully, spark a chain reaction in which others become increasingly aware of white leaders in a multicultural society.

What is there role? The title of his book suggests that they (white leaders) shouldn't even attempt to educate if it's not something in which they don't have a complete understanding. I think it's also more than that. I can read about racial discrimination for the rest of my life, I can witness the experiences of others, but it's not until I experience it that I can honestly "know".

We all have to start somewhere...

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-33 on

Change begins with awareness, to enact change requires spreading that awareness and the best way to do that is to teach others that wisdom. To me, the title states that unless individuals are aware that we live in a socially constructed society and that there are those that enjoy certain privileges and those who do not-we cannot teach the knowledge of change. There is so much that is invisible to so many as we operate within the day to day that we need those who have the vision to share that vision with others who do not. It takes one perspective to change another, and once a spark is lit the hope for change becomes greater.

Everybody has a Part

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-29 on

I think it is important to have white leaders and educators in a multi-cultural society because people need to talk about the issues of oppression and privilege from both ends of the spectrum. The best social changes occur when there is collaboration from a diversity of voices. Therefore I am encouraged by Gary R. Howards work in justice, equity, education, and diversity because he is able to give a perspective that is different from many other people's. It is very rewarding to have both the first person narrative of the effects of oppression and also the perspective of a privileged person who is trying to understand and educate others about diversity issues. In any social movement there has to be grassroots movement as well as change from the top down so I think it is important for white leaders to be a voice for diversity issues.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-6 on

I hadn't considered the level to which having a diversity of voices is important. I totally agree that in order to increase understanding and education of diversity issues more than just those that are oppressed need to stand up. This goes back to what we learned about allies vs. advocates and the importance of both.
I also liked that you described a social movement as something that moves top down. The white leaders are at the top, so if they initiate change,then perhaps it'll slowly transcend down through the ranks of privilege and oppression until a transformation results.

Best to have both sides

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-5 on

While I hate it when there's a white person talking about the pains of discrimination like they've experienced it and know the "struggle", I think it's good to know both sides of the story. It's good for a white person to stand up for the discrimination that they place on people and talk about how it can be changed. Plus, I think if a white person is talking about discrimination more people are likely to listen and that spreads awareness which is desperately needed in order to change anything.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-1 on

I completely agree with you on the fact that it is hard to listen to a white male who is most likely of financial means to talk about discrimination. I think this is why it is important that we talk about privilege. This person could not possibly know nor understand what it is like to be an African American woman. He can empathize, that's all. It is more important to talk about privilege and recognizing how privilege affects others. Yes, creating an awareness on both sides is equally important.

I think that it is important

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-37 on

I think that it is important to have all races involved when it comes to understanding multi-cultural societies. How else would you get so many different perspectives on different topics? Anyone can have a perspective, and some times when it comes from someone on the outside it helps to clear things up, such as why a white person might think something.

All Parties Must Be Involved

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-44 on

I agree that it requires the involvement of all parties. Unless this is an inclusive discussion, how can solutions be meted out?

There is no oppression without privilege

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-12 on

When reading this article, many individuals would question how and even why a white person can talk about multi-cultural issues with an type of authority. I contend that it is important for white individuals to have a voice when it comes to oppression, because oppression does not exist without privilege. It is important to speak about privilege and the impact that is does have on those that identify as "other." Having this type of balance is crucial because the issue of privilege, especially white privilege, is seldom seen by those that possess it. Bring the awareness to white society is vital to understanding why we oppress, who we oppress, and what can we do with regards to our privilege to create change. As a male, I can not speak on what it means to be female, but I can speak to how my being male can oppress females. So in closing I suggest that along with discussion of oppression we must, and I emphasis must, talk about privilege.

Discussion on Opression

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-29 on

I agree that there has to be awareness in white society about "who we oppress, and what we can do with regards to our privilege to create change". I also liked how you related making change to the example of gender and that although you are a male, you can still speak to the oppression of females. Sometimes being able to speak on these issues as a male allows you to reach people in a way females can't and I believe it is similar to issues of race, disabilities, sexual orientation, etc.

Racism in Leadership

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-2 on

This is a very good question. Due to the presence of invisible white privilege, I think that it may be very difficult for white educators and leaders to remain unbiased. I would not say that it is impossible for whites to add great knowledge to the field of privilege and oppression. I also would not say that persons of color are experts on these subjects. I believe that all people have an equal opportunity to contribute to the education and dialogue of privilege and oppression. We certainly do need more education on these topics in our schools. If a person is compelled to “teach” a subject that could potentially be of some benefit to many people, I say that they should go ahead and do just that. Bonilla-Silva introduce the topic of storylines in their book, “White Supremacy & Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era.” A storyline is basically an excuse that people use today to justify the reason(s) why they are incapable of being racist. Perhaps we must ask the question, “What is the role of white educators and leaders in a multicultural society?” because we are still stuck using these storylines. We are stuck thinking that in the past, all white people owned slaves, and white people are the ancestors of white people today, therefore white people today must be racist. I am not trying to argue that all white people are racist, because that is most certainly not the case. However, as a society, I believe that we share a common tendency to overgeneralize facts to situations where they don’t necessarily belong. This article points out a wonderful example of an exemplary white educator who is actively, and positively, participating in the dialogue on privilege and oppression today. All too often we use race to form assumptions about people. In my experience, many of these assumptions have proven to be incorrect. We would be better off if we stopped assuming that a persons skin color limits their abilities, knowledge, or skills.

White privilege and racism

Submitted by NIAGARA-S2013-31 on

I agree that we would be better off is we stopped assuming that color of an individuals skin limits them. Persons in a position of privilege, whether that be race, sex, class, ability...are all responsible as members of society to speak out against oppression and discrimination. Whites are in a unique position to challenge other whites who are actively and passively discriminating against others. As members of the human race we all have a role and responsibility. In order to decrease the separations and promote inclusion and acceptance in society we must come together as the multicultural society that we are.

In my opinion, white leaders

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-28 on

In my opinion, white leaders and educators have the significant key to reduce racism in a multi-cultural society. Since antiracists put a lot of effort in our society, many whites know what they are doing is wrong. However, not many people want to stand up for what they think wrong. There are many reasons for whites who realize the racist actions not doing any moral actions. One of the reasons could be that they do not know the serious outcome from what they tried to ignore. Many racist actions occur in backstage situations which when whites are with family or friends. They might think whatever they made racist comment could be just in between them. However, it is the beginning of the racism. No one was born with racism. They had to learn from their family or friends in the backstage before they were active in institutional level. The problem is that many times they do not realize that. Therefore, white leaders and educators are very important to inform whites that all whites have possibility to be involved in the current racism, significantly or not, in the past, in the present of in the future.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-44 on

While I recognize that the context of this discussion on race relations references the framework of America's history and contemporary society,I think it's important to recognize that racism, prejudicial behaviors, and discriminatory actions weren't invented by white America. This triage of interrelating activities existed long before this country's inception and still are alive and well in other parts of the world. It should be further noted that people have been discriminated against within their own ethnicities and races. For example, one of Arabia's earliest reasons for failing to unite was the prejudices tribal members had toward one another, often leading to small wars between neighboring states. And consider the hostility and prejudice the Arab people continue to maintain toward their Israeli neighbors. And what of Sierra Leone's civil war, from which they have never recovered from even though that war ended over ten years ago?

Staying in Power

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-17 on

This question made me think of the readings I have read in my other race classes, where they emphasized that whites find ways to stay in power and control. A white person can never truly know what it is like to be discriminated or be oppressed of opportunities. However, by "studying" the issue and by theorizing and learning what the issues are like, and by attempting to teach the others about it, I feel as though they are still trying to show superiority over any other race.
Reason being, for example, if a black person speaks about being discriminated and living at a disadvantage, many will probably ignore what he or she has to say and may even believe that is a typical life of a minority person, that it is nothing new. Some may even consider to be a complainant. However, if a white person speaks about ongoing discrimination and the serious issues of it, many more will probably believe it must be a serious issue since a white person is showing concerns. In this case, it shows that white man still hold the power and that they are the ones who are capable of making a difference, and the other party is seen helpless and have absolutely no control of what is actually happening to them and their community.

White Leaders

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-14 on

I feel that it is important for leaders, especially white leaders to understand multiracial problems that are currently effecting our society today. For white leaders they may not fully understand the problems that people of color go through daily, but it is important that they make an effort to try to understand the obstacles that they face.

It makes sense that white

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-32 on

It makes sense that white leaders would need to understand multiracial issues. I think that if they are aware of the issues that others face, they can set an example for other white people to follow. In the case of teachers, I think college professors have a huge influence on the way students think. If the white professor understands white privilege, they can train up students that will also understand it. Privilege would not be so readily replicated if white leaders can set a good example.

The Role of White Leaders

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-12 on

When reading this article, I first thought about how recently, I heard we have very few black teachers at UCCS, and Professor Cunningham noted 16 in Rhode Island. I believe our society is in dire need of reform when continue to create a white priveleged society with more educational opportunity based on race.

I believe the role of white educators is to teach true curriculum as most of the history books I was raised with offer little truth to the true and horrible realities of racism in our past (and present). When I learned through the readings in my current class on race and privledge, I was horrified at the true numbers of killings of Native Americans, Africans, and African Americans during the times of colonization.

When we teach the truth and speak of the truth, we create more truth and understanding. I appreciate learning about racism, and when professors project the realities of privledge and hatred, it helps me, as a student, to understand our world and how i can navigate in a more honest and loving way.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-30 on

I like your comment about truth. Teaching the truth is important and the key to being a good teacher of any subject. Teaching oppressing without teaching about privilege is doing the oppressed a huge disservice. It is teaching only half of the story and then a solution will not be found.


Submitted by UCCS-S2013-19 on

I also like the way you mentioned "truth" in your comment. It does seem like when it comes to education, we only get to learn a part of history, not the entire truth of what has been recorded throughout most horrific times of oppression. It almost makes it seem like the education system tries to hide that sensitive part of history in order to "restore" it. I don't know what goes on behind our education system exactly, but I think that when it comes to racism and oppression, they don't teach us enough and don't give us clear, informative information. Also, it is very true that there are not many black male professors. When Dr. Ferber asked our Perspectives of Race and Ethnic Relations class, how many of us had a black male teacher, only 2 people raised their hand. I was one of them. The persistence of white leaders and educators is especially important to pay attention to, is when it comes to oppression, and also when happening in our multicultural settings.

Role of white teachers.

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-30 on

Teaching students about oppression and privilege could be a difficult task if not approached in the right way. I think classes should be taught by many different people and I like the approach our class has taken by incorporating all kinds of lectures, videos, and speakers that represent many of the social identities we have been studying. I also think it would be difficult to speak about oppression and privilege being one of the oppressed. This makes me think about the story of the male teacher that walked into a lecture hall taught by a woman (maybe a woman of color) and one of the students yelled out, "Finally! An objective opinion". This shows that it can be hard to teach about our own experiences without seeming biased to those that have not lived those same experiences. White teachers teaching in a multi-cultural world have a responsibility to teach the whole truth and not shy away from subject matter that challenges people's way of thinking or forces them to rethink their lives or ideas about life.

Appreciation of all

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-23 on

I appreciate having Caucasian instructors where issues of race-- specifically that of white privilege-- are concerned. I feel as though having an instructor who has the outward appearance of being a minority somehow discredits the course. For example, an African American instructor discussing the mistreatment of African Americans throughout the nation's history seems biased, too personalized and almost self-serving. Having someone who is not of a minority background, to me, makes it seem more real. It's like, "Wow, someone else sees it too." With that being said, it is disheartening to know that our school has so few African American (and other minority) instructors. I would, very much, like to see more diversity amongst our instructors in subjects beyond race and ethnicity. It is, however, nice that courses on race and ethnicity are being taught at all. Until I entered college I had never gone through a course of the like. Some many new ideas, concepts and stories had been brought to light. Never before did I ever realize the true extent of the mistreatment of minorities within our history. But when it comes down to it, it not WHO is teaching that really matters but WHAT is being taught.

White Roles

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-3 on

I always think about how we have taken this idea of a "melting pot of culture" in America and really just created an overpowering white component. Any culture that gets mixed and melted into our pot, becomes white. The instance of constant white teachers, I believe, is a very good example of such.