“Who’s with me in getting a little uncomfortable tonight?”
This query by Derric J. Johnson, founding director of the Crossroads School Equity & Justice Institute, was greeted by enthusiastic applause from the 700-plus attendees who gathered in the gym on March 4. Derric continued his introduction of New York Times-bestselling author Robin DiAngelo, the most recent speaker in the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Equity & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series. Part of this discomfort, Derric explained, would come from “strengthening our abilities to think critically” with DiAngelo.
For the next 90 minutes, the author of “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” challenged the audience to view racism as a system backed by institutional and legal control, one that continuously reinforces white privilege in America. She used powerful statistics and striking images to support her argument, at one point showing a photo of the all-white, all-male House Freedom Caucus gathered in a conference room, making decisions about health care in America.
“I can imagine being a person of color in that room. I can imagine being a woman in that room,” an Upper School student later reflected. “It hit right there.”
Throughout the talk, DiAngelo emphasized the importance of white people seeing themselves in racial terms and acknowledging how their race has granted them power and privilege. As DiAngelo maintained, “whiteness stays centered by being unnamed and unmarked, and to decenter it, you have to expose it.”
To conclude, DiAngelo offered multiple ways white people can work to dismantle the system of racism, including donating to racial justice organizations led by people of color; taking time to self-educate; and challenging segregation in one’s life.
“It was very eye-opening,” reflects sophomore Charlie Goetz, who attended the talk with his family. Sixth grader Lola Goetz added, “[DiAngelo’s work] faces the problem head on, something we haven’t been doing for a while now. As Robin DiAngelo said, only then is the time when this issue can finally begin to be solved.”
In conjunction with DiAngelo’s lecture, a number of faculty incorporated the author’s work into their curriculum. Upper School Diversity Coordinator and Spanish Teacher Silvia Salazar facilitated two lunchtime conversations to delve more deeply into the issues.
The final event in the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Equity & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series is the Environmental Justice Symposium on April 22.