This piece is from Jeremy Williams @JWilliamsEDU.
Why am I Who I am?
Why are you who you are?
Yes, I think it is fair to assume that our childhood, our genetics, and our life experiences (good or bad) all contribute to the complexity that makes us who we are.
Recently I recognised another major contributor toward who I am.
A few weeks ago I was working in my office with a member of my Senior Leadership Team who is a woman and a person of colour.
We were just talking in general when she said: “I think it’s important that teachers call me Ms Jane and not just Jane.”
I quickly responded with “I really don’t care what people call me.”
We discussed this for a while and in my head and all I could think about what how laid back I am and how I don’t see why she cares if she’s Ms. Jane, or Jane.
In my head, I was wondering the following things:
Why was Ms. Jane so uptight?
What’s the big deal?
Who cares what we’re called?
I also reflected on how titles in leadership never meant much to me. I don’t care if I’m called Principal or Head of School or Learning Czar for that matter.
Why am I so laid back? Not just with what teachers call me, but about pretty much everything in my life.
Then it hit me.
My white male privilege allows me to be laid back. There’s a level of authority and respect that comes with my privilege. In fact, that same white male privilege is my advantage; and at the same exact time it serves me, it creates an obstacle for someone else who is disadvantaged.
I didn’t have to fight as hard for my position as she had to as a woman and as a person of color.
I don’t have to fight as hard for respect from my colleagues, from parents, or even from students.
This realization has helped me in many ways. Now, I always use Ms. or Mr. when referring to students, teachers, or parents. For me, it is important to acknowledge my own privilege while showing respect to others who may not have been as privileged.
Maybe it’s not the title that someone is after. I always found titles to be meaningless. Perhaps that title signifies respect to others that will make their job easier to do. Maybe it means the accomplishment of a goal that required an inordinate amount of perseverance.
Why am I who I am?
Failing to consider my white male privilege when answering that question fails to recognize the systematic racism that others have dealt with and continue to deal with on a daily basis.
I am a better leader and person when I am mindful of my privilege, and it allows me to create a more respectful and supportive environment to all.
Sometimes my privilege allows me to talk first and not listen. It hinders me from seeing another viewpoint. Sometimes I need to just sit in it for a while.
Listen first, not from my place but rather from the place of someone who has been marginalized and disadvantaged not because of their work, thoughts, or ideas, but simply because they weren’t born with a penis or with white skin.