SOLSC: March 4, 2016 & Poetry Friday:”White Privilege II”

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Poetry Friday is hosted by Linda Baie @ Teacher Dance

For Poetry Thursday, my students wanted to unpack and discuss something of their own choice: the hip hop artist Macklemore’s “White Privilege II”.  The general class consensus was that it was time to look at these lyrics “because,” as one said, ” it’s our poetry of today.”  This student had brought in the cleaned up version of “White Privilege II” for World Read Aloud Day, and we had all listened to the powerful words, entranced.  So, this was our choice for Poetry Thursday.

We began our discussion with this photograph shared widely on social media earlier on in the week:


Since we’ve been reading a lot about the Civil Rights movement in our non fiction unit, my kids were very familiar with the first photograph, and its juxtaposition with the second led to a moment of shocked horror, and then a rich and thoughtful discussion – the perfect lead in to “White Privilege II”.  

The lyrics needed quite a bit of slicing and dicing to arrive at a clean version, but there were a few stanzas that we kept returning to, these  in particular:

Pulled into the parking lot, parked it
Zipped up my parka, joined the procession of marchers
In my head like, “Is this awkward, should I even be here marching?”
Thinking if they can’t, how can I breathe?
Thinking that they chant, what do I sing?
I want to take a stance cause we are not free
And then I thought about it, we are not we
Am I in the outside looking in, or am I in the inside looking out?…a lot of opinions, a lot of confusion, a lot of resentment…

…Some of us scared, some of us defensive
And most of us aren’t even paying attention
It seems like we’re more concerned with being called racist
Than we actually are with racism
I’ve heard that silences are action and God knows that I’ve been passive
What if I actually read a article, actually had a dialogue
Actually looked at myself, actually got involved?
If I’m aware of my privilege and do nothing at all…

My students were full of ideas about what the words meant, and what they say about race relations in America today.  They were fearless, really, in trying to examine where they (the very epitome of white privilege) stood in relation to white privilege and the issues of race today.  They drew connections to the poems of Langston Hughes (particularly “Minstrel Man” which we had just read), and wondered aloud at the progress we’d made as a nation.  They were thoughtful, respectful, concerned.

Later that evening, as I was listening to the dismal and depressing news of the 2016 election, I took comfort in those classroom conversations. Our kids, at least, seem to have their hearts in the right place.


21 thoughts on “SOLSC: March 4, 2016 & Poetry Friday:”White Privilege II”

  1. Tara, I love the thinking you are encouraging your students to do. I have been giving a fair amount of pd recently and find myself saying more and more that the best thing we can give our students is the passion and ability to think their own thoughts and express them in a way that makes a difference. You are a teacher who does this in an exemplary way.

  2. I love how you took them from what they were studying to who they are now. That kind of connecting sticks and lasts and we need that right now.

  3. You are so thoughtful and respectful to allow your students to unpack this song. They want to talk about racism. They want to be the change in the world. This is powerful and very encouraging.

  4. There is hope for the younger generation when they are guided by teachers like you. Rap is the poetry of their generation, I never thought of it that way, but they are right. Wonder what the conversation around the students’ dinner table was last night.

  5. You are such a positive force, Tara – I am amazed at the work of teachers every day.
    “It seems like we’re more concerned with being called racist/Than we actually are with racism” – and sometimes I’m too put off by the parts of rap lyrics that you all cleaned out to pay attention to powerful, important lines like these. But your students went right to the heart of the matter, and that is hopeful for all of us. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. So glad you were willing to take White Privilege II into your classroom to help your students see what white privilege is but also to see the poetry of today! Thanks for being a great teacher!

  7. I am so glad that you don’t stray from hard topics, and evidently your students don’t either. I am impressed that they are now talking about white privilege, and what that means for their future, for others, too. This makes me feel good, Tara. I love the lines: “we are not we”. This is going to be a battle this year, and so many need to step forward to make changes. Thanks!

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this — I’m heartened by your students’ responses, interest, and concern. Hard topic, hard times for our country.

  9. Tara, I love the steps you led your students through to have them be deep thinkers. Social justice is a common theme during Black History and Women’s History months. Today at my conference Andrea Davis Pinkney led us through a similar process using her book Sit-In. I think you will enjoy that picture book.

  10. Oh, your lucky students! What a great lesson. Thank you for this. It’s not just the kids whose hearts are in the right place!

    As you know, I’ve done a lot of writing trying to express the pain and anger I feel in the face of where we’ve come as a society. I had an amazing conversation with an author last night (future blog post!) in which we talked about the ways current events have changed us as writers. Both of us have felt pulled away from the ability to write fiction. She has recently come back to fiction, but I’m still feeling removed from my stories. I do have my comic, however, and that helps enormously.

    I so appreciate reading about the kind of thoughtful, insightful teaching and learning you’ve described here. You give me hope.

  11. I’ve been feeling pretty bad about the state of our country, but this post has brightened things considerably for me. I hope we wake up from this bad dream soon.

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