The Race We Don't See

Once upon a time there was a white boy who came to Trinity School because his parents were Christians who believed in the power of education to awaken the human spirit to truth, goodness, and beauty and to give young people what they need to thrive in the world...

Is there anything in this story that seems odd? Anything that raises questions, trips you up a little?  I’m betting that it is the word white. Does it strike you as unnecessary? Do you wonder why the storyteller would mention whiteness?  

We all  know that a boy who came to Trinity School might be a person of color, and a story that started “Once upon a time there was a brown boy who came to Trinity School” would be a believable and good story--thankfully it is a common story.  But a story about a white boy coming to Trinity School is the same as a story about Any Boy coming to Trinity School. The adjective white is unnecessary because it is assumed.

At a school like Trinity, some of us get to live without having to expend significant cognitive and emotional resources thinking about race, and some of us don’t.  Most--but not all--of the people who get to live like this are white.  At a school like Trinity, being black or brown is a thing; being white is not.  White is “normal,” and “normal” is just assumed, rarely mentioned. I put “normal” in quotations because it is culturally contextualized and shaped: if we were at an international school in Dar es Salaam, “normal” would not look like me. But here at Trinity, it is an undeserved privilege for me to be able to glide through the stories of my life as a “normal” white person. Peggy McIntosh, a white woman, put it this way in her now famous essay, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”:

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.

We’ve been talking about race a lot this year–from the faculty summer read of MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to Upper School advisory discussions to the reading groups on Beverly Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? to our faculty meetings that explore concepts like color blindness.  What is this all about?  What are we hoping to see happen at Trinity?  I will mention four things:

  1. Respect.  We want Trinity to be and remain a place where people of different races at Trinity (students, faculty, and parents) are respectful and kind to one another, not mean-spirited when it comes to talking to and about people who are different.  I am thankful that Trinity is this kind of place most of the time, and we want to work to make even more this way. Ephesians 4:29.
  2. Empathy.  It would be good if we sought more to understand people of other races than to be understood, if we walked a mile in others’ shoes, if we spoke graciously about our own wounds and hurts, and if we received humbly the honest feedback from people different from us.  Ephesians 4:32.
  3. Inclusion.  It would be good if more people of color brought their children to Trinity and worked at Trinity and served in leadership. This is harder still, because it won’t happen if we don’t work on some of the deeper issues–like coming to grips with white privilege.  Revelation 7:9.
  4. Beyond Racism.  It would be good–really good–if race did not give one person an advantage over another, if no one had to bear the weight of another race in the world, if there were no white privilege and people of other races got the same chances as everyone else. This is the hardest of all, and we will not change this without changing a system that is bigger than any of us. I suspect that this kind comes out only by prayer and fasting and probably with the Lord’s return.  But we can hope and dream.  Isaiah 2:1-5.

And here are some things that parents, teachers, and students can be involved in this fall, ways of moving forward to realize the above goals.  

  • Our Koinonia Committee (Diversity Committee) is reading Beverly Tatum’s “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and talking about things like white privilege and racism as a system of unfair advantage.
  • The Trinity Parent Organization (TPO) will focus on diversity and service learning at its November 17 meeting.  I hope many of our parents can come to this meeting at 8:15 am.
  • In our faculty meetings, we are exploring questions about racial identity formation:  What does it mean for our white students to develop a racial identity?  For students of color?  How might this impact the work we do in the classrooms, in athletics, and elsewhere?  If you’re interested in what the faculty have been exploring, you might check out these short New York Times videos: A Conversation about Growing up Black and A Conversation with White People about Race. Let me hasten to add that our conversations are ranging far beyond black and white racial identity, wanting Trinity to be a place that welcomes, includes, and supports all races.
  • Some faculty and staff are also engaged in a reading group this fall, one that is making its way through Tatum’s book and also Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ, a Christian reflection on some of the reasons Christians have a hard time coming together across lines (racial, political, theological, cultural, etc.).
  • We are organizing reading groups for parents who want to read these books by Tatum and Cleveland. Our Diversity Coordinator, Adrienne Davis, and other members of our Koinonia Committee will be leading these monthly gatherings. If you are interested in participating in such a group, please sign up today here.
  • We are offering fellowship opportunities for all students with a desire to engage more deeply in our Koinonia Alive! commitment, where students of different racial backgrounds can come together to pray, learn, and focus on common goals. The first of these will occur on Friday, October 16, during the Middle and Upper School lunches.  
  • On Sunday, November 1, families of color and families with students of color will gather for a social time. Stay tuned for details. For more information, please contact Katherine Hicks.

I have a dream that one day someone will tell a story about a brown boy who came to Trinity School and everyone will turn and wonder why brown was mentioned at all. That’ll be a great day!  But until then, let’s work together to build respect and empathy and understanding. I’m thankful that this is a year when we have the time and resources to devote ourselves to this good work. All for Christ’s sake, who died to bring us to God and to make us one in him.  


Hi Chip - Appreciate your exploration here. I happen to be watching an author on CSPAN2 describe his new book "Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools" and thought of this post. Seems like an informative contribution to the literature around race and schools.

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