Being an Ally: The Role of White Educators in Multicultural Education

Assumptions and Actions

By Elizabeth Denevi


Working Assumptions*:

  • Privilege and prejudice are two sides of the same coin; as I am elevated, someone else is marginalized or oppressed.
  • It is critical to distinguish between prejudice and racism: racism = prejudice + power + privilege.
  • I will never see the world through the eyes of a woman of color; my attempts to make comparisons of exclusion will never be on par with what people of color might face in certain contexts.
  • As a woman, I can relate to gender inequality. In many ways, oppression cuts across social identifiers, but experiences of oppression can be different and need to be recognized.
  • My white identity includes white privilege as an aspect of my whiteness. It is not all, but it is a part of what it means to be white, and I have to be willing to accept this reality.
  • Solidarity does not mean everyone thinks alike, but multiracial solidarity is geared toward points of intersection, not a false universalism or false unity. (Peter McLaren)
  • I do not expect people of color to thank me or to acknowledge my antiracist work. I consider it my moral responsibility and will not look for validation from people of color. I am the one who benefits most from multiculturalism.
  • Individual accountability is what changes cultures; the way I see myself is intimately connected to way I see others. If I don’t understand what it means to be white, or heterosexual, or upper- middle class, how can I ever hope to understand another colleague or student?
  • If I am called a racist, it is not the end of the conversation. It is the beginning.
  • I recognize that there will be “slippage” (Enid Lee) in my work, meaning that sometimes I will make mistakes in the process of learning how to dismantle racism. Yet I know I have to pick myself up and keep going, and it will be easier each time.
  • When I begin to feel complacent, thinking that I have “done” multiculturalism, or if I feel the need to list my multicultural credentials, then I know I still have a lot of work to do.



  • Explore my own whiteness; become firmly rooted and aware of my own ethnic identity; think about what it means to be white in my school.
  • See myself as diverse; make sure that “multicultural” is not synonymous with “other than white.”
  • Distinguish between individual and group identity.
  • Understand the social, political, and historical role of teaching:
    • I will teach the way I was taught unless I learn another way.
    • Teachers are not neutral; teaching strategies and methods are not objective.
    • We all speak from a particular standpoint based on our experiences.
    • There is no essential, observable single truth; rather, there are multiple truths.
    • Everything is not relative, but rather we recognize that cognition — the way we think and learn — is dependent upon experience and context.
  • Understand and implement multicultural teaching strategies; design a curriculum that is explicitly antiracist; be committed to raising issues of identity development in my classroom.
  • Learn the distinction between speaking for someone and speaking with someone; be committed to dialogue, as opposed to discussion, when appropriate.
  • Recognize the difference between intentions and outcomes:
    • Schools are full of people “who without intending to create racial hurdles or hostility, manage to create a fair amount of both. That they cannot see what they have done is due partly to the fact that they meant no harm and partly to a disinclination to examine whether the assumptions they hold dear are in accord with reality.” (Ellis Cose)
  • Practice “distinguishing” behavior (Randolph Carter): interrupting prejudice and/or racism, advocating for social justice, being an ally, using my privilege to dismantle systems of oppression.






* This list was inspired by Beverly Daniel Tatum’s working assumptions that she used to begin all of her courses on racial identity development.