Are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches racist? A bizarre question, to say the least, but one that at least one school administrator is asking out in Portland, Oregon. Verenice Gutierrez, principal at Harvey Scott K-8 School, seems to believe that there are racial connotations associated with the common lunch-time meal.
According to Gutierrez, using the example of a peanut butter sandwich in classroom lessons is technically a problematic and discriminatory move -- one that was made by a teacher in her building last school year. While such a notion may bring out laughs among those who find it absurd, the principal explains her logic.
"What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?," she said. "Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita."
Somehow, by mentioning a food that the majority culture regularly eats without also discussing other meal options, the teacher was purportedly violating discrimination standards. So, to combat any additional PB&J-related offenses, the principal is treading carefully. And she's not alone.
Portland Public Schools is in the process of integrating "Courageous Conversations," an equity training that has been coming in phases over the past few years. The Portland Tribune explains the district's intentions, in detail:
Through intensive staff trainings, frequent staff meetings, classroom observations and other initiatives, the premise is that if educators can understand their own “white privilege,” then they can change their teaching practices to boost minority students’ performance.
Last Wednesday, the first day of the school year for staff, for example, the first item of business for teachers at Scott School was to have a Courageous Conversation — to examine a news article and discuss the “white privilege” it conveys.
The demographics that are present in the district have apparently led leaders to tackle this purported "white privilege" issue head-on. Currently, 50 percent of students at Scott K-8 are Hispanic, 15 percent are black and nine percent are Asian.
Naturally, there's some controversy, especially considering the subject at hand. One parent, in particular, as the Tribune notes, has railed against a lunch-time drum class for black and Hispanic boys at the school (the parent believes it discriminates against women, girls, Asians, whites and Native Americans).
Gutierrez, though, claims children weren't turned away and denies that offering a minority-specific class amounts to discrimination.
"When white people do it, it is not a problem, but if it’s for kids of color, then it’s a problem?," she said. "Break it down for me. That’s your white privilege, and your whiteness."
The Tribune has more about the principal and the district's program that she's seeking to utilize in the school:
Like many if not all of PPS’ leaders, Gutierrez has gone through California-based consultant Glenn Singleton’s “Coaching for Educational Equity,” a weeklong seminar on race and how it affects life; she’s also become an “affiliate,” certified to teach the equity curriculum; and she serves on the district’s administrative committee to address systematic racism, a group that meets every other week.
“Our focus school and our Superintendent’s mandate that we improve education for students of color, particularly Black and Brown boys, will provide us with many opportunities to use the protocols of Courageous Conversations in data teams, team meetings, staff meetings, and conversations amongst one another,” Guitierrez’ letter to staff reads.
Read more about this story over at The Portland Tribune.