This teacher is showing her students how to use white privilege for good.

Abby Erdmann had a pretty privileged upbringing, which she says she thinks about constantly.

But Erdmann was also something of an outsider, despite her privilege. Growing up in New York in the 1960s, Erdmann was one of three Jewish students in her school. And — by her own admission — she was fat. Some of the kids she grew up with didn’t let her forget that.

York Prep in NYC. Photo by Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons.


“I was aware of being marginalized. In high school, a very popular student drew a caricature of me, and had an arrow to my mouth, and said ‘n-word lips.’ I think that raised my consciousness,” she said.

The resulting awareness would eventually become her biggest asset because that combination of privilege and being an outsider helped Erdmann empathize with all kinds of people.

After she graduated from college, Erdmann became a teacher.

And Erdmann — now retired — wasn’t “just” an English teacher.

When a student in one of her classes said "race is just skin-deep," she wanted to explain to that student that it was so much more than that, but she didn't know how, and she didn't feel comfortable trying. She let the moment pass, but her discomfort sparked something within her.

Eventually, Erdmann came to recognize that she was a white woman in a world that favors whiteness. She had privilege. So, as a teacher, she decided to take her lessons beyond books. She wanted to tackle race too.

Abby Erdmann, center, with two of her former students after a workshop on Talking About Race at Primary Source. Used with permission.

In her classroom, Erdmann taught her students about race in a very unique way.

She offered support to her students of color, but she put most of the responsibility in the hands of her white students: “Because of your privilege, you have tremendous power,” she told them.

She taught her white students that they had the power to listen, to offer support to students of color, and to challenge the power structure that undermines people of color every day.

“The problem of racism isn’t the problem of black kids, it’s the problem of white kids and the white power structure. So I used to work with white kids to teach them how to listen to kids of color when they spoke up, to see their own privilege, to understand definitions of racism,” she said.

This is incredibly important because you can’t challenge what you don’t understand. You can’t fight a problem if you don’t realize it exists. And you can’t do either of those things if you don’t listen to and understand the stories of people who are suffering as a result of that problem.

Erdmann gave her students the tools to understand race and to understand different perspectives, and it changed everything.

Tatiana Fernandez, a former student, nominated Erdmann for an Olmsted Award in 2011. The prize awards exceptional secondary school teachers with $3,000 and their schools with $2,500 to be used as they see fit.

In her nomination letter, Fernandez said of Erdmann: “She always knew how to be a support for minority students in particular and recognized the importance of having difficult and sometimes uncomfortable discussions. Abby was the first person to teach me, as a Latina woman, about whiteness, and be open about things like white privilege, and she was the loudest advocate for those who are normally silenced.”

Erdmann won the Olmsted Award and used that money to start a new initiative, Race Reels, in which films are shown at school assemblies/gatherings to give students and educators a jumping-off point to engage in difficult conversations about race.

For Erdmann, there’s no shame in being white, but there is responsibility.

“Racism is a problem of the 21st century ... and if people like me don’t take it on then who is going to take it on? And it’s not up to black people to fix it; they didn’t make the system, and we’re benefitting,” she said.

She puts the onus on people of privilege, like herself, to dismantle the system.

And while she’s made her share of mistakes along the way, she doesn’t think that experiencing discomfort should mean retreating away from the problem.

She tells her white students, “Guilt is not helpful. Shame is not helpful. Action is.”

With the country so divided, teachers like Abby Erdmann matter. They give us hope for the next generation.

With so much talk around keeping refugees out, with children in poor communities drinking poisoned water, with black bodies strewn across the street, we can begin to feel helpless. Erdmann reminds us that we can make a difference, every day, and that's on us.

What can we do? We can speak up when we’ve been hurt. We can speak up when we see injustice. We can listen. We can be allies. Together, we can challenge what’s broken in our world through acts of empathy and compassion. Together, we can follow people like Erdmann and make this world a better place.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less
True

*Upworthy may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through links on our site.

With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less
via Twins Trust / Twitter

Twins born with separate fathers are rare in the human population. Although there isn't much known about heteropaternal superfecundation — as it's known in the scientific community — a study published in The Guardian, says about one in every 400 sets of fraternal twins has different fathers.

Simon and Graeme Berney-Edwards, a gay married couple, from London, England both wanted to be the biological father of their first child.

"We couldn't decide on who would be the biological father," Simon told The Daily Mail. "Graeme said it should be me, but I said that he had just as much right as I did."

Keep Reading Show less

This election might be giving a lot of people stress, but it's also giving us memes. While Thursday's debate didn't have anything nearly as spectacular as the fly - which will now get a whole chapter in future history books just so there's enough room to cover even a fraction of the jokes – people were still able to have fun with it.

During the debate, Joe Biden accidentally misspoke and referred the Proud Boys as "poor boys." "He has made everything worse across the board. He said about the poor boys, the last time we were on stage here, he said 'I tell them to stand down and stand ready,'" Biden said during Thursday night's debate. "Come on. This guy is a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn," Biden said.

While the internet didn't pick up on that whole vintagey-sounding dog whistle/foghorn analogy, Twitter did go wild with Biden's "poor boy" moniker.

Keep Reading Show less