White teachers can’t hide behind a hashtag while failing to teach black children

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When I was like 16 years old, I worked in a pharmacy in a suburb of Milwaukee. I mopped floors and stole candy. Two people addicted to painkillers came in at close one night with a .44 Magnum Revolver. They wanted money and drugs, and though I was in charge of neither, I got to feel what it was to lay on the floor with a gun to the back of my head.  Later, I got to know what it meant to see a middle-aged, balding cop and believe he was the most beautiful creature in the world. It’s easy to hate on cops, you know, until you really need one.

Of course, in many places and at many times, cops are doing the ugliest things we do. I don’t need to tell those stories, do I? I don’t need to repeat the hashtags. Do I? We are, I am, drowning in the sorrow of right now. I need love. We need to embrace love in each other, but I also, right now, can’t stop being mad.

There should be no more hashtags, obviously. I agree, obviously, I do, that we should stop needlessly killing people, stop fearing Black skin as a marker of some imagined violence about to happen, but that still won’t be enough.

Maybe we need more hashtags. Millions more. There are no small ways someone is treated as inhuman. There are no small injustices. There are only injustices that are drowned in the volume of their volume.  There should be hashtags for the times someone didn’t die – for the comments, names, assumptions, accusals, abuse from police, from the guy behind the counter, from the woman at the bank, from their doctor, on the car-lot, in job interviews.

From teachers. We know it. From teachers. Hashtags for every student of color and Native student suspended for insubordination, for being bored or disrespected and acting like people do when they are either or both of those things. Hashtags for students suspended for being smarter than their teachers or principal. Hashtags for students awarded for passing with skills that should have them leading, for every student made to feel like their teacher is scared of them.

We can decry racist cops and the racist criminal justice system, but we better not hold our tongues about racist teachers and the racist education system. We better not use their excuses about how the media is making it hard for us to do our jobs, about how the family and community of our students is to blame. We better not say “not all teachers,” and we better not say, “no one would chose teaching if they were racist.”

We sound ridiculous. Anyone sounds ridiculous when they say race isn’t an issue, most especially when they can point out racism in others and somehow imagine it doesn’t touch their own work.

Teachers, this is us. We are them, without guns.

We take lives with subtlety, with patient violence.

Our Black students under-perform, and we blame them. Our Black students are singled out and we blame them. We track them low and punish them often, and we blame them. We prove to them they are less-than, and we blame them for it. Get mad, but don’t come to me blaming poverty for our failures.

Get mad. Get mad for Black Lives.  Get mad at the murder and incarceration, but we are feeding the system from the bottom up with the Black flesh it feeds on.

Get mad at me for saying it. I’m mad at every teacher who won’t.

Get mad, but not if you’re only looking for someone else to blame. Your righteousness is racism.

Us vs. Them is too easy. Black lives vs. Blue lives, Allies vs. Attackers. The saintly liberal against the demon conservative.  It’s too easy. It excuses too much. It hates too much.

I genuinely respect cops.  I respect anyone whose job it is to run towards bad things happening to help people. I’m not sure I would be able to always do that. I wouldn’t. The stakes are high and impossible decisions need to be made instantly. I wish them safety. I also wish them patience and empathy and humanity and respect and understanding. I want them to be better, and want us all to be better.

I know nothing about police training, but I know we all, most especially any White person in any position of power, any White person with any desire to consider themselves a functioning adult of a healthier society, needs to more work on our own work, needs to be honest that we are, every one of us, part of this problem.

We can shout that Black Lives Matter. Let’s make sure they do.


Tom Rademacher is an educator with the Minneapolis Public Schools, and 2015 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He blogs at Mr. Rad’s Neighborhood.

Let’s not pretend teachers aren’t part of the very system that kills us

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More Black and Brown men have been lynched by the state. It is the American way. And, too many educators look away from and are silent about the carnage.

Whether lynchings occur on the trees that led to “Strange Fruit” (sung by Billie Holiday), by the Tallahatchie River, on railroad tracks, in a gated community, in a bedroom, or in front of stores, it is one and the same. It is terrorism, sponsored, condoned, and defended by the state and, far too often, ignored or explained away by too many educators.

THERE IS AN INTERSECTIONALITY BETWEEN POLICE VIOLENCE AND EDUCATORS’ SILENCE

There is an intersectionality between the police violence on the Black community and the silence of too many “educators.”

Imagine a road called Police Violence and another road called Educator Silence.  What do we imagine happens at the intersection of these two streets?”

When our educators are silent about institutionalized racism and state-sponsored violence, they are complicit members of the system. When educators are muted about what students and their families encounter, they are partners in the oppression. Teachers and principals are leaders. The positions inherently demand leadership. Leaders must speak up about injustice-especially the type that is being waged against the very students and communities we serve.

Jawanza Kunjufu remarked that he was amazed that we live in a capitalistic society, yet schools weren’t teaching Black children about capitalism. It sets them up for failure and a trap. How can schools, that purport to educate students for the future, ignore something as huge as the financial system they are a willingly (or unwillingly) a part of?

Our students and communities interact with a system that was established to prey on them. Some educators have decided it is not within their locus of control to address it.

Even “half woke” educators know the racist system and police brutality that Black youth will encounter. How often are these issues addressed in our schools? Yes, communities should educate their youth about this form of oppression, but it does not absolve schools and districts, education non-profits, and educators to be involved and vocal allies.

ARE EDUCATORS ALIGNED WITH POLICE UNIONS OR COMMUNITIES?

Too often, not only are district administrators mum about police brutality and institutional racism, our school-based educators are also passive and silent about this form of violence.

Some organizations like New Leaders New Schools, Teach for America, and union leaders have recently taken a more vocal stance against systemic and enduring racism and oppression. And while some teacher unions and principal associations take very public stances about police brutality, others ignore it and believe their solidarity must be with the police unions instead of the communities they serve.

Just as police unions are structured to defend the murderers of black youth, teacher and principal unions are keenly positioned to defend the liberation of their Black youth. But, unfortunately, the blue code of silence is often erected within schools by educators. And, far too often, after all the talk, not much is done.

LIBERATORS OR OVERSEERS?

As educators, we must take stock on our worth to communities daily. Start with the question that William Hayes, founding member of The Fellowship asked at our inaugural Black Male Educators Convening, Are we liberators or overseers?” Students must be taught to have their eyes wide open. Anything short of that is not setting them up for success in that “real world” that educators love to talk about.

I feel like an elder. I won’t see widespread and systemic justice during my time, but the folks who will need to continue the fight are being educated right now. How they are prepared to resist and dismantle, the current systems of police brutality and create new systems of community, policing and accountability will largely depend on educators.

If one views education as a means of pursuing life, liberty, and happiness, it must also help students identify and abolish the very systems created to deny them the same. In a future post, I will share some ideas of what educators can do to support students and remain vocal and active allies-liberators– in this aspect of the struggle.

In the meantime, if you are an educator, ask yourself, “Am I a liberator or an overseer?” You’ll know the truth. If you are prone to lie to yourself, ask your students.

They already know the answer.


Sharif El-Mekki wrote this post for the blog Philly’s 7th Ward

Don’t Demiansplain TFA to DeRay & Other Rules To Live By

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First, there was mansplaining.

Then, there was Damonsplaining.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I feel it necessary to add another entry to the painfully awkward list of ‘splaining terms: Demiansplaining.

The term refers to Demian Godon, a software engineer from Seattle, who likes to attack Teach For America during his free time on social media and on his blog, Reconsidering TFA.

Godon also happens to be a white guy, which is why I found it ironic that he thought it was a good idea to write a blog post on Sunday -“Does Teach for America Leave Black Lives Behind?” – chiding DeRay Mckesson and other Black Lives Matter activists for their affiliation with Teach For America. In the post, Godon asks:

“[G]iven the role of the financial backers of corporate reform and TFA in the growing inequity facing communities of color, should black lives matter activists be partnering with TFA and corporate reformers?”

He then goes on to cite two statements from teachers union-aligned activists who argue (unsuprisingly) that “TFA actually threatens the black lives matter movement.” In short, he’s Demiansplaining to Black Lives Matter activists why Teach For America is antithetical to the Black Lives Matter movement [insert headsmack here].

As a white guy, this is the type of statement that makes you cringe at how clueless and self-righteous other white guys can be. So I’ve come up with two simple rules that other melanin-deficient fellows like myself can follow to avoid falling into the same trap:

1. Don’t use the Black Lives Matter movement to push your personal political agenda

I would have thought this rule was self-evident, but apparently not, so let’s spell it out: If you’re trying to use the Black Lives Matter movement to push your personal political agenda, you’ve totally missed the point. BLM is not about you and your beef with TFA or other perceived boogeymen.

2. Don’t tell Black Lives Matter leaders what’s up when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement

Imagine some random person walks into your house, looks around, and then proceeds to tell you that you’ve furnished the place all wrong. This person isn’t an interior decorator or Feng Shui consultant you’re paying to tell you that your “corporate, neoliberal sofa” doesn’t belong in the living room where you put it. You would probably stand there thinking, “Who in the hell does this person think he is telling me where my neoliberal sofa should go in my house?” Then, you’d promptly boot him out the front door. Get it? Same logic applies when it comes to telling folks like DeRay Mckesson that their affiliation with TFA puts them “on the wrong side” of the BLM struggle.

In conclusion, if you follow these two simple rules, I promise even obsessed Teach For America critics can look (slightly) less foolish.