The insurrection of January 6, 2021 was a dark day in our nation’s history. What makes it even darker is that public servants took part in the dysfunction. In attendance that day were police officers, firefighters and even educators among our industry.
As it pertains to leaders in these industries, I applaud them for investigating and potentially removing these individuals. But these leaders should be equally concerned with rooting out the racists hiding in plain sight in offices, patrolling the streets and teaching in classrooms.
The onus for doing so is within police departments; for Black people, removing racists from the rank and file is a matter of life and death. The same can be said for removing racists in schools.
While it’s reasonable to register that a large number of insurrectionists in attendance weren’t educators, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a fair population of educators who agree with their cause, or worse; are racists.
Look no further than Facebook.
Roughly 60% of white people voted for Donald Trump. White people are least likely to say that the presidential election was well conducted and least likely to think that votes were counted accurately. It can’t be ignored considering white teachers account for 80% of teachers nationwide.
This isn’t to say that all white teachers support the notion that the election was rigged, but it is to say that some white teachers may believe that. Some are just clever enough not to post their thoughts on social media or be visible in public while voicing their sentiments—but it most certainly will inform their pedagogical and instructional decisions.
Around the country, educators who attended or participated in the insurrection have faced investigations and even suspensions by their school district—and they should. However, those folks are easy to single out.
But what about the racist and bigoted educators who didn’t attend or participate in the insurrection; racist employees, who hide in plain sight?
If we consider the track record of schools where an employee attended the insurrection, we find that Black students in just about all of them are disproportionately suspended, retained, and are underrepresented in gifted and talented courses (see figure 1).
We can’t lay blame for these statistics squarely with those educators who attended the insurrection. However, there is something to be said for a school’s climate whereby at the very least concern about the optics wasn’t enough to deter an educator from traveling to Washington D.C. to protest a fair election.
From the stories and the stats, we can sound the alarm of systemic racism upheld and perpetuated by the adults in those school districts—knowingly or unknowingly. Investigating, suspending or removing employees due to their participation on January 6 may look like your district doesn’t tolerate racism.
But the data tells a different story altogether.
It’s not enough to root out racists educators when they’re found out. You must root them out without knowing who they are.
That happens by making any racist and white supremacists uncomfortable within your district. Here is how that can happen:
- Hire more Black teachers and principals. It’s important to hire educators of color, however, the United States has a history of anti-Black racism; a history that continues today throughout society, including schools. Having more Black educators in your building and district does a few things. It supports the academic achievement of Black students and it means more Black people involved with policy, procedural and curriculum decisions. Also, the more Black educators you have, especially in leadership positions, the more uncomfortable it’ll make a racist educator. I know because I’ve seen it firsthand. If there is a career educator opening, look to hire the best candidates of color who’ve applied.
- Deliver antiracist professional development sessions that are uncomfortable and continuous. Offer sessions on racial identity development and manifestations of racist behavior. Mandate that educators read such books like “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?” Offer sessions on adopting culturally relevant pedagogy and how to implement it within classroom instruction, as well as how to integrate culturally relevant resources within the content—using texts like “Cultivating Genius” and “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain” to teach it.
- Require yearly fulfillment of social justice community hours for educators. Like schools that require community service hours for students to graduate, schools can institute a similar requirement for teachers. This requirement can be infused in the curricula whereby such work happens in the classroom between educators and students. More than community service, social justice hours are about engaging in the politics of the community to improve the community for all, particularly historically marginalized and oppressed communities. Utilize community stakeholders and activists to partner with teachers to accomplish these hours.
- Insert antiracist benchmarks within educator evaluation standards. Every teacher, and school/district leader, and board member must know that their district of employment values antiracism, so much so that it is embedded within performance and evaluation standards. Teachers will either get with the program or fight it to the extent that they may cut their losses and walk away.
- Empower your parents as advocates. Parents aren’t simply empowered when a school communicates its commitment to antiracism and social justice; just about every school did that with milquetoast statements after the murder of George Floyd. Parents are empowered when invited to hold the school community accountable concerning its antiracist efforts. Parents should be provided with an expectation of performance by schools and a rubric to hold them to account.
This is what racial justice work looks like. It is no coincidence that these actions, when taken, will frustrate those who believe that schools should remain white institutional spaces; whereby Black and brown students and educators should simply be tolerated and be grateful for their “inclusion.”
None of these actions are guaranteed to remove racists hiding in plain sight; certainly not done in isolation of the others. However, if done together, school leaders can cultivate the sort of culture that can make an educator that is racist uncomfortable enough to not seek employment or leave if already employed.
I understand the natural inclination to unite rather than divide and these tactics may seem divisive for some. The hope, of course, is that the racists within any district be converted. However, educators must teach students that being a person of character and integrity means something.
Educators must be the model for standing up for what’s right and call out what’s wrong. If not, then what are we here for?