The First Days of School | Part 1

Charlottesville, White Supremacy & Schools

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As millions of students head back to schools across the nation, what have we prepared for them to head back into?

Well, it’s the beginning of the school year and my Facebook feed is flooded with posts about one topic: white supremacy — what is it?/why is it?/who does it?/how to fight it?/etc. After the incident in Charlottesville, educators, in particular, are hungry to talk about it with students. Activism via social media has exploded. I’ve seen lots of righteous indignation and courageous calls to action. I’ve seen critical questions and commitments to call in/call out racism. I’ve seen marvelous methodologies and lesson models exchanged. I’ve seen a lot of buzz, all of which is beautiful, but as schools go back into session, I sit with some serious concern about the direction of this energy and angst…

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Source: Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (2005) “Building a Multi-Ethnic, Inclusive & Antiracist Organization-Tools for Liberation Packet for Anti-Racist Activists, Allies, & Critical Thinkers

How do we find ourselves ready to fight white supremacy and facilitate classroom conversations about white supremacist groups, when we’ve been consistently compliant with the everyday white supremacy that happens in the four walls that we occupy? We won’t say a peep to Miss <Insert-Well-Intentioned-White-Teacher-Name-Here> about how problematic her classroom management is, because… She means well. We don’t organize protests against the presence of police officers or ill-prepared teachers in Black schools, because at least someone is there. We don’t demand a community-controlled revision of our curriculums — or even better: decision-making power over the distribution of our tax dollars for schools — because there is too much bureaucracy, and everyone knows that educators and parents have no real control.

Because… Because… Because…

There is always a reason why we can’t be more indignant with the issues, institutions, and individuals closest to us, yet somehow we’ve found all the reasons to be bold in the face of white supremacist activists and “nationalists” who we don’t know? To have protests about them? To have courageous conversations with them? To center entire lesson plans and precious classroom time on them? How Sway?

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“You ain’t got the answers, Sway!” — Kanye West

I can hear the rebuttals now. “Jamie, people are dying. So that requires far more urgency. We must confront these bigots!” To which I’d say, “go forth and prosper,” then pat you on the back. Because I don’t believe in debate, and what I’m about to say would surely cause one…

People have ALWAYS been dying. This experiment called the United States exists because of the mass genocide of First Nation people, or did we forget that somehow? Throughout U.S. history, millions of African people who decided they were indeed human and free, were murdered for their audacity. We have at least 500 years of deaths by white supremacy in our recorded history — bodies, minds and spirits. So my instincts tell me that we need to do some internal audits and develop some drastically different tactics. Because if we’re doing the same activism of yesteryear thinking we’re about to get new results with people who’ve been pretty consistent in their perspectives and politics for like… ummm… 5 centuries

I’d say maybe the insanity of the white supremacists isn’t the insanity we should be most concerned about.

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“Here’s looking at you kid.” — Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

My goal is not to point fingers of blame. Truthfully, I know that I can do so much more in the fight for justice than I have done. (This essay, in fact, is a small item in a long list of actions toward my own accountability.) My true aim here is to push us to ask ourselves the critical question of why we are truly so bent up about “nationalists” throwing the same temper-tantrum that they’ve always thrown for at least 400 years. Classroom management 101: you don’t give attention to tantrums, because that feeds the tantrum. So why so much attention to white supremacists?

I have a hunch. It’s not really about them.

I think it’s easier for us to focus on those metaphorical hollering children, than it is for us to look at the generations of dust, dirty dishes and disorder from white supremacy that we have dismissed, contributed to, or not dealt with in our own houses. I think their activism forces us to realize that we need to do more in our activism, and that do-more conviction translated into talking about them… something tangible and easy and external to ourselves. I think we are not really angry about the boldness of their agenda, but have a deep desire for more boldness in our own.

Maybe I’m wrong… Maybe.

Either way, here’s a suggestion:

Start the school year talking about our own power. Not theirs.

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