Racism Is In The Air, Our Schools, Our Classrooms

Written on 23 June 2015, 09:15pm under Homegrown

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Who or what is to blame for Dylann Roof? This is a question people have been debating since the 21-year-old massacred nine faithful men and women gathered for Bible study in Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, a Black house of worship with a rich history going back nearly 200 years.

A white man walks into a Black church and brutally slays nine Black people. It shouldn’t require a doctorate in critical race studies to suspect that this was a racist act committed by an anti-Black terrorist. Yet when violence is perpetrated against Black people in this country, the social commentary always resembles Gumby, bending and twisting logic to turn the calculated wickedness of a white supremacist into a neat and orderly explanation.

Grasping at any justification other than unapologetic and unflinching racism, politicians denounce the deadly attack, faulting lax gun laws, and the media probes Roof’s history of drug abuse to rationalize his “cold stare.” Because it’s easier to point to gun control and prescription medication abuse than to admit that American institutions allow racism to flourish.

We don’t have to struggle to explain what created Dylann Roof. Racism is in the air.

Of human ignorance I am almost in despair
For racism is around me everywhere
But like they say sheer ignorance is bliss

–Francis Duggan

The Confederate flag has long been a symbol of racial division and simmering source of controversy. In South Carolina and seven other Southern states a sign of racist hatred flies over taxpayer-funded state capitol grounds.

But state governments aren’t the only institution with dirty hands here. The largest institution in the country with the collective responsibility for educating the vast majority of our nation’s children also had a role in the formation of Dylann Roof. On Saturday, a racist screed penned by Roof – with a searing indictment of the high school dropout’s public school education – surfaced on social media.

From The Daily Beast:

He wrote that America’s history of slavery was based on myths and lies, using the fact that not all Southern whites owned slaves to downplay the malevolence of the institution. He also claims to have read slave narratives that were overwhelmingly positive towards the slaveowners, without naming the texts or pausing to consider whether they had been coerced.

Roof’s manifesto claims segregation “existed to protect us from them”—both in terms of violence and supposed cultural purity. “Integration has done nothing but bring Whites down to level of brute animals,” he wrote. “The best example of this is obviously our school system.”

It would be easy to brush off Roof’s manifesto as the rantings and ravings of a sinister killer. But how many people in this country were shocked that such violence could strike a Black church, blissfully ignorant of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and a long, painful history of attacks?

The Black American experience is mistaught and misinterpreted in schools, leaving students deceived and prejudiced. Roof would have no doubt about slaveholders and the system of slavery if the brutal physical, psychological and sexual exploitation that encompassed the transatlantic slave trade was taught honestly and truthfully.

The civil rights movement is taught as a string of heroes, martyrs and glorious events where America triumphed over racism. Except segregation in housing and schools and pools and restricted access continues. Racist injustices are taught as a historic footnote – not a contemporary evil – allowing delusions to fester and grow in youth like Dylann Roof.

In the emotional aftermath of the Charleston murders, a backlash against Confederate symbols is spreading nationwide and galvanizing the public into action. “Take Down The Flag!” has become a rallying cry. We need the same degree of unyielding force directed at our schools. Demand anti-racist curriculum in all classrooms. Call for anti-racist professional development for teachers and administrators. Make ethnic studies a graduation requirement.

To quote Teaching Tolerance, “Institutional racism exists throughout society and our schools—public, private, small, large, mono- or multicultural. None is immune to it.”

The Emancipation of MDA

Written on 19 June 2015, 08:00am under Homegrown

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I don’t garden. I don’t hike. I don’t crochet. Writing is my hobby and my job and my happiness. Writing is a forceful tool for activism and social change, and indispensable to inviting reflection and fresh discoveries. At a very early age, as I learned to navigate unchartered waters on race and racism, writing down my thoughts and observations became a mainstay. Intellectual powerhouse James Baldwin said, “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” As a child, I was never in a rage, but over time I developed my own anger translator in my head.

“You’re so articulate.” – Smile.
Why the #*!# does speaking exactly the way you speak require commentary?

“You dress nicely for a Black girl.” – Grin.
I dress nicely for any girl – any race – and if you like what I’m wearing, just say that!

“Your parents must be so proud of you.” – Nod.
My parents are extremely proud of me. Even more so because I didn’t curse you out for throwing shade my way. I spared them a call from the principal. That’s true pride!

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
—Audre Lorde

From elementary school through my teens, I was the brown cocoa puff in a bowl of white milk, more commonly known as the Philadelphia Main Line. To most onlookers I was a triathlon swimmer in an ocean of whiteness. Except I refused to get in the water, because every time I got my hair wet I had to hold a symposium on why my hair looked “like that.”

It was through writing – feverish scribble for my eyes only! – that I was able to begin to process and make sense for myself of what it meant to be a Black girl … tween … young woman and why those witty responses could never pass my lips. Eventually I retired the anger translator. I became a professional writer. And now I write specifically on issues of race and equity in education. I poke. I prod. I push. I challenge. I question. I ruffle. I reveal.

I found my voice. I’ve been making up for lost time ever since.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
—Maya Angelou

I am a product of public schools. Culturally and racially responsive teaching. Racially and ethnically diverse educators. Ethnic studies. This was not my experience. My education suffered for it. I have a child in public schools. The school-to-prison pipeline. Black and Latino students isolated by segregation. Racially-biased teachers. Limited access to AP and advanced classes. This is his realized and potential educational experience.

I follow one creed when it comes to my writing and activism and that is in the fight for educational equity and justice there are no good-hearted bystanders. To paraphrase a sentiment posted on social media, I am not comforted or appeased by well-meaning allies. This space is for conspirators and accomplices only. Freedom is never free.

On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, slaves in Texas learned they were free. Today is Juneteenth. Black Independence Day. But with an asterisk. Historical accounts relate that slaveholders forced slaves to remain in bondage until after the next cotton harvest and that many slaves were killed seeking “absolute equality.”

On June 19, 2015, channeling the spirit of Shirley Chisholm – “unbossed and unbought” – I have learned many things about who I am and what I aspire to be. The emancipation of Melinda D. Anderson is complete.

On so many measures Black girls are overlooked and undervalued. This includes the gauntlet they must run to make it into college. In my latest at The Hechinger Report I assert that a range of obstacles make it harder for Black girls to make it out of high school and into the ivy halls of higher education – including, but not limited to, access to experienced teachers and rigorous high school courses, disproportionately harsh discipline and the availability of school counselors.


This is the season of new beginnings. High school graduations, filled with proud parents clutching balloons and cell-phone cameras, mark the end of 12 years of education as young adults embark on an exciting new phase of life. Yet as we celebrate the completion of the race, we often give scant attention to the endurance and perseverance required to finish. This is particularly acute for black girls. When the emphasis is on crossing the finish line, we can overlook the unique struggle of black girls – how race, gender, and class combined create hurdles that can make their path to college a steeplechase.

…researchers found an overwhelming majority of black students aspired to college – 87 percent – while only 65 percent had enrolled in a two- or four-year postsecondary program that fall. That’s an unconscionable number of unrealized dreams and aspirations.

Read more on Black girls’ unique struggle to get to college.