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The concepts contained in words like ‘freedom,’, ‘justice,’ ‘democracy’ are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.
–James Baldwin, “The Crusade of Indignation

Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence denounced slavery as a “cruel war against human nature.” Mind you this rousing language was written by a man who owned slaves. Anyway, Jefferson’s paragraph on slavery never made it into the final Declaration of Independence because slave-owning delegates from the South and delegates with business ties to the slave trade from the North debated Jefferson’s passage and stripped this language.

Let’s just stipulate for the record that America’s Independence Day – celebrating “freedom” and “democracy” – is rife with hypocrisy and cowardly logic. Frederick Douglass peeped it and called it out in 1852. All of this history is an interesting sidebar to fully grasping what occurred last weekend as a room of about 7,000 educators in Florida tried to reconcile their principles with their practices.

The nation’s largest teachers union on July 3 unanimously approved a measure to combat institutional racism, “taking a historically bold stand against racism and hate.” Channeling the country’s Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, it was a powerful moment of righteousness and justice. But like Baldwin noted, true justice requires “enormous…individual effort” and like the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, the NEA delegates on July 4, 2015 came up short.

First up was an item calling on NEA to “support…efforts to remove the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.” The ensuing debate reminded me of a game of Twister. Clutching and grabbing at any excuse not to ban the Confederate flag and racist symbols that glorify slavery and oppression – while looking desperately for a comfortable and steady position to land.

Some of those in attendance, and some watching online, had profound observations. Like Baldwin’s essay, so clear and uncomplicated.

After about a two hour debate “and other symbols of the Confederacy” was stricken from the item. A great public school for every student is the Association’s vision – though if you’re one of the thousands of Black students forced to attend a school honoring racist leaders, it might not be so great. Oh well.

Over the next couple days the assembled educators flirted between flashes of consciousness and backpedaling from / equivocating on actions that would show their institutional racism vote signaled a new way of thinking and doing. Based on the NEA’s elected representatives who gathered in Orlando, the jury is out on whether the union can “move to confront racism” and “demand changes to policies, programs, and practices that condone or ignore unequal treatment,” as cited on NEAToday.org.

What appears obvious is that NEA members have an opportunity to put some teeth to anti-racism work or leave it untouched on the plate. Over a year ago I challenged educators to step up and address racial injustice. It’s still your move.

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.”