What’s Race Got to Do With It?
This past weekend dozens of NFL football players, coaches and owners exercised their 1st amendment right to free speech by taking a knee during the national anthem. The President tweeted they should all be fired. Sixty years ago, this month, nine kids integrated Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas. It was three years after the Supreme Court had ordered the integration of public schools “with all deliberate speed”. Southern states refused the order. When these seven girls and two boys showed up for school, profanities were shouted at them, their lives were threatened and the governor called out the national guard to keep these kids from entering the school. The entire incident made the national and international news. It was sickening to see all these other kids and adults shouting at these nine teens. Finally, in embarrassment, President Eisenhower nationalized the Arkansas national guard and also sent in the 101st Airborne to protect the children. The troops stayed all year and the school was integrated. Today an African-American girl is the president of the student council. But the events in Charlottesville, VA last month demonstrate quite clearly that ignorance is alive and well. Still we don’t talk about race. Trump said his feelings about the NFL players’ actions have nothing to do with race. His feelings are all about respect for the flag.
Some of us are disgusted about what happened at Charlottesville, and some others are disgusted about the player’ demonstrations and, just maybe, there are some of the same people disgusted about both situations. But we don’t talk about it.
Some educators are responding with avoidance, ambiguity or fear. We can no longer be fearful as educators to address the things that really matter in our society and it isn’t discussions about the Oxford comma or steps in solving an equation. As educators, we are firmly entrenched in believing in meritocracy. This belief is particularly alive and well among white teachers. As administrators, we need to educate our teachers, particularly majority teachers, about how to lead conversations that explore the basis of hate, racism and anti-Semitism. We need to talk about why some white people believe that somehow being fair to some people takes away fairness from other people. What is the basis for all this hate that is a cancer growing within our society. Millions of people died because of slavery and Nazism. We need to be straight with our kids and teach them that we are a great country with some very ugly spots in our history. Our teachers must be brave and wade in. Our administrators need to be leaders, not just bureaucrats shuffling paper. We all need to be ready to look at the world through the glasses of other folks. The level of hate that has been demonstrated recently and the failure of leadership to call it out, has no place in our society.
These painful moments can also be teachable moments. It is an ill wind that does not blow some good. What’s race got to do with it? Quite a bit, if we just take our heads out of the sand.