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By Tina Starks, Instructional Coach and policy fellow with Teach Plus CA
Just two weeks after the failed coup at the Capitol and added trauma on the souls of Black people, Inauguration Day 2021 symbolized the restoration of hope and possibilities for a different America than what we had experienced for the last four years. However, even on this day of promise, I was forsaken.
In the moments leading up to this historical inauguration, I rejoiced at the reflections of me being sworn in as the Vice-President of the United States. I rejoiced at the reflections of me reciting poetry with undeniable dignity and grace. I rejoiced at the reflections of me returning as the former First Lady with the aura of royalty. Indeed the dawning of a renewed America was on full display and I felt proud to witness it.
I also knew my work in education contributed to this feeling of renewal. Riding this emotional wave of immense purpose, my colleague and I proceeded to present an impactful workshop to teachers about affirming cultural identities to ensure equity for all students. We carried with us the energy of determination and hope delivered to our nation by a new President. Then three letters ambushed the workshop and attacked my soul…KKK.
These three letters were typed by a teacher in response to a question about the purpose of education. These three letters appeared on a digital collaboration board for all to see. Though it was quickly deleted, it was too late. The brave space we created for professional and personal growth to support our fellow educators had been breached. The unhealed wound inflicted on my soul two weeks before had once again been reopened.
Much like the insurgents’ invasion of the Capitol, this teacher wielded a representation of hate into a professional workspace with the intent to resist and obstruct the progression of equity for Black and Brown students. The audacious display of white privilege reared its ugliness again. I thought to myself,
“For crying out loud! Not again! Not today!”
The heinous and relentless beating on the humanity of Black and Brown people is damaging to the totality of our brilliance. The effort to constantly lift up the fullness of our being is a heavy and unjust burden to carry. The cry for “mattering” is brutally exhausting.
This racist and hate-filled act by a teacher against the progress for change is a reminder that white supremacy didn’t end with a few arrests from January 6th. Despite the powerful message of unity on a deeply meaningful Inauguration Day, White supremacy continues to live, work, and terrifyingly teach among us.
However, I am undeterred. It is critical that every educator tied to the purpose of culturally affirming and antiracist teaching remains undeterred and focused on the tremendous influence we hold in shaping our future. James Baldwin once said,
“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
With this in mind, our schools represent a place where students can experience the liberation of independent thinking and learning while respecting their worth and the worth of others. When teachers welcome the diverse layers of identities and cultures in the classroom, students are able to make meaning of their place in the world and how to maneuver within it. Students begin to learn how they can contribute to society by honoring their identities and potential…
Dr. Gholdy Muhammad concluded in her book, Cultivating Genius,“Before we get to the curriculum and standards, our students need to know that they are loved.” She continues to say, “But we don’t just need love but a critical love that works to disrupt and dismantle oppression.” Click To Tweet
For this reason, rejecting racist ideas that deny equity, inclusion, justice, and empathy is imperative “in order to form a more perfect union.” Teaching our youth requires educators to understand and accept cultures different than one’s own without judgment or hate.
In the name of culturally affirming and antiracist education, let there be no room for racism and hate in our institutions of learning. If acknowledging white privilege is inconceivable or denouncing white supremacy is unthinkable for you, then our country cannot afford to have you teaching our children.