This week began with a hike in the woods for my family and me in the Shenandoah Valley State Park. Pre COVID-19, our outings consisted of laser tag, movies every weekend, and going out to eat, but now, we are just happy being outside. As we parked our car, the first thing I noticed was the huge Confederate flag hanging from the window of the adjacent house. It was not lost on me that I was only 30 minutes away from Charlottesville, and it was not bears that I feared in those woods that day.
At the same time, Amy Cooper was in a park too, breaking the law and not adhering to the park rules. Rather than acknowledge her wrongdoing and moving on, she decided to call 911 and say an African American man was threatening her life.
And just when we believed the week could not have gotten any worse, George Floyd was murdered in the street by a Minneapolis police officer, begging for his life—“I can’t breathe,” his final words. In the last few days, we have watched riots and protests in the streets of Minneapolis. The images are reminiscent of the LA Riots and, while we are happy with the firing of the police officers responsible, we demand their arrest.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,
I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. […] in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. […] (America) it has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. […] Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
As I reflect on King’s words—social justice and progress—I am more convinced about the fact that the reason why we are at this place in our society is that racism is ingrained in the very fabric of our country. This country was built on the backs of slaves, and until we are ready to reconcile, remedy and discuss that, we will always deal with the Amy Coopers of the world. We will continue to see Black people murdered as if they are indispensable and we will continue to deal with racism in America.
I am tired, but although we may be worn out, we must NEVER give out! I believe that now, more than ever, educators have a responsibility to hold themselves individually, and hold others mutually accountable to the repair of our country and race relations. I stumbled upon this tweet thread about the type of teacher that would be likened to Amy Cooper calling the police on Christian Cooper in Central Park. The thread, while entertaining, was sad because we all know “that teacher” or “those teachers” within our buildings, but we do not have to continue down this path. We must commit to teaching in a way that totally disrupts and dismantles the system of oppression we have been operating within for over 400 years.
We will change the narrative by:
- Holding ourselves individually and mutually accountable: When you see something, say something. It does not matter if it is at your dinner table, the hallways of your school or on an outing with friends. We must combat racism by facing everyday bias head-on. Teaching Tolerance provides great resources to do just this. We can no longer be silent about the things that matter!
- Ensuring representation is at the forefront: Look around your committee, your table, your office, your curriculum—who is there? Who is not there? Why? Challenge yourselves to ensure that the people not currently at the table are represented on your committee, in your images, and in your curriculum because representation matters!
- Caring about more than ourselves: It does not matter if this is not personally impacting you. It should matter that Black people are still underpaid, mistreated, underrepresented. It should matter that Black men are so feared by police officers that a routine traffic stop can quickly turn into a death sentence. It should not matter if you have students of color or not, you still should care.
We may be worn out, but we must never give out! We need to ensure that we talk about the true reason we are here. Amy Cooper, the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests are symptoms of a disease just as lethal as Coronavirus, and that disease is racism. Martin Luther King gave us the cure, social justice and progress. We must teach like our lives depend on it, because for some of us, it does!