Earlier this school year, a number of instances of graffiti featuring swastikas and racist language were found in the bathrooms at my school. I’m not going to outline my responses or my students’ responses at the time to those incidents, as I did so in my editorial “The Burden of Love” (published in The Jewish Advocate) which I linked to in yesterday’s blog post.
However, these things are freshly in my mind due to a few things that have happened recently. One is the 100 bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country since January 1. Another is the four mosques that have been the targets of arson in recent months. The murder of innocent lives due to white terrorism in Kansas and Quebec.
Today teachers gave up eleven minutes of instructional time from every period so we could meet our students in an extended homeroom session to debrief the hateful graffiti in our building and try to brainstorm ways our school community can stand up to hate and move forward.
We examined the Anti-Defamation League’s Pyramid of Hate and watched Marlon James challenge us to be anti-racist, not just non-racist. There was a student-produced video featuring members of our student body and faculty. Then students spoke.
Some of my senior homeroom students, kids I have known for at least 15 minutes a day for the last three-and-a-half years, if not also taught, explained that this felt like an aberration, an event that was not demonstrative of our school’s values of Opportunity, Diversity, and Respect. Others pushed back and said that they didn’t feel safe, or welcomed, or respected. Others sat silently. They had no answers. The “kumbayaa” of Cambridge offered no solutions.
I was asked to help advise the team of students putting this lesson together, and to deliver a statement for the film on the historical and contemporary meaning of the swastika. I wrote it in less than ten minutes. That morning, a few weeks ago, I had woken up to see images of graffiti all over subway cars in New York City: swastikas and the message “Jews belong in ovens.”
The Declaration of Independence claims that all deserve the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but it’s hard to feel happy or free or safe when you can walk down the street, ride the train, or lead a classroom of students and not know which people think that you, your son, your sister, deserve to be killed. The “kumbayaa” of America offers no solutions.
Immediately after our homeroom session, I gathered my thoughts so I could call in to my scheduled interview with Education Talk Radio about Common Core, public education, and teacher leadership. Just like that, I had to switch gears. My students were in their Period 2 classes by then, doing math or art or science or English. Just like that, they had to switch gears.
Now, sitting here trying to collect my thoughts, my gears feel frozen. At the end of today’s session, we had to provide ideas for how to stand up to hate in our school community. And I don’t think that’s enough. Hate, when we see it, is maybe easier to recognize, to know that we have to confront it, even if that act of confrontation scares us.
Instead, I wonder how we can stand up FOR justice, equity, and safety for all. That feels harder. That involves decolonizing our curriculum, to use my friend and colleague Ms. Li’s language, hiring and retaining more teachers of color, eliminating segregating tracking systems, doing SO MUCH WORK.
It involves doing actual work.