Yesterday, Twitter was lit up over the death of #altonsterling. Today, there is a new name #philandocastile.
As cohesive as the education community can be when it comes to a myriad of things, there is a deep divide between teachers and students, and teachers and the families they serve on the issue of #blacklivesmatter.
Last week, during the BET Awards, an actor and activist gave a moving two minute acceptance speech for his humanitarian efforts and amplification of the BLM movement. There was a public outcry for his firing from his show, Grey’s Anatomy. Then, within days of his riveting commentary on the need for the BLM movement and his elevation of the black community, two different men, in different cities were both killed by the police. Underscoring his speech and the need for more activism on the issues that created the need for the BLM in the first place.
The black community is devastated. Let me tell you that even your closest black friends are talking about this…even if they are not talking to you. If they have a son, grandson, nephew or male cousin, they are talking about it more. They are pulling their boys tighter to them and speaking between tight lips and teeth: Do whatever they say to do. Just comply. Just comply. Just comply.
If you think that this is the first season in the life of young black people that parents have had that type of conversation, you’d be wrong. Most black people have ‘that story’ about the police. Most of the time, it doesn’t end in a shooting or a death. Sometimes, just after you comply…you are still subjugated to shame and humiliation…while you are complying. These shootings are not about compliance. They are about systemic and pervasive racism that leaves even compliant black men and women in a position to have to defend their innocence. The assumption that if you are black you are more likely to be doing some thing unlawful is just part of the profiling that is occurring on a daily basis in America’s cities.
Interestingly enough, with something like this, you would think that teachers would be thinking of their own students and closing ranks on a definitive way that lets the families of their students know that ‘we stand with you’. On the contrary, what is currently happening, more and more, with each ‘viral killing’ is more teachers defending the police who have done the killing. The comments are everywhere.
Here’s what you need to know:
Your black students are going to be in crisis over this. They are going to have hurts and hang ups that you may or may not be able to understand, but they are there.
There is a burgeoning mistrust of law enforcement brewing, especially in the urban areas where these shootings are occurring.
So…what SHOULD teachers be doing right now?
Know that the black and brown boys you teach every day could be these people we’ve seen shot and killed in interactions with the police. See them in the faces of the people who are being killed. See their mom’s crying about them. See their friends crying. These are real people, with families and loved ones. They are not just ‘thugs’ or ‘people with records’ who deserved to not go home to their families. We have places for people to go when they don’t follow the law. It is called jail. Not the morgue.
Support your students’ need to discuss their heartbreak and outrage. Be a safe place for them to go as their teacher.
Do not allow yourself or anyone else to think of your black and brown students as inherently deficient because of their poverty or parentage.
Resist the need to pacify or excuse what is happening with regard to the BLM movement or institutional racism.
Lead discussions about bias on your campus. Encourage your administrator to seek out teachers that reflect the culture of the students at the school so that students have many different experiences in their time at your school.
Amplify the voices of your friends and neighbors who are asking questions and seeking answers.
If you love a police officer, pray for them. Daily. Pray for wisdom. Pray for good judgement. Pray for safety. Pray that their hearts fill with love for the community that they are called to serve and protect. When they visit your school, help them build relationships with your students.
Teachers of color are in the minority in classrooms across the country. We NEED white teachers to come along side us and love our children through this very difficult time. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions, but know that you may not be ready to hear the answers. Know that you may not have any answers. That’s okay. Just be there. We are hurting, and so are the kids.