We have a moral responsibility to undo racism

  • Saturday, August 14, 2021 1:30am
  • Opinion

As members of organizations working for racial justice on Bainbridge Island we take issue with the op-ed piece that columnist Christine Flowers wrote in the July 23 Review called, “We’re simply reversing the skin color of the victims.” The op ed claimed that teaching about racism (which has been embedded in U.S. laws, policies and institutions) shames and blames young white children and is tantamount to child abuse. Nonsense.

The article was based on a disinformation campaign devised by ultra-conservatives and endorsed by Trump that aims to undermine the racial reckoning ignited by the murder of George Floyd. This is not the first time we have seen disinformation campaigns dressed up as cries against “reverse racism”.

Every time this country has taken any significant step toward racial equity, ultra-conservatives have risen up with cries of “reverse racism” and proposed laws to stop progress. When those efforts failed, they used violence. It is known as backlash, and it’s predictable, but very destructive.

This campaign is targeting teachers and schools with threats of fines, firings and even withholding of school funding in states where bans on teaching about racism have already been enacted. The campaign is attempting to gag our teachers and violate our students’ right to an education that is historically accurate and age-appropriate. The National Education Association has vowed to protect teachers under attack, but the danger is real.

Already 27 states have proposed and at least six states have passed gag-order legislation that bans teaching that people, groups or institutions are racist, sexist, privileged or oppressed.

Here on BI, despite the backlash of a small group, the school district had the courage to put strong anti-racist language into this year’s District Improvement Plan and made a plan to rectify more than a century of white-washed curriculum. The board had overwhelming support from students and parents.

This disinformation campaign has grouped any meaningful discussion about racism, sexism, homophobia and other inequities under an umbrella of “Critical Race Theory.” CRT is actually a university-level academic topic originating in the 1970s at Harvard Law School. They sought to understand the persistence of racism despite laws and policies against it. CRT is a way of looking at the role of law in upholding racial inequality. It challenges the idea that the law is just and neutral and posits, instead, that law tends to protect the status quo.

Ultra-conservatives have pounced upon CRT and twisted it to claim that examining the way law and policy have acted as levers of oppression victimizes and blames young white children. They are using this deceptive tactic to silence any meaningful discussion of racism. After hearing about this campaign Trump actually banned all federal diversity trainings.

Let’s be clear. No one alive today created racism. We were all born into this centuries-old brutal and oppressive system that is attempting to perpetuate itself. We are not to blame for racism, but we do have a moral responsibility to undo it. In order to undo racism, we must acknowledge it, educate ourselves and collectively work to eradicate it.

As parents and community members (both white and of color) we want our students to learn about the role of racism in U.S. history. We want to correct our own faulty education that deliberately excluded the stories and contributions of People of Color. Students want to learn accurate history, and we must support them, even if confronting the truth is uncomfortable.

Racial literacy is not “divisive”. It is a path to understanding and unity. We all need to learn about the systemic nature of racism, the dynamics of privilege and oppression, and how racism harms all of us. We need to have open conversations in our schools and communities about racism and its impacts. Racial literacy will lift up all children and give all of us the foundational understanding we need to build a multi-racial, multi-cultural democracy that might finally live up to our ideals of equality, liberty and justice for all.

Contributing organizations: Equity, Race and Community Engagement BI team; BISD Multicultural Advisory Committee; COBI Race Equity Advisory Committee; BI Historical Museum

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