Ongoing Missed Opportunities To Lead With Equity

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work is important for any organization looking to reshape their workplace from a white institutional/white dominant space into an inclusive space where people of color, particularly members of the Black and Afro-Latinx communities, can help determine the course of their organizations, not simple be made to feel “a part” of their organizations.

Concerning schools, DEI work initiated and accomplished by committees and school leaders is vital because these individuals offer guidance, oversight, and support throughout a school and/or district to achieve diverse, equitable, and inclusive outcomes for students and families that is inherently antiracist, antiracist policies, procedures, postures, and programs.

As a director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives for my school, I live this work.

For me, my work isn’t about helping my district check off boxes or simply looking good on paper. My work is about helping teachers understand that our students K-12, who are Black and Latinx, live in a society that is historically white supremacist and anti-Black, and that history has shaped, and continues to impact, their present-day circumstances.

My work is also about assisting teachers with empowering students to utilize the skills and competencies they’ve learned to fight against a society that is rooted in anti-Black and white supremacy on behalf of their communities.

Discussions and lessons about white supremacy, systemic racism, and anti-Blackness isn’t about making white people feel bad, guilty, or uncomfortable, although some may. DEI work is to equip teachers, who are roughly 80% white, with the tools to challenge white supremacy, racism and bias within themselves and society.

With those goals in mind, it was sad to hear that the Pennridge School Board (in August 2021) voted 6-1 to pause its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

As per the board President, William Krause, “It has become increasingly clear to me that we have made some missteps and as a result, there has been community confusion and lack of buy-in.” Translation: a large enough number of white parents were upset with the idea of a DEI committee discussing racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness.

The school district is 86% white, only 2.3% Black, yet overrepresented in school suspensions and underrepresented in college and career curriculum pathways. DEI initiatives could begin to address those racial inequities within the Pennridge School District. But, as of right now, that won’t happen.

Karen Downer, president of the county NAACP said that she was shocked at the decision by the school board. Personally, I’m disappointed but not shocked. Again, the Pennridge School District is made up of 86% white students — located in Bucks County, which is majority white and a county that voted to re-elect Donald Trump in 2020.

Is it far-fetched to think that the population of families there wouldn’t embrace DEI, CRT and any other acronyms that eschew racism and white supremacy? Is it any surprise that a board comprised of 6 white men and 4 white women voted to remove DEI from their district? That question may seem unfair, but it’s certainly not a shocker that the outcome was what it was.

If school district leaders and board members are going to be scared into abandoning DEI initiatives or curriculum that addresses white supremacy and systemic racism by white parents wresting with white guilt (or their own racism), we’re in a bad place as a society. It’s not enough for these to be instituted in predominantly Black and Brown districts. To be clear, it is necessary that these initiatives are in traditionally Black and Brown districts. But white students need to know historical truths about our society and how to address them too.

Quite frankly, it’s racist to designate these as “Black stuff.”

I hope that the Pennridge School Board changes its mind. Hopefully, students, educators and advocates can work behind the scenes to apply greater pressure to the school board. However, my faith in folks doing the right thing when it comes to addressing racism and white supremacy is low.

Whether Americans care to acknowledge our history as a nation, our history is what it is. The United States is a systemically racists society and it is so in plain sight, no matter what Tim Scott or Kamala Harris says. Here’s some evidence:

  • The typical Black American family is worth 10% of the average white family.
  • Black people are more likely to be denied a mortgage or an auto loan, even when they have the same credit and employment history.
  • Every single state legislature is disproportionately white, meaning every state has a greater percentage of white lawmakers than the population they represent.
  • Black men are sentenced to 20% longer sentences than white men who commit the same crime and have the same criminal history.
  • Police are 20% more likely to stop Black drivers, and Black drivers are twice as likely to be searched, even though police are more likely to find contraband on white drivers.
  • The average non-white school district receives $2,226 less per student than a majority white school district.
  • Black children are punished more often and receive harsher punishments than white kids “regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty or type of public school attended.”

DEI initiative supports pedagogical and instructional work that answers the question, why.

Children need to know why to change our society. Educators need to know why to empower children to change our society, as well as empower themselves to challenge racism and white supremacy themselves. I am unsure of what the Pennridge School Board will do moving forward. But I am sure that if they and other school boards continue to be scared and guilted in to abandoning initiatives that address racism and white supremacy in society and within their districts, they’ll contribute to those statistics not getting any better.

In fact, they may get worse the ignorant our educators and students remain.

What do you think?

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