Standing Tall in the Face of Attack

I’ve spoken and written at length about the need for educators to speak out against racism in all facets… especially concerning the educating of Black children. I’ll continue to do so because the totality of Black lives—academic, personal, and professional interactions and experiences—of Black children depend upon it.

Whether it is speaking out against disproportionate disciplining i.e. suspensions, expulsions, and arrest, of Black children in schools, the lack of Black teachers in schools, the lack of culturally relevant and responsive curriculum in schools, or the banning of books and Black history, Black children need all educators to speak up on their behalf and speak out against the racism that impacts what and how they learn.

But what is also true is when we do speak up and speak out, we’ll encounter detractors who only hear the talking points of their echo chamber and look past the truth we articulate.

Here’s an example.

Last month, award-winning sports journalist Carron Phillips published a piece on where he called out the NFL for failing to address the racism of the mascot and name of the Kansas City football team while engaged in its social justice “work,” which includes having the words “end racism” located in the endzone areas in stadiums throughout the league. In his piece, Phillips said:

“There’s no place for a franchise to be called the “Chiefs” in a league that’s already eradicated “Redskins…” This is what happens when you ban books, stand against Critical Race Theory, and try to erase centuries of hate. You give future generations the ammunition they need to evolve and recreate racism better than before.”

The piece was inspired by a youth wearing an indigenous-inspired headdress while in both blackface and redface. Phillips references the young fan of Kansas City to explain why appropriation is racist, but he specifically uses the fan as an entry point to discuss why both appropriation and the team name are wrong and should be addressed by the NFL if “inspiring change” is what the league is about.

However, the conservative echo chamber somehow decided that Phillips was attacking the young fan. Phillips’s aim wasn’t at the young fan but the NFL. Yet conservatives, rather than deal with the truth Phillips was saying, chose to attack the truth by hyper-focusing on a lie. It’s a familiar tactic that conservatives, who are primarily white people, use to attack truth they’ve identified as “wokeness.”

… and they’ve doubled down on attacking Phillips; despite the stance taken by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, whom the fan and his family say they are affiliated with. Their statement reads:

“We are aware that a young member of our community attended a Kansas City Chiefs game in a headdress and face paint in his way of supporting his favorite team. Please keep in mind that the decisions made by individuals or families in our community are their own and may not reflect the views of the broader tribal community. As a federally recognized tribe, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians does not endorse wearing regalia as part of a costume or participating in any other type of cultural appropriation.”

The bots and echo chambers alike could care less.

As educators speaking out against systemic racism, white supremacy, anti-Black racism, racial capitalism, and the tools thereof, we will encounter similar resistance to truth. It’s frustrating, discouraging, and largely willful ignorance if not outright sinister. For some, no matter how rooted truth is in quantitative and qualitative facts, they’ll dismiss it in the name of Black people being “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

So, what do we do when we encounter this as part of our advocacy work?

First, we must recognize that racists attempt to silence people when they cannot silence the truth. Banning books certainly is a viable tactic. However, technology renders book banning a tactic contingent on silencing voices. Students and families may be unaware of where to find the truth despite knowing that the truth is out there to consume.

Advocates on behalf of truth can direct students and families to where to find truth even when it’s withheld from them in schools. Therefore, educators are attacked for teaching students and families how to sift the wheat from the chaff.

In light of this reality, we must amplify our voices through collaboration and partnering with institutions that can fight with us. Oftentimes, we go at these fights alone. When we do, we can get drained and beat up pretty badly… so bad that we may decide to give up and bow out of the fight altogether. But when we’re held up and strengthened by like-minded individuals and institutions, we can do more and we can fight harder.

When students are taught the history of change on behalf of humanity, specifically the history of Black liberation in the United States, they’re usually taught about individuals and their acts rather than how those individuals worked with others and with institutions to make Black liberation possible.

For example, I learned about Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and Harriet Tubman and their heroic acts. But what I didn’t learn (until taught by a Black professor) was that these individuals knew each other and supported the work of each other. The same is true with Martin Luther King and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (known as Malcolm X).

The philosophies of both men seemed at odds, however, they sought the same outcome for Black people: liberation. El-Shabazz traveled to Selma to communicate to Coretta Scott King that his methods were to caution whites to adhere to the aims of King or be faced with the alternative he represented. In addition to that, both men conversed via letters although only meeting one time.

How we fight this fight is by tapping into the memory of history to be reminded that there is strength in numbers.

We cannot keep fighting the fight for antiracism in isolation from each other. We must stand together, not only in our schools and our districts. We must travel on behalf of each other and Black children. We must put truth on paper and speak with a pen. We must work together and consistently to drown out the noise heard at school board meetings and elsewhere calling for books to be banned and truthtellers in the classroom to be fired.

We must because Black students and all students depend on it. But will we?


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