Last week’s guest blog post by Long Island teacher Mark Jackett garnered much attention; over 105 comments were exchanged in the Facebook thread. It is my experience, coupled with my reflection on the experience, that prompted me to write this post today. To me, as a Black teacher with a platform, it is imperative that I use Mark’s post and the reaction to draw attention to the deep need for more Black teachers, specifically as it relates to the reduction of the school-to-prison-pipeline.
What sparked the heated FB conversation was a question raised by another White teacher on Long Island who, in questioning why Trump’s name had to be included in the title of the blog (something I found to be a problem in and of itself), used the loaded phrase “all lives matter” in her commendation of Mark, who formed a “Black Lives Matter” group in the predominantly-white school district on Long Island where he teaches.
Teachers bring their experiences and ideologies into their pedagogical pursuits. I have a problem with teachers who voted for Donald Trump. Why? It’s simple: Who you vote for is a reflection of one’s values. Our values are the cornerstone of our actions. What values does a teacher who voted for Trump hold and, more importantly, how will those values manifest themselves in these teachers’ classrooms, particularly ones who teach segments of society whom Mr. Trump disdains, i.e. Mexicans, women, immigrants, Muslims, basketball players, football players, the media?
I wrote this to the teacher in an effort to clarify what was stated and hopefully shed light on the conversation:
Did you vote for Donald Trump? It is your defense of him that veered the conversation in this direction, remember? Do you have any idea how insensitive YOUR comments were? Or is it just easier to become a victim in what I find to be a very civilized, yet difficult conversation rather than peering into your obvious white privilege? Besides my two, how many Black children have you taught? You really think the school district you teach in is diverse? Why — because their are some Asian kids on the roster? I have publicly applauded you as a teacher. Contrary to the screwed-up tenants of white privilege from which you benefit, questioning you is not hating you.
My question was met with this comment — one of many comments rooted in what I and other Black people on the thread found rooted not only in White privilege, but White fragility — neither of which is beneficial to marginalized students taught by White teachers with an obvious unawareness of their ignorance:
I did say all lives matter. Because they do- but I DID NOT say it in the way you thought and after people said something I clarified my intention but nobody listened and continued to say I was wrong. I defended the teacher- I denounced the security guard and the principal who would not allow this group. I did say he continued to be a positive role model and continued his effort with a new group where all minorities had a chance to voice their opinion. I think you have me all wrong and that is why it is not fair- I am far from fragile…You are still not listening to me which is unfair. I am not a person that is against you or not understanding your view point. This is ridiculous. I know the history. I am not black so I guess I can’t understand what you feel but I can understand what you are saying but it’s not what I said at all. I asked a question and a few of your friends explained their thoughts and I understand what their feeling is. Not against those opinions!!!!! I am against people who are continuing to say I’m racist and I am the problem in the world. Not once did I defend Trump. Not once did I say anything bad against Black Lives. Not once! And I didn’t say All lives matter as anything against the other group. After I clarified people did not care to hear anything I said. Just I am a bad person .which is the furthest from the truth. I can’t ask a question to a person who has a lot of knowledge- I’ll never ask a question again! And I feel honestly that I am being treated unfairly and is that how people can make change??? I did delete the comments- but you know- I never said anything to insult anyone!!
A public schools administrator in the NYC DOE (who also happens to be a White woman and a friend of mine) joined the conversation and aptly wrote this:
As an administrator, I’d warn this teacher about wearing buttons that purport any political stance. Not sure of the rules on LI, but in NYC, we are not permitted to assert our political beliefs while serving in our role. We have to take it outside our building and exclusive of our title. However, his subtle display of his political stance benefited students who felt alone in a sea of MAGA supporters. To say that Trump should be left out of this conversation is squashing the reality that his mere presence in our government has made the closeted racists feel empowered to use their “inside voice” on the outside. Yes, racism isn’t new and has always existed, BUT MAGA believers are out and about, feeling very few repercussions for their overt hatred of anyone who isn’t a white straight, Christian male. Lastly, while we could debate all day long whether or not Trump is personally racist, he serves as the figurehead for neo-Nazi groups and alt-right hate groups that spew a love of violence and mistreatment to any black or brown-skinned person, and hijab-wearing Koran-reading culture, and women (specifically women who are not beholden to men for survival, or are in traditionally male professions/roles). Trump is not just a Republican who won an election to those of us who voted against him. He is an abomination and very sick individual, who has ousted all of the repressed anger that traditionally privileged people are feeling.
I’m grateful to my woke White friend for speaking up and I implore other White people to do the same! Check your fellow White friends when they defend Trump. Trumpism is pervasive in schools in Long Island. Long Island is the most defeated place in the United States. The majority of the teachers on Long Island are White women. Houston, we have a problem!!
This was my final response and, readers of this blog, this is what I leave you with to ponder and address within your own lives, that of your friends, associates, and whoever else fits the bill of being a well-intentioned yet ignorant and culturally-devoid White person who has the responsibility of teaching Black and Brown children every day. What you’re lacking sadly contributes to the demise of children who, n the sight of mainstream American White society, don’t matter!
Your enactment of your White fragility concerns me because it appears from your comments that, like your White privilege, you are unaware of it and the way it accompanies others’ perception of you via your comments. No one twisted your words. We can not reference them b/c you deleted them and the comments of other Black women who were showing you the error of your ways. You seem to be unable to see that. You said what you said and you were called out for it. That’s what may happen when you engage in a conversation. No one is “trying to make you feel bad for not being Black!” That sounds like a personal issue. Once you defended Trump, you placed yourself with a certain caliber of people and mindsets, neither of which support Black people.
If you’re not a racist, stop defending Trump, because clearly he is. Birds of a feather flock together, as the old adage correctly purports. His name was mentioned in the title and blog post because it is relevant. Can you understand that? Like me, you’re from Long Island. You know what a Trump neighborhood is like. You live in one. So do I. The Confederate flags flying from the backs of big trucks. The racist comments thrown around like regular salutations. The all-White neighborhoods that have never and will never be integrated.
The fact that Black students couldn’t have their own club is a huge problem. All POC are not the same and we should not have to acquiesce to having a mixed club because that’s what racist White administration will allow. There’s no reason for this conversation to be had in private. Race-related conversations need to be public so we can learn from each other. But in order to do that, White people need to stop playing the victim and, as they say in the Black community, “Man up!” Put on your big girl , life-long learner, educator panties and stand being uncomfortable for a little bit while some very educated and knowledgeable Black women fill you in on why what you wrote, even in your alliance, was offensive. Asking you questions about your values shouldn’t make you feel terrible. You questioned mine in your comment above and I’m still standing.
If you know me the way you expect me to know you, you should know that I’m not attacking you with my questions, nor are my friends who commented. I don’t hang around close-minded people like that. That seems to be the M.O. of the Trump supporter from what I’ve seen and experienced. Saying “All lives matter” is an insult, in and of itself. You didn’t know that? Well, now you know. When a Black person says that our lives matter, that should end it. All lives matter doesn’t even need to be stated because by doing so, you’re negating our lives — lives that are not treated with an iota of care in this country. Can you understand that? You turned down the *name omitted* offer to educate you, but I’m going to attempt to do so because I do/did (that depends on how you proceed) consider you a friend.
Dr. Robin DiAngelo writes,
Middle-class white women in general are taught to avoid conflict, so we can be passive-aggressive in a range of ways. We could withdraw, we could start to avoid the other person, we could talk behind their back, we could galvanize resources offline to punish them. There’s a lot of ways that white women undermine women of color, and black women in particular.
This is what happened on Facebook after Mark’s post appeared on this blog. I hope to grow from exchanges like this one. I hope we all do.