A California school district has suspended a math teacher for mocking indigenous Americans by wearing a fake headdress and “performing” a dance around the classroom. A video taken by a student in the classroom was posted to Twitter with comment. Sadly, there is more video of this debauchery in the classroom.
While there are questions that need to be answered—Why would a math teacher or any teacher do this and think that it’s OK? Was this in their lesson plan and if so, how was this not flagged and stopped by the reviewing administrator?—teachers must understand that this behavior is inappropriate and racist. White teachers especially need to know this.
Enslavement is not Black culture. Nothing about it is.
Similarly, hopping around with feathers made of construction paper while hitting your mouth with your hand and making noises isn’t Native American culture and yet these instances continue to happen in 2021.
A common conclusion is that the teachers who do these things aren’t racist. The truth is some of them may in fact be racist. However, I am not sure it’s that simple. Based on my experiences as an educator for 10-plus years, just as many white teachers are ignorant of history and truth as they are racist, although there is overlap.
A truth that must be factored in is that schools, public or private, don’t teach truth. They generally don’t teach things like white supremacy, systemic racism, white male patriarchy or racial capitalism. Students learn political theory from the likes of Plato, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill and John Locke. They don’t study Kwame Ture, Charles Hamilton, Che Guevara or Cedric Robinson.
White parents are storming school board meetings to prevent schools from teaching these things while calling it critical race theory (CRT) as state and federal legislators announce and even enact laws that prevent schools from teaching systemic racism and white supremacy.
These formal measures aren’t as common, not because there was never a demand to teach these but rather because the racial demographics of students looked different. Students were majority white and so there was less likelihood of teaching these concepts and truths. Therefore, current teachers, the majority of whom are white, didn’t learn any of these concepts in public school and I’d venture to say that many didn’t take classes that would discuss these in college.
I don’t mean to assert that simply educating white teachers will prevent racism in the classroom from happening. But educating white people, particularly educators, about truth is never a bad thing. The uncomfortable truth is that these things are less likely to happen if schools were to hire more Black and Latinx teachers. Sadly, that has yet to happen.
What’s happening in the United States is more than just a racial reckoning. What’s happening is a battle for how the social and governing structures will adjust both domestically and internationally in light of a diminishing white majority. Scores of white people are fearful of what that means in terms of losing their privilege. Ttherefore, maintaining any level of normalcy of whiteness is paramount.
A major part of whiteness is ignorance and hence, a teacher mocking first people. Dismantling racism and anti-Blackness requires education. How can we dismantle racism if folk aren’t taught? Then again, as white parents are showing us, white people don’t want to be educated.
That’s the problem.
Rann Miller is director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .
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