A week after speaking to the recent incidents of overt white supremacy impacting our school community, we want to further clarify our thoughts, observations, and intentions–as well as some ways we might all play a part in addressing issues of racism and inequity in our district.
1. What’s happening on social media and re: the confederate flag are not the first incidents of explicit white supremacy in the district. There have been swastikas found on the sides of school buildings and bathroom stalls, racial slurs in school hallways, etc. It’s also critical to acknowledge that there are people of color who were feeling unfairly treated and unsafe in our district long before last week.
2. We must engage in authentic dialogue with people across our school community who are coming to the table to listen to and learn from one another’s experiences. However, we do not think it productive to engage with the kind of white supremacist presence we’re seeing on social media. The aim of these groups is to inflame, not to learn, and engaging with them serves their purposes instead of ours. It also brings greater visibility to their harmful platform.
3. The issue isn’t just overt white supremacy in our school community, but attitudes and practices of whiteness in our district that are much less explicit–not seen as easily by white people and baked into what has become “normalized”–but still harmful. In emphasizing only in-your-face white supremacists, we fail to acknowledge that all white people are complicit in upholding racist systems and practices and thus have work to do to help break them down and build more equitable alternatives.
Racism at this systemic level is evident in our district’s low representation of teachers and administrators of color, curriculum that fails to adequately represent the experiences and perspectives of people of color, disciplinary practices that have a greater negative impact on students of color than white students, the underrepresentation of students of color in college prep courses–and the list goes on. Northampton public schools reflect racism in many forms, as is the case throughout our country.
4. Issues that are rooted in systemic racism require dedicated long-term work. Since 2017, with support from NPS teachers, staff, caregivers, students, administrators, and the NEF, REAL has worked toward building an anti-racist district. Here are areas we’ve been focusing on/work we’d like to support in the months and years ahead:
- looking at hiring and retention practices and how we might attract and retain more administrators, staff, and educators of color
- moving away from a punitive and toward a restorative practices approach to school discipline
- revamping school curriculum to emphasize the voices and contributions of people of color (local educators Tiffany Jewell and Michael Lawrence-Riddell are leading some awesome work here)
- creating a variety of ways that students and others can report incidents of bias and receive support in response to these incidents
- expanding district communication channels so that all caregivers, including those who aren’t as connected digitally, have regular opportunities to join and initiate conversations
- holding community-wide conversations about the impacts of racism and whiteness
- promoting ongoing and in-depth anti-racist professional development for school employees
- challenging discriminatory high-stakes testing like the MCAS, which disproportionately impacts students of color, ELL students, students with disabilities, and students from poor and working class families
District-wide story collection has been a central part of REAL’s work since our beginning, and we will soon launch an exhibition on Instagram drawing from stories shared by students, teachers, staff, and parents/caregivers about their experiences with race and racism in NPS. We took up this project with the intention to help guide conversations that are essential if we’re to work together to build the anti-racist school district our community deserves. As a reminder, story collection is ongoing–and we would love to hear from you.