Racism in Northampton public schools

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.

Statement from REAL on white supremacy

By now, many are aware of the white-supremacist social media pages created in the wake of Principal Caldwell’s powerful, heart-centered message challenging displays of the Confederate flag. Hate symbols and hate speech are among the violent acts that contribute to unsafe environments for our students, staff, and teachers, and they cannot be tolerated any more than physical acts of violence. The current threat to the safety of our BIPOC community members is not diminished by the fact that our school buildings are not being accessed by as many people as in a typical year. Harm is still being done. Safety is still being threatened. 

While in this moment many in our district are rallying in response to particular actions unfolding on social media, white supremacist idealogy is not limited to online spaces, and it is enabled by the racism that is baked into our country’s foundation–racism that is alive and well in Northampton, as everywhere. What was initiated on social media may be the work of an individual or individuals, but it is not an isolated event, and it is a call to action for us all.

REAL Northampton is committed to working with students, staff, teachers, and families to fight for the anti-racist school environments our community members deserve. As we continue to communicate and collaborate with individuals and groups across the district who share our commitment, we will keep you updated.