Are we ready to talk about how systemic racism is showing up in schools?
For us to advance as a society, it is necessary to do the work of confronting instances of racism. Educational institutions are especially pivotal in leading this work, as this is where the primary investments in our human capital begin. The work of equity, and specifically racial equity, must take place before our young people grow into their own positions of power. We must do actual work to safeguard an equitable and just future. If we are to confront racism in a more authentic way, the change must happen in the courts, in the classrooms and, most of all, in the policies and systems constructed around them.
As part of an organization whose mission is to confront prejudice, bigotry and discrimination, we have a duty to respond following a series of incidents that reveal how racism is showing up in our education system. Recently we saw the opposition to a book introducing the concept of racial justice at the elementary level. It was disheartening to see immediate capitulation by the school district to reassure white parents, and also to hear comments like “Do we really need 8-year-olds to be fighting for racial justice?” The answer is yes. We as adults, have perpetuated an unjust system. If we are committed now to real equitable culture change, it starts yes, with 8-year-olds.
In the last month, we have heard about racial slurs being used by spectators at more than one high school basketball game and racial microaggressions used by a university basketball coach when speaking to his team of mostly BIPOC players. These are, of course, not the first times that statements like these have been made in our schools. Yet the fact that we are currently seeing a social climate where they are deemed newsworthy finally points to an acknowledgment that racism needs to be confronted. However, the notion that racism is still being treated as just a matter of fact is the message that educational institutions are perpetuating and conveying in their inability to truly unpack why these incidents occur on their watch.
The question we ask is, without this media reckoning, would these issues have been swept under the rug yet again?
However, the responsibility does not rest solely on school district leaders and coaches but also on the shoulders of the educational system as a whole. When incidents such as these occur, it is not the end of the job to say someone was wrong. We must examine the system, as it informs and even produces our day-to-day language and social interaction. Upon that examination it becomes glaring how this can result in a person feeling secure enough to make overtly or indirectly racist statements with no forethought of the consequences for themself or their audience.
In the interest of what Nebraska looks like in the years to come — whether it is a place that all people would want to live, raise their families, put down roots — the work towards racial equity must begin in earnest. We have to do better now, so that the ones who look to our example can also do better in the future.
We have a duty to respond following a series of incidents that reveal how racism is showing up in our education system.
Tena Hahn Rodriguez is business development manager and Dominic Green is programs and faculty manager with Inclusive Communities. Inclusive Communities serves Nebraska, Iowa and the region by directing its efforts in the areas of youth, community and workplace human relations, and leadership programming to achieve our mission of confronting prejudice, bigotry and discrimination.