I had such an unusual week. I’ll begin at the beginning.
My youngest daughter is open-enrolled in another school district because our home district is, well, incompetent and infamous for refusing to implement any kind of special education services. That’s fine if your child doesn’t require special education services, but my daughter does. So, I open-enrolled her into another district that came highly recommended, and it was a very good decision in terms of special education services. In terms of diversity, it has been an exercise in futility.
My state isn’t exactly known for its racial diversity. I live in the Midwest. My state is known for lakes, Scandinavians, lutefisk, hot dishes, icefishing, and the up and coming Super Bowl. There are good things about living here. I’ve lived here for two decades, and I think I must have been living in some sort of insulated box. What I encountered last week stunned me.
My daughter has faced not one, not two, but three counts of anti-Semitism in her Social Studies class including an incident of “soft-core” Holocaust denial over the past few weeks. It has been shocking. I reported the first incident to the school. Nothing was done. I explicitly reported the second and third incident to the school principal last week. My report was acknowledged. I am still waiting for action. In addition to anti-Semitism, there have been openly racist remarks from white students towards non-white students witnessed by teachers. The teachers have done nothing, and I suspect that their inaction was due to not recognizing the racism for what it was. One might think that this should just be allowed to pass. Middle school is a shark tank. It is terrible. Everyone is a target, right? No.
The problem here is that there might be perhaps one or two African-American students, one or two Asian-American students, and one Latin-American student in a sea of white students. 300 plus. 400 plus. 500 plus. No advocacy. No modeling. Enabling of bullying. Enabling of on-going racist interactions, aggression, and micro-aggression that has probably been nurtured since elementary school. I don’t necessarily expect kids to know for sure what is driving their inappropriate behaviors, but I do expect the adults observing them to know particularly when that behavior involves “otherizing”, sorting, and marginalizing which often leads to bullying and violence. This is completely unacceptable, and I’ve said so. You can imagine how much they love me over there.
It is even more important to address racism and anti-Semitism when the school district is largely white. It doesn’t matter what the culture of a student’s home is be it misogynistic, racist, anti-Semitic, conservative, liberal, or whatever. When a student participates in the public and civil forum, they and their parents tacitly agree to the rules governing that forum. Views and opinions that harm the well-being and rights of others and violate the rules governing that forum are left at home. One can be a white nationalist at home. One can be violent and misogynistic at home. One can hold fascist views at home. One can be homophobic at home. One can hate other people at home. One can deny the Holocaust at home. One can endorse the legislation of one’s own interpretation of morality and harshly judge other people for not believing exactly what they do at home. Not in a public school.
As I sat at home wondering how anyone could factually deny the Holocaust, I witnessed another injustice. I attended my 17 year-old daughter’s IEP meeting. She attends a school for students with special education needs. There are three members of the staff serving the needs of the students who hail from a West African nation with an almost 82% poverty rate. Of all the staff members at my daughter’s school, these three staff members are the kindest, most respectful, and most willing to go above and beyond for some of the most hard-to-reach students; and, it is hard for me to grasp at times because I know simply from the history of their country of origin that they have suffered inordinately. From what I know of two of these staff members’ personal stories, they have lost more personally than anyone I’ve ever met, and yet they show up every day to their workplace with optimism and a willingness to work hard and show kindness regardless of how they are treated.
And how are they treated? Poorly. Why? Because they are African. They are not white Americans. They are different. The staff and even students at my daughter’s school display racist attitudes and rhetoric towards these three people on a weekly if not daily basis, and I cannot fathom it. They are spoken down to. They are talked to as if they don’t understand English because they have accents even though their first language is English. They are excluded and mistreated.
So, what is new here? Should I really be surprised? This is the American legacy. I grew up in the South with an active KKK clan one town over from mine. Racism, prejudice, and bigotry run deep in the veins of our nation’s foundation. It was freely displayed in Texas. It’s just passively exhibited in the North whether we like to admit it or regard it.
So, what did I find surprising this week?
Well, my daughter has experienced unusual forms of bullying at her school, and I don’t say that to be dramatic. She was targeted by another student for months last year. This student attacked staff members with makeshift weapons. This student stalked my daughter during school and threatened to physically harm her. It was a severe situation. The school’s lawyer was involved. The superintendent was involved. My daughter required a “safely plan” meaning she had to be escorted wherever she went in case this student found her in the hallways or even the bathroom. This student is no longer at this school, but, when he was at this school, it was a serious situation.
I learned yesterday that one of the West African staff members was also experiencing multiple forms of mistreatment at school. The mistreatment is bad enough to bring charges. I also learned that this teacher will not leave until my daughter graduates. This teacher has determined to stay to make sure that my daughter is safe, protected, and cared for. This teacher is willing to tolerate abuse in the workplace for the sake of my daughter.
After weeks of battling my youngest daughter’s school district and their policies on racism and anti-Semitism and my own personal and emotional depletion, I felt something in my heart…crack…for lack of a better word.
How often have I felt alone in my efforts to set an injustice right? All the time. “Just let it go. It won’t make a difference,” I have heard. And, you know, I almost didn’t say anything after what my daughter’s Social Studies teacher said in her annoyance, “Let’s just pretend that those kids are Jews being packed onto train cars on their way to Auschwitz.” I almost didn’t say anything when she denied the Holocaust. I almost didn’t say anything when another anti-Jewish statement was made. But, if I don’t, then who will?
And, then I learned that there is someone else, behind the scenes, absorbing the inequities, suffering, for the sake of my daughter. Helping her feel safe. Helping her make it in a hard environment. Anonymously. And, the first thing that came to mind was, “How often do we experience this? We ask for help. We pray. And, we think that God doesn’t come through for us because we hurt. Because we are mistreated. Even abused. Because it’s so hard. Because we have to push really, really hard just to make it an inch up the road. But, what if we would have fallen a mile behind without their silent assistance?”
Pain is not the absence of God or human support.
So, today, I feel a profound, humble gratitude that I don’t know I’ve ever felt before. I feel it deep inside my core. Yes, the battles are real, and I will resume the fight tomorrow. Today, I can say that what we often hope for–maybe there is more to this than I can or ever will see–is true. There are truly good people in the world, and I might never know who they are.
Perhaps this will encourage you as you continue on.