Teaching in an Era of Bad Feelings

post by gera

It is imperative that we teach what racism is, in light of the violence that defines this administration. Racism isn’t limited to what an individual thinks or says. It is also the context within which words and actions take place. For example, #fakepresident made a statement about the ‘rat-infested’ city of Baltimore. In the initial comments, he never mentioned ethnic groups by name. But given the history of persecution of the people living in the poor and working class areas of Baltimore, his statement fed notions that areas with PoC are toxic, garbage and therefore the people are toxic, garbage. Same with the calls for mental health support in light of this weekend’s mass shootings. To call for mental health support without addressing the epidemic of white supremacist violence feeds white privilege, therefore repeating the pattern that white lives are more valuable and worthy of saving than black lives. Therefore, the shootings are part of a racially oppressive system. And to ignore the fact that that the shootings happened in two cities with significant populations of color, feeds the same system. Any discussion of these racially-motivated mass shootings that does not include a discussion of the role played by racist systems and structures is an incomplete discussion.

There is evidence, at least early on, that both shooters carried with them racial hatred and intent to commit these crimes. Perhaps mental illness was an issue for both men, but we need to examine the terrifying nexus of racist ideology, white supremacy, access to high-powered weapons that were meant for the destruction of the human body, and mental illness. We need an intersectional study of white supremacist hatred as well. The invisibility of a mainstream discussion of white supremacy as it relates to numerous mass shootings is racist, because it sends the message that whiteness is without character, tendency, bias, or opinion. Whiteness is therefore normal, so to call out white supremacy represents a challenge to what too many people view as ‘normal.’

This fall, you must teach students and colleagues (if necessary) to examine racism as a system, maintained by structures, daily life, tradition, and ritual. To call a person racist is actually kind of pointless. Because, as Eve Ewing cited in Ghosts in the Schoolyard, it portrays racism as an act of individual expression of individual beliefs. And because most people do not identify as racist–and in fact are honestly convinced that they are not–any discussion that does not examine how our behaviors reinforce white supremacy is a dead end. As a cis-hetero male in a marriage that is considered ‘normal’ in mainstream discourse, I must have the same internal and external dialogue with myself regarding sexism and homophobia. I do not believe that I am sexist or homophobic, but it would be naive of me to think that my actions never strengthen those systems. So, how might I disrupt that system? How might I be honest about ways in which I contribute to the maintenance of sexist, homophobic, and transphobic systems and structures.

And as one of our Twitter followers posted, this is NOT a teachable moment. We are past teachable moments under this administration. This is an organizing moment. This is a resistance moment. This, as the eminent Jose Vilson reminds us on the daily, is our moment.