Two teachers have written to me to say, “I used your words. I said that I would support my students whether they are Muslim, gay, Black, White, Asian American, Hindu, Sikh, lesbian, disabled, straight, transgender, Latino, Christian, Native American, female, male, undocumented, Republican, Democrat, Independent or Green. And I got in trouble.” Teachers and principals are asking, “Can we still promote anti-racism without being partisan?”
Superintendent Dallas Dance in Baltimore was under fire from a school board member just after the election for retweeting Josh Starr, who wrote: “Educators: tomorrow pls show your muslim, black, latino, jewish, disabled, or just non-white St’s, that you love them and will protect them!”
It is unclear how it could be problematic for a school superintendent to offer love and support to students who are part of groups that are currently being targeted by hate crimes on a national scale. There is a very fine line to walk here, and we have to walk it. Anti-racism is not a political stance. It is not partisan. It is a foundational democratic value. Giving a voice and a vote to every human being is what democracy is all about. Non-discrimination and the right to free speech are also constitutionally protected democratic values that belong to each of us. There is a reason that racial discrimination has been made illegal and anti-racism has not. Anti-racism leads towards equity, opportunity, community and possibility. Racism leads to the underdevelopment and underachievement of our society as a whole.
When people like Ann Miller on the school board of Baltimore County Public Schools, who has been harassing Superintendent Dance since he became the superintendent, says that his statement is partisan, the community needs to challenge her: , “How so? Are you saying that all Republicans believe that we should not support Black students and Muslim students and gay students and female students?” The alternative is to say that protecting a child’s right to learn—without fearing for their life or safety—is a partisan issue.
Racism is not a partisan issue—it really never has been. There are extremes of racism and bigotry, but the spectrum of bigoted policy crosses political lines. Trump has pledged to deport 3 million undocumented immigrants. In Obama’s 8 years as president, he deported 2 million undocumented immigrants. This does not justify Trump’s pledge, his speech or his action. But it does show us that bigoted policies are not the province of Republicans. Racism and bigotry have been a part of the United States since its founding, as have ignorance and apathy. And so too have anti-racism and anti-bigotry always been here—in many political stripes and shapes.
This is a critical fact in this moment. 10 years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now, we will look back at the choices we made in this historical moment and we will see clearly the legacy that we chose to build together. We have the choice—in this moment—to leave a legacy of resistance and anti-bigotry that our children will be proud of. And we have other choices too. But whatever we choose, by virtue of being American, we will share the burden of our choices. We will carry this legacy together.