If, like me, you stand as one of few black people in your field speaking out about race, the “angry black woman or man” label may be used to silence you. If that happens, embrace the “angry” label and channel it to make changes in policies and practices.
Be angry to view black men and women being killed. Be angry at the over-identified, brilliant black children being labeled as learning-disabled or emotionally disturbed, resulting in dumbing down what students learn. Productive anger transforms systems. Complacency is the enemy.
On May 25, 1787, the U.S. Constitution, drafted at the Constitutional Convention, outlined the promise to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility and secure the blessings of liberty. On May 25, 2020, 235 years later, we were reminded of promises unfulfilled as the nation witnessed a public lynching in the streets of Minneapolis. It awakened the conscience of a nation asleep.
The voices screaming, “I can’t breathe” ring in the ears and hearts of black and brown children and adults. The images have awakened the spirit for many to call for justice. Do not let another 235 years pass, missing an opportunity to transform this country to be the inclusive place our ancestors fought and worked for, as we live in a nation built on the backs of slaves. Backs bent by systems carrying oppressive bricks must have those bricks thrown out, empowering all to stand upright.
As our challenge to systems, in Topeka Public Schools, we are hosting our own equity talks for staff and students and we are leading broader talks across the state with the five black superintendents invited to join in to educate, empower and engage others in transforming systems. We are also are a participant in the national Education Equity talks with superintendents, sponsored by Discovery Education, and we encourage the public to tune in. The key will be not to stop at conversations, but through those talks gain ideas, resources and be prepared to challenge systems of inequity resulting in true transformation.
Dr. King described how Rip Van Winkle slept through a revolution, and we must be alert with a discerning spirit through this revolution. When awakened suddenly to something eyes were closed to for so long, falling back asleep can be easy if we allow it. It is simpler to ignore or deny the privileges that divide groups into categories of them and us than be confronted with implementing solutions. Unconscious bias speaks to acting with a level of automation with bias and not even realizing it.
Breathing in this air has filled people with the unapologetic desire to challenge systemic racism in this moment of questioning the moral and human connection we have to one another to truly be our brother’s keeper. But, when the marches end, when America gets back to its routine, will you remain awake?
We can’t breathe when lynchings masked in the form of systemic racism that reduces access and opportunities occur. We can’t breathe when the God-given opportunity to live can be snatched from you at any moment. We cannot breathe when silence, disregard and removal of opportunity and access are the norm.
Challenge, question, use every breath you have to be the voices of the unheard at the polls and in the spaces you occupy. Faith must overcome fear and we must become our brother’s keeper or we all will be suffocated with the knee of injustice on our neck.
Tiffany Anderson is superintendent of Topeka Public Schools.