This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Seattle Medium through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.
By Aaron Allen
At the end of January, Black Lives Matter at School held a press conference to announce new initiatives for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) at School Week of Action, which will take place from Jan. 31—Feb. 4
This year BLM Week of Action will feature multiple themes on their agenda, including: Ethnic Studies/Black Studies Now, Hire Black Teachers Now, Fund Education Now, and End High Stakes Testing Now. In addition, the group is looking to get Seattle Public Schools to replace the restorative justice councilors and family support workers who were removed from the schools last year. The group is also addressing the Critical Race Theory (CRT) with their “Teach Truth” campaign that focuses on the defeating a house bill that would ban the teaching of structural racism.
Across the nation, states have been enacting legislation to prohibit Critical Race Theory on the notion that it is bias and gives the message of reverse racism in that promotes blame and shame on White America and its version of history.
CRT is describe by legal analysis and educators as an intellectual and social movement and a loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of color. Critical race theorists hold that racism is inherent in the law and legal institutions of the United States insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.
Opponents fear that CRT admonishes all of white America for being oppressive while classifying Black America as hopelessly oppressed. These fears have ignited state legislatures and schools across the country to ban the teachings about race in classrooms.
Here in the state of Washington, legislators have adopted the same strategy in introducing House Bill 1886 (HB 1886). The bill, introduced by Representative Klippert, prohibits the teaching of critical race theory and related curricula in public schools and labels CRT as an emergency.
BLM has prioritized the agenda to take on this battle to ensure that race, race relations, the history of race and how race is embedded in the fabric of this society is not swept under the rug and addressed in a meaningful and productive manner.
“House Bill 1886 introduced in the Washington State Legislature would require educators to lie to students about str racism, and BLM at Schools will not tolerate that,” said educator Jesse Hagopian. “But let it be known that nothing will stop us from teaching the truth about the long history of racism and intersecting oppressions.”
According to members of BLM, “BLM at School will defend schools against the attack on critical race theory in the Washington Legislature” because they feel that students deserve the truth about structural racism.
“Black Lives Matter at School is important not only for students to see themselves represented without any stereotypes or implicit bias but also so BIPOC youth can see the real history of their ancestors and know that they are their wildest dreams,” said Rena Mateja Walker Burr, a member of the NAACP Youth Council.
Anjali Dixit agrees and says that this is a major legislative issue.
“Institutional Racism is an ongoing battle. Lives are on the line. Not just in our present, but for years to come,” Dixit said. “Change must happen now. But this is not a small action. It requires a massive uprooting of racist ideals that have been planted deep into this country’s history for centuries. Failure is not an option.”
In addition, BLM is also drawing attention to the disproportionate discipline rates of Black students, and the lack of Black instructors in Seattle Public Schools and around the state.
Last school year, an investigative report from KUOW revealed that the principal at View Ridge Elementary School had repeatedly locked up a second-grade Black student in an outdoor enclosure called “the cage.” In addition, during the current school year there were accusations at Ballard High School about retaliation against a student who spoke out against racism.
“The racial inequity we see in our schools today is one of the most pressing issues in education. But we have the chance to take a stand against injustice, something that is long overdue,” said Anjali Dixit, a member of the NAACP Youth Council. “Black Lives Matter at School is an opportunity for schools and educators everywhere to join hands and tear down the walls of systemic racism.”
One of the things that is striking about Black Lives Matter at School movement is the involvement of the students who are stepping up to ensure schools create a supportive, safe and positive environment for Black students. They believe that their demands for the week of action, like hiring more Black educators and implementing restorative justice practices, are ways schools can make true change in order to support African American students and allow their voices be heard.
“Youth have been taking the lead in organizing for Black Lives Matter at School in Seattle,” says Martha Gyay, a member of the NAACP Youth Council. “Black Lives Matter at School is so important for this generation. I know back in middle school when I first learned about it, I got so much info and knowledge from the lessons Black Lives Matter at School provided and it was great. I loved it and I believe every child should feel that way and learn about it too.”