FREE SPEECH ZONE | Still hanging: Reflections of recent racial incidents in Minnesota schools


Do the lives of people of color have value in Minnesota or our country as a whole? The question stems from the substantial daily amount of psychological and physical violence and intense force in their direction. Violence in the United States is undoubtedly a characteristic of the “American” way of life. The narrative of how relevant this characteristic of violence has been in the lives of people of color is disregarded in many settings, especially schools. Children often reflect the racial unresolved issues of the elders, the adults. Their actions are displaying the areas we are collectively acting as if it doesn’t exist. Issues unaddressed do not go away, they fester and explode. Today’s generation of young people seem to be familiar with surface, superficial, stereotypical, prejudicial aspects of history but not the specific narratives in their entirety. This is a key element of what has taken place at three local high schools in the past month. When one is well-informed of the long list of violent hate crimes toward African Americans and other people of color throughout history, one cannot help but think of the image of strange fruit: a black male hanging from a tree or streetlight pole. And just as this picture is sketched into the minds of many, these cultural tensions are still hanging in our midst.

Free Speech Zone
The Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases. The opinions expressed in the Free Speech Zone and Neighborhood Notes, as well as the opinions of bloggers, are their own and not necessarily the opinion of the TC Daily Planet.

The acts of psychological, physical and emotional violence toward people of color are not surprising. The shallow method of building human relationships prevents people from looking at not only triumph, but also tragedy. The ethnic studies program in the Tuscan Unified School District in Arizona is being challenged. White supremacists ideology feels as though talking about Howard Zinn or Cesar Chavez will teach children to hate the United States and ignite revolution. In actuality, thinking critically through all issues address challenges and promotes peaceful positive solutions. Empowering students teaches them to love themselves and their neighbors, not to be fearful and suspicious. Many colleges and universities have yet to add these courses and departments because they lack the vision to see its relevance to recruiting and graduating all students, and especially students of color. Since most White Americans were forces to lose and suppress their ethnic identity (German, Swedish, Norwegian, Italian, etc.) upon arrival as immigrants to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, there’s a push to delete the culture and identities that make all people beautiful and unique. An ethnic study of all people was one of the goals of Dr. Carter G. Woodson (considered the Father of African American History). Plainly, stories and positive imagery honoring White/European Americans overwhelm our literature, monuments, landmarks, films and media outlets, even to the point of unrealistic exaggeration in some cases. Renowned author Ralph Ellison articulately communicated the many social and intellectual challenges of African Americans in early 20th century, in the Invisible Man. This book is considered to be one of the top literary works of all time, yet many educated people are unfamiliar with.

Students I have taught at the college level are very unfamiliar with the legacy of institutional racism. Not only do many of our White/European brothers and sisters lack knowledge about human relations dynamics, but many of our students of color are very unfamiliar with accurate historical events also. The tension and fear is present, but information of the origination of these age old challenges is not covered appropriately in many pre-k thru 12th grade settings. Social studies and history classes are either inadequately covering our American multicultural narratives in their entirety, or passed over altogether. Many educators appear to neglect the connection between positive imagery with esteem and self-worth for all children. From a leadership standpoint, are there officials in decision-making positions to advocate for all children without limitations on what they are able to implement or accomplish? Or is this an unreasonable or unrealistic expectation for parents?

Washburn High

Terminology assists in how people categorize information. The refusal to categorize the simulated lynching of a black person as a hate crime is disturbing. It’s disappointing that African American and Latin American males are consistently assumed to be viewed as rule breakers and criminal miscreant’s more than White males. Although, the overwhelming national pattern of senseless school and mass shootings have been White males. Why does the White male profile never seem to be tainted to the same degree as boys of color? The disparity of suspension data for many school districts nationally reinforces this double standard. To minimize the action of the White students who hung this doll over the ledge at Washburn as an ignorant mistake without harmful intent is an act of psychological and emotional violence itself. To identify this hate crime as a thoughtless prank that was not racially motivated is an insult to the humanity of not only African Americans, but the intelligence of all who are observing the protection of these White students as harmless nice kids who didn’t intend to hurt anyone. This one act does not define who the kids are as people in totality, but every behavior and comment originates from a thought.

The Washburn response is typical of how we as a nation handle issues of this racial magnitude. Many White Americans do not understand the impact of this incident on all people involved because they are not consistent targets of harm or violence for simply being White. Black and brown boys rarely are given the courtesy and benefit of the doubt as White kids are afforded, even in less offensive circumstances. At the top of the professional development agenda should be increasing the intercultural effectiveness of teachers, staff and students. Conducting consistent forums, panels, with student and parent voice put schools in a position to be proactive. There isn’t shame in addressing the issue, but there is in ignoring it.

East Ridge High

Shirley Williams wrote a poem in 1968, A Black Child’s Pledge, which was a response to the inescapable social limitations and inequalities of the time period. In many more subtle forms to the untrained eye, these closed doors to opportunity and access of resources still exist. This statement is not endorsing every word of the poem; rather it should engage the reader to understand critically the contents and the purpose of the existence of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Who were they defending? Why was there a need for defense? Were there extreme life threatening experiences that drove them to extreme forms of protection for their families and communities? Do people know that their breakfast program was the pre-cursor to what we currently refer to as Free and Reduced lunch programs? Was it positive that the program rapidly expanded from feeding a handful of kids in an Oakland church, to serving over 10,000 a day before they went to school? They were filling a need in that context that should have been addressed by the school district and state. These should be foundational questions to be answered before claiming that East Ridge is teaching their mostly White American student body “Black Supremacy”. Can someone please tell me what institution in the United States Black people have supreme control over, lead, direct or influence that harms White Americans from socially progressing? Athletics and entertainment cannot be mentioned because Blacks are mostly money makers, but not decision makers or owners. If white supremacist ideology is being discussed, there are plenty of legitimate examples to highlight the devastating impact it has had on the lives of people of color, past and current: education, policy, employment, justice system, home ownership, wealth, entrepreneurship, real estate, family unit, religion, entertainment, military, health and media. For White American parents to suggest that there are more “peaceful” figures that could have been recognized demonstrate their ignorance. That statement of “peaceful” people implies that White Americans only want to engage in dialogue about Black people that they feel comfortable with and where White Americans are not viewed as oppressors in a historical context. To suggest that only Black figures White people approve of can be taught in schools is white supremacist thought. To deny our collective history, is to keep issues hanging around that we neglect to face. Many parents, students and community members reacted to this poem the same way Arizona officials responded to ethnic studies. It’s important to understand people and organizations in their entirety and complexities. It also highlights the consistent pattern of people of color having their stories and narratives seized and manipulated by those in a privileged position who will not have the same lens as those who are entitled to tell the story.

East Ridge High school leadership has no need to backpedal or apologize for increasing the social and intellectual consciousness of the young people that South Washington County School District has put under his care. Raising the students’ worldview prepares them for academic and social success in higher educational settings, which is one of the hallmarks of an International Baccalaureate education in many of our schools statewide. In fact, the district leadership has an opportunity to support the principal as the instructional leader of the building. Dr. Carter G. Woodson intended for Black History Month to accomplish a few goals. Dr. Woodson, a scholar and alum of Harvard University, was well aware of the exploitation and removal of the African American role in the development and growth of the United States from its inception. Woodson believed that sharing the whole and truthful narrative of American historical events was favorable toward the ideals our country aspires to reach: life, liberty, freedom, equality, equity, etc. Like today, Woodson knew that the intelligence and worth of African Americans was consistently being demeaned and devalued. Therefore, he believed that studying and analyzing the role of Blacks in our collective American story would serve as a psychological defense shield against the assaults of their presence and image. This is why George Lucas should be applauded for making the movie Red Tails despite the lack of support from the entertainment industry. He recognized that all kids need a variety of heroes and she-roes. Any act to assert intellect on the part of African Americans, specifically, is largely viewed by the majority as an attack. This denial of difference and superiority complex that some objecting parents have raised assume they know more than they really do about valuing and recognizing contributions of all people. It’s imperative that people learn to celebrate cultural heritage without feeling threatened or insecure. Knowing the stories of Paul Robeson, Shirley Chisholm, Thurgood Marshall, General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., Gordon Parks or Angela Davis (to name a few) have not circulated to enough people to prevent repeating negative acts that hinder positive relationships across cultural lines.

National Context

In February 2012, almost an exact year ago, 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin was murdered because he, like most Black males in the United States, are viewed as suspicious and a threat to themselves and others. Trayvon was unarmed. Jordan Davis, 17-year-old in Florida, was shot and killed by a 45-year-old White male because he was in a car that was playing music too loud. The unarmed teen who was with his friends at a gas a station in Jacksonville, refused to turn their music down, which led to him being shot at least “eight or nine times.” In 2009, I was a faculty advisor chaperoning a few college students on a Civil Rights tour through the South. Upon leaving Jackson, Mississippi, some colleagues attempted to locate Money, Mississippi, the city where 14-year-old Emmett Till was visiting from Chicago and ended up murdered for speaking to a White girl. As we drove past where our navigation system claimed it would be, there were no signs to recognize a place in 1955 that sparked the modern Civil Rights movement. I hope that we do not brush off these traumatic occurrences or take down a sign of remembrance of what has taken place.

Dr. K. Stanley Brooks is an Assistant Professor of Education at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN.

The Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases. The opinions expressed in the Free Speech Zone and Neighborhood Notes, as well as the opinions of bloggers, are their own and not necessarily the opinion of the TC Daily Planet.