Racism is bad. This should be a uncontraversial position, but last night there was plenty of arguing about the pros and cons of a Salem-Keizer School Board resolution calling for a commitment to equity and antiracism.
Here's a PDF file of the resolution. I've also copied it in below.
Download Salem-Keizer School Board Antiracist Resolution
My main takeaway is that the school board did the right thing when it approved the anti-racist resolution on a 4-2 vote -- with the four recently elected progressive board members voting in favor, and two conservative holdover members voting against. A conservative member was absent.
(The Salem Reporter has a good story, "Split Salem-Keizer school board commits to antiracism in 4-2 vote." The Statesman Journal also: "Anger, emotion spill over during 'historic' Salem-Keizer vote on equity resolution.")
There were good arguments made by reasonable people on both sides, along with some lousy arguments made by extreme people on both sides.
Here's the video of the meeting. I've made it start at the beginning of the public comment period. The testimony is well worth watching.
What I found encouraging was that the school board meeting served as a forum where people who ordinarily wouldn't be talking with each other because they belong to different political camps were able to listen to those who disagree with their position.
This is one purpose of education: to expose yourself to a variety of ideas that push you out of your comfort zone. Several school board members spoke about the resolution being just the beginning of a broader community discussion about racism and anti-racism.
Hopefully that will occur.
Salem, along with the rest of the United States, needs to take a big step backward from the political cliff where many on both the right and left view the other side as so utterly wrong, they deserve to be pushed over the edge into societal oblivion.
Yet I doubt that there were any genuine racists in the room last night -- just people who disagreed about the wisdom of passing an anti-racist resolution.
Opponents of the resolution correctly noted that sometimes "white supremicist" is used as an undeserved epithet. Just because someone disagrees with a BIPOC (black, indigenous, person of color) individual doesn't mean any sort of racism is going on.
And they espoused a goal that few would disagree with. As Martin Luther King put it, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
However, currently too many conservatives consider that racism is nowhere, while too many progressives consider that racism is everywhere. The truth is somewhere in-between. Much progress has been made with racial justice, while much work remains to be done.
Likewise, opponents of the resolution had a good point when they decried a push for equal educational outcomes as opposed to equal educational opportunities.
But this assumes that all students are able to make equal use of those opportunities. Disadvantaged students, either through systemic racism or some other unfortunate circumstance, deserve special attention until that hoped-for day when all young people have generally the same opportunity to thrive in school.
The so-called "school to prison pipeline" due to police officers assigned to schools came in for repeated mention. A woman who opposed the resolution said that she had researched this question and learned that less than 1/2 of one percent of student arrests were associated with School Resource Officers.
This points to the need for solid data to back up claims of pervasive racism in Salem-Keizer schools. It's easy to be swayed by anecdotes where a teacher or student acted badly toward a BIPOC individual. But in any large group of people, a few always will act like jerks.
So it was good to hear school board members and others say that they're committed to getting as much data as possible to inform the goals of the anti-racist resolution. I suspect that racism in Salem-Keizer schools isn't as widespread as those on the left believe, while it is more common than those on the right believe.
Lastly, I have to note school board member Chandragiri's curious comment that he has been told that BIPOC people like himself can't be racist. This can't be true. I'm not even sure that someone can't be racist toward their own racial group, not to mention others in the broad BIPOC category.
In India, for example, there's a longstanding bias against those with darker skin, as a New York Times story says:
Colorism, the bias against people of darker skin tones, has vexed India for a long time. It is partly a product of colonial prejudices, and it has been exacerbated by caste, regional differences and Bollywood, the nation’s film industry, which has long promoted lighter-skinned heroes.
Here's the resolution that was approved last night.
RESOLUTION NO. 202122-2
COMMITMENT TO EQUITY AND ANTIRACISM
WHEREAS white supremacy is the upholding of white people as a superior race and systematically excluding other communities based on their ancestry, religious beliefs and/or country of origin, including those of Jewish and Islamic heritage, from services and opportunities such as housing, education, and migration; and white supremacy has no place in our schools or in our boardroom; and
WHEREAS an antiracist is a person who, by their beliefs and actions, supports and advocates for ideas and policies to dismantle oppressive structures and promote racial equality; and
WHEREAS it is a cherished asset that the Salem-Keizer Public Schools community is full of people with traditions from all over the world as well as the traditions held right here upon the land we live, through the Kalapuya, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians; and
WHEREAS our students’ diverse learning needs and cultural values are an integral part of the learning community, we must create systems that are inclusive and celebrate our students' learning assets, and speaking a language other than English is an asset we celebrate; and
WHEREAS we collectively acknowledge that racism is real and is a threat to students’ and employees’ physical and psychological well-being; and the systems of structural racism have historically oppressed students from Black and African American, Latino/a/x, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American and Indigenous heritage; and
WHEREAS every student must feel safe, welcome, and fully included in their school community; and when students are alienated from their school communities and experience bias and discrimination, they are inherently less safe psychologically, emotionally, and physically and it hinders their ability to learn and grow; and we must build inclusive environments that empower students and employees to thrive; and
WHEREAS community engagement and involvement are paramount to achieving equity; and we will engage with respect, authentically listen, and have the courage to share decision-making, control, and resources; and
WHEREAS we must directly address the overrepresentation of students of color in special education and the underrepresentation of students of color in talented and gifted and college-prep programs; and
WHEREAS we know that students of color are overrepresented in suspensions and expulsions in our schools, starting at middle school, and this impacts their ability to stay meaningfully engaged and graduate successfully; and
WHEREAS hiring and retaining a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community we serve is an antiracist action, and we commit to ensuring this occurs; and
WHEREAS being antiracist means looking deeply at systems, policies, and curricula that oppress our diverse populations; and it involves making real changes so that we change biased yet predictable outcomes related to disproportionate discipline, achievement rates, and the school-to-prison pipeline;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED Salem-Keizer Public Schools commits to being antiracist, knowing we must continually work to do better by developing knowledge and bystander intervention will and skill; and we commit to routinely interrupt systems of oppression on behalf of the students and staff in Salem-Keizer Public Schools and in our community; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED Salem-Keizer Public Schools Board of Directors commits to support the district’s efforts to build a restorative model for discipline, to monitor discipline data and our key performance indicators disaggregated by race and ethnicity, and to develop a system for monitoring the diversification of our workforce.