AEA members stood with students, parents, family members, and the Andover community to protest the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the systemic racism that pervades our nation’s institutions. As union members and educators, we are well aware of these structural inequalities so we cannot merely condemn racism; we must conduct our work on a foundation of anti-racism.
The severity of state-sponsored murder of black and brown people shines a spotlight on how much we need to change, but also has the effect of making us focus on bad apples rather than rotten trees. Rami Bridge, president of the Somerville Teachers Association, reflects upon the “role [we] can play in tearing down and disrupting these systems rather than accepting the status quo- as an individual, as a teacher, and as a union [member]. Bettina Love’s distinction between an ally and a co-conspirator (see this interview) is a framing that has really resonated for me. She tells the story of Bree Newsome Bass taking down the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina State House. There was a moment when she was climbing the flagpole, that the police discussed tasing the pole in order to bring her down. In that moment, James Tyson, a white man who was there with her, took a plunge from being an ally to becoming a co-conspirator – he put his hand on the flag pole to prevent them from electrocuting her.”
Our identities as union members and educators are inextricable in this work. When we work to decolonize standardized and racist curriculum and curricular materials, we are co-conspirators with our students and faculty of color. When we object to MCAS dictating our instructional practices and dominating instructional time, we are objecting to a systemic measurement rooted in and perpetuating racial and socioeconomic inequality. When we question and voice concern about online instruction in regard to student access, privacy, and social emotional stability, we are actively fighting against the widening of disparities in our institutional practices. When we demand full funding, staffing, and healthy safe school buildings in the face of austerity, we are demanding safe spaces for our students who have the greatest needs.
Public education and active union membership are the instruments of anti-racism if we, the educators, remain clear-eyed in how to wield our collective power to disrupt structural blight. We cannot allow bad apples to make us hopeless or hateful, and we cannot allow systemic rot to trick us into collaborating with a bad system. We must disrupt the system by listening to, co-conspiring with, and acting collectively with our students and education workers of color.