A Call to Teachers:

We Don't Have to Get Used To Oppression—
A Month of Resistance Against the New Jim Crow

September 19, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Revolution/revcom.us received the following call:

by a High School Teacher in the Bay Area

Over the last few years, I've taught about the New Jim Crow, and involved students in political protest against police brutality. I've challenged conventional wisdom about capitalism being the best humanity can do, and I've shared with them ideas of revolution and communism. I’ve also been told repeatedly that I should “be careful” of bringing my own politics into the classroom. That I should be “more balanced” in the perspectives and analysis I share with students. That I really shouldn’t leave students with a “negative view” of what this country is all about. These statements, and others like them, essentially argue “it’s not your place to take a moral stand in your role as an educator,” and in their worst expressions, “get used to this world we live in, nothing’s gonna change, so don’t get their hopes up.” 

No. I refuse to get used to this system, and I want to challenge all teachers who feel the same to step forward with me. It is our responsibility to teach the truth—and when the truth is that we live in a system that brutalizes and systematically criminalizes Black and Latino youth (not to mention all the other ways that women are degraded, our environment destroyed, etc.) we have a responsibility to take a moral stand.  

I often think about what kind of teacher I would have been if I lived during the horrors of Jim Crow segregation. If I knew there was a codified system of law relegating Black people to a status less than fully human. If I knew the viciousness with which police attacked and locked up those —youth in particular—who would dare to fight back for their dignity. If I saw the water cannons...the tear gas...the dogs. How would I teach to, and speak to, all of this?

I like to think that I would have been compelled—unabashedly, unapologetically—to bring my students into a determined fight for justice. Because that was the right side of history to be on. That I would have worried less about potentially upsetting some parents, administrators, and colleagues, and more about finding the ways to give students meaningful ways to fight back and STOP the terror that was Jim Crow. That I would have worried less about covering “approved” curriculum, and more about how to give students an understanding of how oppression is rooted in this capitalist system, and things don’t need to be this way. That I would have worried less about feigning an abstract “balance” of perspectives in the classroom (what would that even look like? Giving legitimacy to openly racist defenses of Jim Crow?!), and more about how to leverage the most advanced, conscious students, to break others out of a trained complacency or belief that things can’t fundamentally change. That I would have taken risks and put my body on the line to stand for what was right. 

If it is easy to look at the past and envision ourselves in righteous defiance against the “old” Jim Crow––why should we not take the same uncompromising stand today? I use this as a moral barometer to measure my own role as a teacher right now and I hope others will too— because right now, while the forms have changed, the viciousness and systemic nature of oppression remains. I refuse to be on the wrong side of history or simply stand on the sidelines while a battle over the future is raging. 

Some 2.2 million, mainly Black and Latino people, are warehoused in U.S. prisons. Thousands suffer the torture of long term solitary confinement. Our legal system has codified the criminalization of a whole generation of our youth, funneling them from school to prison. Black and Latino youth are gunned down in the streets by police at epidemic rates. And when people have gone beyond simply calling attention to this, but have acted in defiant resistance, as the youth have continued to do in Ferguson, the full armed force of the state is brought down on them. The dogs are back in the streets. 

The rebellion we saw in Ferguson has raised the stakes. It has inspired millions and brought new hope to those who dream of a day where Black and Latino youth don’t walk around with targets on their backs. This resistance must be upheld, and spread. If we are to truly get beyond this madness, it will take massive and determined actions of millions—coming together from a wide range of backgrounds and viewpoints—who are unwilling to “calm down” or give time to “let the system work.” 

The Stop Mass Incarceration Network, initiated by longtime liberation fighters Cornel West and Carl Dix, was started to fill a great need, and bring uncompromising struggle to END the brutality of Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow.  Please join me—in joining with this important movement. Let your students know about, and find the ways to unleash their righteous rage against all that is coming down on them. October 22 must be a day where tens of thousands —youth especially—lift their heads to say “NO MORE.” Where we link up and amplify each others work, through art, music, and political protest to make October a month that truly begins to turn the tide. 

There will be controversy and struggle, but we have a responsibility as teachers to look reality in the face. To confront it. To teach it. And to model for our students a refusal to get used to the world as it is, and a willingness to engage with ideas and movements that don't accept capitalism and democracy as the pinnacle of human development. We can not, nor should we want to shelter the youth from the harsh realities they are living through. And we must have the backs of those who dare to stand up, step forward, and fight back against their oppression. Change has never occurred without shaking up the status quo, and it is no different today. Let’s do this. 


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