WEB Dubois said, “The proper education of any people includes a sympathetic touch between teacher and pupil; knowledge on the part of the teacher, not simply of the individual taught, but of his surroundings and background, and the history of his class and group”. He wrote this in his essay Does the Negro really need Separate Schools? He goes on to say “such contact between pupils, and between teacher and pupil…. will increase this sympathy and knowledge.” It may be hard to display that sympathetic touch necessary when you support a politician who calls Black teens thugs, Mexican teens rapists, or who mocks disabled reporters. Exit polls show us that the majority of white men and women supported a candidate who did those things. Educators need to have a conversation about how those political views influence our instructional practice, discipline procedures, and student outcomes. Parents need to ensure that the political views of teachers do not influence the teacher’s treatment of their children.
Robin Diangelo wrote a book last year called White Fragility. In the book, she wrote about how white people become incredibly defensive, and in some cases hostile when the subject of race and bias is brought to their attention. Some hijack the conversation and make it about them using weaponized tears of fragility to derail the discussion. She mentioned that white people tend to tune out or attempt to discredit people of color when they talk about their experiences with racism. That became evident in the response I got to a recent tweet presenting demographics in the recent presidential election. The tweet was advice to parents to protect their children in this volatile political climate. In my tweet I said,
In the tweet, I implied that all white women teachers were harmful to Black and Brown students and that was a mistake; I apologize. I also made the assumption that the majority of white women teachers voted for Trump which can’t be confirmed. I work with and have worked with some amazing white women educators who commit to their students as if they were their own children. I would never disparage those teachers. I am also not saying that all teachers who voted for Trump cannot be good teachers to Black and Brown children. I am saying that some did, and we must be cognizant of how supporting someone who has his views can affect those students who we teach.
The reactions to the tweet were varied. Several people agreed including a lot of white men and women. Some questioned the genuineness of the 55% number because exit polling in 2020 was unreliable due to the abundance of mail in votes. That point has some validity, but 53% percent of white women voted for him in more reliable exit polls taken in 2016. Some called me a racist and said disgusting things in my direct messages. Others responded with how hurt the statement made them feel and expressed their disappointment in me for making such a statement. They deflected, misdirected, became angry, and used feelings as a weapon like Ms. Diangelo said in her book. None of the responses dealt with the reality that over 50% of white women voted for Trump and some of those people are educators.
Teachers are given one of the most important tasks in America, to educate and protect the children. Teachers are supposed to be role models who inspire and empower all children to chase the American Dream. Teachers are supposed to be careful to never let their political views affect their classroom attitude and treatment of students. However, in some cases, supporting people who are actively working against their most vulnerable students, can be harmful. The bias that goes along with their political views is illuminated in educational statistics.
All studies show that Black and Brown students are overpoliced and undereducated in school systems across America. Black boys are suspended at 3 times the rate as their white counterparts. Black girls in some areas are suspended at a rate 10 times higher than white girls. Graduation rates for Hispanic/LatinX and Black children are 8–10 points lower than graduation rates of white children. Graduation rates for students with disabilities are 25 points lower. The high school graduation rate for Black boys is 59%.
I have worked with vulnerable populations my whole career. I hear their stories of distrust, abuse, and neglect in the education system. I grew up in a school system where the majority of teachers were white women. While most of those teachers were great teachers, the scars I carry from the few biased and racist teachers I did have were harmful and unforgettable. This is the reason I fight so hard to make sure all students, especially Black and Brown students are not harmed in school.
I can’t relax and be satisfied with teachers in our profession voting for someone who spouts racist and xenophobic views. A man who has bullied those who are different and allows families to be separated and children to be kept in cages. I know not all white women teachers support our last president and his buffoonery. A lot of white women are allies in the fight for social justice and should be commended for their work. Honesty is recognizing that there are some teachers whose political views are barriers to success for black and brown children. It is the job of all of us to be reflective in our practice and ensure that we are working in the best interest of all of our students.