“The personal is political.”
Our lives don’t exist on just one course; they don’t just go in one direction. We have multiple selves and experiences that criss-cross, tangle and run parallel. Yet for far too many years as a society, we have asked people to deny the existence of the multiple intersections that make up the totality of their experiences and individual personhood. Thankfully, that notion is slowly being dismantled as technology like social media and newer learning makes clear that we are not all simply humans but that instead we carry with us our multiple realities, whether they be queer, people of color, able-bodied, spiritual, cis-gendered and more, in whatever combinations make us ourselves. Yes, that change is coming, though slower than I would like.
Which is why in the aftermath of a recent hate crime outside of Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, it was remarkable to see the student body rallying around four Black students who were accosted by a white man as they waited for the bus. Portland School superintendent Xavier Botana not only condemned the acts but given that the attack occurred after President Trump issued a temporary travel ban barring people from seven Muslim majority countries along with the ongoing discussion of erecting a wall between the United States and Mexico, the superintendent didn’t shy away from touching upon these facts in his remarks.
Since Trump was elected, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a spike in hate crimes across the country. Closer to home in Maine, we are seeing KKK activity in a handful of communities and white nationalists across the country have openly spoken of feeling empowered and of wanting to establish white culture and the concept of Western Civilization’s superiority as the one single way of being in America. Lastly, we have Steve Bannon, who serves as Trump’s chief strategist and who has openly espoused white nationalist views. In other words, we are currently living in a climate where racial bigotry has been given a wink and a nod to come out of the shadows and where it has even been given keys to the doors in the highest corridors of political power. Hate no longer needs to hide in the closet, despite what many may believe. In electing a man whose rhetoric is inflammatory and racist, we have made the personal political.
In today’s edition of the Portland Press Herald, Jason Savage, executive director of Maine’s Republican Party, accuses Botana of politicizing the hateful incident and states that he is creating a hostile environment for those who don’t share his views.
In the day and age of fake news and false equivalency, let me repeat again: the personal is political. And schools, if they truly want to be inclusive spaces of true learning and the development of critical thinking skills, cannot deny the realities of the larger world especially when students of color and their families are feeling the very real impact of the larger world and its implications.
The hostile environment has existed for a long time for people who aren’t part of white culture; the people Savage is so concerned about being “marginalized” are simply having to deal with a bit of uncomfortable awareness as their assumptions about their racial and moral superiority are questioned. That’s not hostility.
I would hope that anyone working in a school system could understand why we must speak truth to power and name the current realities, regardless of party affiliation.
The other charge lobbed at Botana is the use possible use of school time for the students to prep for a rally in support of the Black students. In a so-called democracy, teaching kids to use their voices is one of the most powerful things that we can do. It connects the book learning to real life application. If we can teach our kids about the Boston Tea Party and the power of protest that gave this nation its independence, why not have a practical application that is relevant and timely now? Frankly for far too long, we have lived with a passive approach to education in a white-washed context. The time has come to make a shift away from that.
One of the barriers to true racial and cultural progress is the inability of far too many white folks to actually understand anyone else’s perspective. To understand that we don’t lead single-issue lives. To see that race affects everything from the mundane such as stores that only carry shades of lipsticks and pantyhose geared towards white skin tones to our children being accosted on their way home from school, and sometimes our lives being cut down due to the color of our skin. Racialized incidents are a regular occurrence for many people of color, yet white people often are blind to that reality and in many cases cast suspicion upon people of color. The mindset of white supremacy is to deny the lived experiences of anyone but white people.
However, our hope lies with the younger generations who increasingly are trying to see beyond themselves. In the case of the students who rallied on behalf of their peers, they apparently wanted to make a difference and we would be wise to set aside our own biases and listen to them. They have much to teach us if we are willing to actually hear them. As for the Maine GOP, the needs of the many (and diverse) outweigh the needs of the few (and obstructionist/isolationist). Right now, the GOP is the one playing politics and attempting to inflame an already unfortunate incident. Trying to make mockery of the victims of the abuse and the culture that allowed that abuse to happen, and trying to make victims of those who are too comfortable in an age-old status quo and who need to open their minds and heart toward all humanity.
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