The Black Lives Matter Movement of this past summer forced several educational institutions to push for changes in both their curricula and culture that should have occurred long ago. Several primarily white institutions, or PWIS, have released statements committing to diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism. Among these institutions is Dalton, an elite New York City K-12 private school located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Recently, Dalton’s faculty released a list of demands regarding anti-racism and the promotion of structural equity, separate from that of Dalton’s anti-racism and diversity, equity and inclusion statements.
The demands are extensive, with faculty citing a need for full time diversity officers, the requirement of courses that challenge white supremacy, required faculty anti-bias training, the establishment of a clear system for reporting instances of racism and many other necessary changes to Dalton’s culture. Simply put, the demands are a call to advocate for the needs of Black students and faculty, as well as the fostering of an environment in which both students and faculty are equipped to handle and engage in conversations about race. They are a reasonable request to support and enable the safe existence of Dalton’s Black community members, and unsurprisingly, this request was met with opposition.
The opposition took the form of an open letter, authored by anonymous Dalton parents titled Language of Loving Concern @ Dalton. The parents describe Dalton’s new commitment to anti-racist education as an end to Dalton’s previously “joyful, progressive” mode of learning; one of the many reasons for their claimed necessity that Dalton place a hold on any and all lessons relating to anti-racist education. The letter’s authors referred to social justice as “at most, one part of the educational world”, and it is in this aspect of their overwhelmingly racist argument that their privilege could not be clearer. Social justice is not merely “one part of the educational world” for Black people, it has been ingrained into us since our birth into an inherently racist country. It extends past an educational experience, and to a means of protecting our selfhood. It is not a ridiculous notion to suggest that white children be expected to learn about what Black children have no choice in enduring.
When Black students inhabit educational institutions that were not created with us in mind, students bravely tend to push for structural changes, as Black Dalton students have. However, the idea that Black students should be grateful for their presence in white spaces, and that this gratitude prevents them from critiquing these spaces, has led to anger in some readers of the faculty demands. The demands were posted (and critiqued) by the Naked Dollar, a blog which often finds reasons to discredit efforts towards equity and inclusion. Under the demands, Naked Dollar reader Caleo commented:
““You people are a joke, blowing millions of dollars so you can pat each other on the back about how sophisticated and progressive you are, while getting screamed at by spoiled Black brats about how oppressed they are by being gifted the opportunity to teach at or attend this upscale ‘school’.”
Spoiled Black brats. To the Dalton parents wondering why anti-racism is crucial, this is it. Black students have to deal with comments such as these, and far worse, regularly. It is not a choice nor a lesson plan that we have the power to put on hold, it is our reality. Your worst fear is being “branded a racist”, while Black people have lived through incomparable instances of trauma. Most Black children have firsthand experience with instances of bias, racism, bigotry, and you find yourselves threatened by the requirement to learn about it. An anti-racist education is not a personal attack, it is an effort to better both the community and the individual.
A diverse, race-focused curriculum has numerous benefits, for both Black and white students. A study performed by Claremont McKenna University concluded that diverse curricula has overwhelmingly positive social and emotional effects for students of color, and causes a recognizable appreciation for cultural difference in all students. These types of curriculums grant students the opportunity to engage in cultures different from that of their own, different from the “Dalton curriculum” that parents wish to revert to.
A survey conducted in the Cambridge public school district, one of the most diverse districts in both student population and curriculum, found that students felt a high degree of comfort working with individuals of different backgrounds, and were able to recognize the existence of racial disparities within their school and potential solutions for change. Diverse curricula creates forward-thinkers, it promotes the joyful learning environment that the authors of Language of Loving Concern @ Dalton claim to be losing.
Black students have already begun the work of challenging racism once again, with the New York organization Black Students Demanding Change, which has partnered with independent schools across the US to promote inclusive education, writing a powerful response to the anonymous Dalton letter and creating a google form for signatures of support. It should not be the work of Black students to make our high schools more equipped to support us, but it is the work several of us choose to take on. Anti-racist education should not be a debated request, it should be implemented into every school’s curriculum, private or public, primarily white or diverse.
It is ignorant for Dalton’s anonymous parent community, for anyone, to expect to be exempt from engaging in conversations about race in a racist country. Language of Loving Concern @ Dalton reads, “We have forgotten that before being an “anti-racist” institution, we must be an educational institution.” However, it is the authors of the letter who have forgotten that an educational institution is an anti-racist institution.
Image credits: ABC news illustration, published on GoodMorningAmerica.com