AMHERST — The recent memo from school committee chairs denouncing Amilcar Shabazz’s recent comments at a meeting of the Schools Equity Task Force comes across as an incitant document. It is an example of what social justice and anti-racism professional practitioners could describe as an example of white power.
This, as we can now witness, can be quite unsettling and feels irresponsible. One of Amherst’s district policies is to not only hire but retain staff of color in our schools. Yet district leaders seem to work against this stated goal. The memo from the committee chairs, whether inspired by Shabazz’s critical superintendent evaluation or some other reason, adds to a level of distrust many members of our community already experience when interacting with district leaders.
What is happening to our students, all of our students, in our Amherst schools displays systemic racial and class bias — not isolated, unrelated incidents. And over the years our Amherst Regional High School students of color and white students have documented such practices. As Amherst students continue their education from elementary to high school our district they will continually be taught nearly all topics and subjects from a Eurocentric perspective.
Students will witness their mostly white teachers more harshly disciplining their classmates of color for the same or similar behaviors the same white teacher will ignore in white students. Our district has over a decade of data documenting this behavior on the part of our educators.
In this situation, students of color are at a definite power imbalance to object to this frequent and consistent discrimination and in fact may be disciplined for objecting. All the while, our white students are observing and learning from the examples adults present to them. These behaviors model to future adults who then feel empowered to continue perpetuating habits of race and class bias among next generations. This creates a hostile and unsafe situation for all of our kids.
It is important to understand and remember that our district is supposed to have staff that can support the multicultural social justice mission espoused. When white educators continually and persistently demonize students of color, and white students continue to witness their teachers’ behavior, our district is creating a hostile and unsafe situation.
This is what Shabazz referred to during the June 18 task force meeting. We need district leaders, educators and staff with the competence to practice our mission everyday.
Kathleen Anderson is president of the Amherst chapter of the NAACP.