“If you are going to show that, you need to discuss the ‘other side.’”
“What other side? We are studying the African American experience, not the other side,” I stated, feeling incredibly self-righteous. The parent on the phone was smart enough to realize the trap I had laid for her. She knew I was assuming she was racist, and she was right. I did assume this about her. She did not speak with me again.
About four years ago, with some colleagues, we revamped a humanities course called The American Dream. In a linear fashion, we wanted to show the thread line of the African American experience. Our units looked thusly: We would teach Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and Reconstruction moving into ultimately the Harlem Renaissance. We would then teach “Raisin in the Sun,” by Lorraine Hansberry, as well as the civil rights movement and, especially, redlining. Finally, our last unit would be the novel, “The Other Wes Moore,” by Wes Moore, pairing it with contemporary presidential policy and focusing on the crack epidemic/mass incarceration. During our last unit, I showed the documentary, “13th,” with the intention of connecting it to our literature. A parent demanded I speak with her over the phone during my prep period, and she was quite angry at the “biased” documentary that I showed.
Like many teachers outraged and supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of Trayvon Martin, I subscribed to Teaching Tolerance, I watched the documentary, “13th,” multiple times, skimmed Ibram Kendi’s digestible paperbacks, listened to Nikole Hannah-Jones explain “The 1619 Project,” and the list continued. Since the murder of George Floyd, however, my outrage has cooled into skepticism. I no longer support this movement, and I am uncomfortable being part of a “viewpoint minority” within secondary education.
My discomfort stems from observing an insidious authoritarian pressure in many an institution to protect themselves from charges of racism, as the trendy new definition of racism—prejudice plus power—aggressively calls for revolutionary dismantling of institutional structures. Antiracism ideology is built on a specific premise: Racial disparities are the result of a white supremacist society. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us to locate this hidden, ambiguous systemic racism, whether that means creating more “diversity committees,” requiring employees to participate in Robin DiAngelo’s antiracism workshops, or even considering paying employees of color more money “for the invisible work they do” and pushing for more Black faculty representation, as was seen at Princeton University. A professor, Sergiu Klainerman, gave an appropriately exasperated response:
In my own department, Mathematics, both the faculty and graduate students are recruited from all over the world with absolutely no regard for any other criteria beyond excellence in research, scholarship, and teaching. If anything, the process produces a shockingly small number of US-born faculty—at my counting less than 15 percent. Our department has for years been credited as the top Mathematics department in the US and probably in the world. I very much doubt that we could maintain that position if we introduced a quota policy for US citizens to counter their lack of proportional representation in our program…The wild accusation of structural racism and anti-Blackness appears to be based only on the statistical under-representation of African Americans at Princeton. The statistics are true, but I strongly dispute that they have anything to do with racism.
Within our elementary and secondary schools, perhaps we should, like Klainerman, refrain from labeling horrific events, as well as racial disparities, as “systemic racism,” especially in our classrooms where our words carry an authoritative weight. Even the topic of police brutality contains some particular nuances that seem to be missing from a movement that claims we should be having more dialogue. Coleman Hughes—whose work has been seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications—lists a series of white men who were killed by the police in equally horrific ways to their Black counterparts. Here is an excerpt from “Stories and Data,” published in City Journal:
For every Black person killed by the police, there is at least one white person (usually many) killed in a similar way. The day before cops in Louisville barged into Breonna Taylor’s home and killed her, cops barged into the home of a white man named Duncan Lemp, killed him, and wounded his girlfriend (who was sleeping beside him). Even George Floyd, whose death was particularly brutal, has a white counterpart: Tony Timpa. Timpa was killed in 2016 by a Dallas police officer who used his knee to pin Timpa to the ground (face down) for 13 minutes. In the video, you can hear Timpa whimpering and begging to be let go. After he lets out his final breaths, the officers begin cracking jokes about him. Criminal charges initially brought against them were later dropped.
Hughes selects a random year (2015) and lists white people who have been killed by the police. He argues that police reform should happen; however, it is not good journalism to assume that the police are systematically racist in 2020. It is also not good teaching if we verbalize our assumptions in class.
This kind of careful journalism by Hughes is necessary for us to read as educators because claims that schools criminalize students of color cause panic and create more costly bureaucracy. I’m a high school English teacher, and I’m seeing a push to implement a very specific ideology in my classroom, and to be fair, this push has been happening for years; however, the events of the summer coupled with the pandemic and an incompetent president have created quite the cocktail. Here are some critiques I have regarding the antiracism ideology, and I’m hoping that readers will not make the grand assumption that I’m a racist, as this kind of ad hominem attack popular on Twitter is not fitting for our field.
- Kendi and DiAngelo consistently employ an either/or logical fallacy. “If you are not actively fighting racism, you are condoning it,” so the ideology posits. People don’t want to be labeled as racist; it is an incredible insult. However, if someone wants to discuss antiracist ideology without fully supporting it, that person is considered not only uneducated, but racist. We have to take this logical fallacy seriously. The fear of this label will stunt speech in the classroom. All ideas need to be subject to critique and questioning; this ideology protects itself from that kind of rigorous scrutiny with a strange authoritarian threat. Classrooms cannot be “safe spaces” for ideas.
- Well intentioned educators lack understanding in this ideology’s origins. Antiracism ideology is stemming from a kind of revised postmodernist philosophy (and from that, Critical Race Theory). Postmodernists argue that there is no such thing as objective truth—truth is merely a narrative held by the groups who hold the power in society. While postmodernism is a great literary lens in which to discuss different historical narratives, I am hoping that educators can see that this also brings with it dangerous consequences. By denying objective truth, we are now going to deny the scientific method. Antiracism has many similarities to religion in this way. John McWhorter—linguistics professor at Columbia University and contributing writer to The Atlantic—compares this kind of constant “admission to white privilege” to a Catholic going to confession (and consequently, feeling better having “repented”). Not only this, all white people must acknowledge that all narratives by people of color are “true.” (This bares a striking resemblance to the mantra “believe all women” from the problematic #MeToo movement.) Questioning these narratives becomes a form of “epistemic injustice.” By asking for evidence, whites are committing acts of racism. For more information regarding the roots of Critical Race Theory, read James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose’s book, “Cynical Theories.”
- Antiracism considers critical thinking, logic, and science to be “white.” When I read “White Fragility,” I was struck by how many historical stereotypes were being used to categorize racial identity. Actually, DiAngelo often conflates race with culture, yet wants to make everything about race specifically, and thinks that colorblindness is a dangerous goal. I found it especially alarming that she labels science, logic, and critical thinking as “a white form of knowledge.” I wonder if she fully grasps the importance of the Enlightenment and the American ideals borne from it. Yes, America has a long history with racism, but we cannot simply dismantle Enlightenment ideals when those are what bind us together across a diverse people. Science, logic, and critical thinking cannot be seen as merely white endeavors. In fact, I find it horribly insulting to people of color to even suggest that because of their race or culture, they aren’t “made” for science. This racist idea does not help any human achieve their full potential.
- Students are learning some regressive, racist ideas. Like a hawk, I have been observing an activist social media webpage created by students in my school who are truly concerned, loving, and desirous to “be the change.” Similar to their teachers, they are ingesting this ideology. I’m not sure this is to our society’s benefit. Following DiAngelo’s lead (whether they knew it or not), students claimed that “we can’t be so concerned by start times/bells because Black kids can’t get to school on time.” I cringed at the earnestness of this kind of “caring.” I can’t help but think of McWhorter’s last paragraph in his book review:
White Fragility is, in the end, a book about how to make certain educated white readers feel better about themselves. DiAngelo’s outlook rests upon a depiction of Black people as endlessly delicate poster children within this self-gratifying fantasy about how white America needs to think—or, better, stop thinking. Her answer to white fragility, in other words, entails an elaborate and pitilessly dehumanizing condescension toward Black people. The sad truth is that anyone falling under the sway of this blinkered, self-satisfied, punitive stunt of a primer has been taught, by a well-intentioned but tragically misguided pastor, how to be racist in a whole new way.
This list of critiques brings me to particularly egregious anti-intellectual work now encouraged in secondary and primary education. An example is a provocatively titled article, “White Teachers, Our Whiteness Is Getting in Our Way.” The author ironically wishes for better antiracist articles for educators to “move the conversation forward.” He lists some tropes seen in this particular brand of educational journalism, and then he seems to seek deeper admissions from white teacher leaders (the Teacher of the Year program, to be exact) when they have been racist. Following the postmodernist philosophy, he uses narratives to emphasize “systemic racism” in the educational system. Some teacher leaders didn’t open up as deeply as he wanted. He desires a rather specific kind of “vulnerability.” I agree that we should model introspection in the classroom; however, his confessional moments aren’t the only stories or perspectives worth exploring.
I believe that I was anti-intellectual when I thought that a parent searching for multiple perspectives was racist. I was anti-intellectual when I believed that equity is a worthy goal, despite historical tragedies clearly displaying that it is not. I was anti-intellectual when I did not read Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s “Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force,” before showing what, yes, is a biased documentary. Instead of a teacher, I was an activist. If a parent claimed that I was indoctrinating students at that moment, today, I would concede to this accusation.
We have to separate intellectualism from activism. The Teacher of the Year program has a specific political agenda, and we absolutely can question this agenda. If we are in the business of education, then let’s make critical thinking a priority. Let’s put all ideas on the table instead of representing companies, tribes, and the Department of Education. We have to hold true to Enlightenment ideals: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, etc. We have to respect the individual. As teachers, let’s not be so narrow-minded to think we are just the protectors of children; we must also be the protectors of people who seek truth, even if it isn’t politically correct.
Challenging a narrative is not racist. Let’s be more thoughtful with our language. Let’s be good Enlightenment thinkers and teach our students to question everything with an open mind.
Hi Mrs McDermott, I hope you don’t mind me showing the guidance counselors your interesting article! I wonder what their take on this piece will be?
Wow, you will make a great stormtrooper for the communist party. Maybe you can turn your family in for not quoting the party lines. Way to open your mind and consider an opposing viewpoint. Frightening example of the next generation.
I don’t understand what happened, I used to really like you as a teacher. This entire article, however, is entirely anti-intellectual. Politics is in every aspect of teaching and education, and I know you know this because we’ve touched upon it in the multiple classes I’ve had with you. What you choose to include in the curriculum down to how you articulate topics in class, all of it is political. You wrote an piece calling into question an entire movement, but your main source is a book written by a liberal white woman. Read any other book by a Black activist who fights against racism. There won’t be those calls for white fragility from white suburbia that you criticize in this article. Furthermore, may I remind you what you are “skeptical of” is literally being against racism. You literally said “I was anti-intellectual when I believed that equity is a worthy goal, despite historical tragedies clearly displaying that it is not.” So you literally just don’t want equity.
Overall, I’m disappointed but shame on me for being surprised. You are a white woman, and therefore you will never experience the trauma and systemic oppression that Black people face due to racism. What you seem to not understand is Black Lives Matter is fighting for my dad and my brother, who could be the target of police and end up in an edit on social media with clouds around their faces. And this isn’t an irrational fear Mrs. McDermott; it happens every day. I’m just- I’m appalled.
Finally, let me say this: as someone who is part of the supposed “activist social media webpages” you’ve been silently stalking, I can tell you for a fact our school is incredibly racist. You just don’t see it because you are white. But everyday I notice how we don’t have any Black or Hispanic teachers. My Spanish classes are taught by white women who took a semester abroad. I was told in a health class that “Higher pregnancy rates occur in more diverse schools.” White kids say the n-word all the time. And no teachers are willing to take a legitimate stand against racism in fear of being too political. Are you kidding? And for you to write this article talking about a movement so condescendingly? At least the students can organize themselves around opinions backed by actual research.
Please come up with a better take than this. Anything, I beg of you.
I completely agree; although I am glad, Mrs. McDermott, that you have used sources to back up your arguments, I am disheartened, disappointed, and frankly extremely offended by the condescension towards the diversity committee, towards students who are recognizing and working towards solving problems in society, and towards an actual problem that you, of all people, should understand. The shocking claims of how it’s racist to say that “people of color are these fragile” people who can’t “do science” is crazy because you’re twisting the actual logic— this is not racist because we are saying they are disenfranchised and have less opportunity BECAUSE of racism, not that they are inherently not able to do these things. It’s also a red flag that most of the facebook comments supporting you are from Trump supporters… if you think he’s an incompetent president, maybe you should reconsider that his supporters agree with you.
damn LOL ur so woke u circled back around to being racist. the who ideology of taking a look at the side of the opressor before the opressed is how people are indoctrinated into white supremacist movements and the like. I’m so disappointed. I feel sick to know I looked up to you. You are a stranger to me now.
The argument that “if you’re not fighting racism you are racist” has some merit. Even if you are not actively fighting racism and acknowledging your inherent privilege as a white person, you are still benefiting from the systems that continually oppress black people. While you may not be openly stating racist ideologies, your life has never been made harder because of your race. The actions of white people have consistently made life harder for people of color, and dismissing the label of ‘systemic racism’, especially when it is so apparently due to white people, screams of privilege.
Diverting from the white-washed narrative to present a perspective from people of color is not ‘indoctrinating’ activist ideals, it is exposing a system that benefits white people. This realization is bound to make people uneasy, and the angry parent proves this point. The ‘other side’ they talk of is the history and literature we are taught all the way from 1st grade. Providing this perspective for a single unit does not require the equivalent ‘white perspective’.
Separating intellectualism from activism should not mean erasing this perspective from people of color. Guiding students to be able to detect bias as part of responsible consumption should be apart of curriculum regardless.
This leaves me admittedly conflicted. My peers are voicing their disagreement, and true, I also believe that there are some places in which the statements you made were so incorrect that I was genuinely shocked (such as the insinuation that racially-motivated police violence does not occur, or the jab at the #MeToo movement despite the majority of rape/sexual assault accusations being legitimate).
WITH THAT BEING SAID, the core of this article is correct. More so, I am under the impression that my peers who are voicing their discontent with this piece fail to recognize its overall message: There are not two sides to racism, and to suggest such a thing is in fact severely hindering our abilities as a society to have conversations on the subject. You discuss being “anti-intellectual” by your previous decision to show a biased documentary in class; you mention a student blog that suggests that POC are inherently unable to attend school on time; you tell your fellow teachers to be aware of the detriments of seeking “political correctness.” Quite frankly, all of these are excellent points — to ask to everyone reading this article, how can you claim that it is not racist to put POC in boxes made up of generalizations? Is it not a shining example of the white savior mentality?
This article brings to light the gray area behind the debates on racism in America, and it is revolutionary in doing so.
Highlighting the systemic oppression, such as generational poverty and redlining, that causes students in Black communities to have less educational opportunities is not “putting POC in boxes made up of generalizations.” It has been studied and proven to be true. We can see this effect in our own community: there are not many Black kids in our school because it is expensive to live here, and generational gaps in wealth create segregated communities that are overwhelmingly white like Bedford. White saviorism is defined as “a white person who provides help to non-white people in a self-serving manner.” By this definition, the students at BHS highlighting the legacy of white supremacy in this country does the exact opposite. Being anti-racist means completely betraying the systems that give white people power over Black people; I don’t know how you think those who actually support that movement are in any way self-serving. Furthermore, in this situation, the students sharing this article are doing anything but being self-serving. They have put this on their personal accounts, risking dissent from both faculty and students.
Finally, I’d like to say that a revolutionary text would not have this many grammatical errors dude. Put it in Grammarly: I have the free version, and it already sees 18 errors.
If you even read this, consider reading this research I’ve cited:
She also has a sweating problem and told me I was incompetent because I had attended international AMERICAN school
in China for 3 years when I was younger. She told me “I had no understanding of grammar”.
Your article leaves me admittedly disappointed in you. As a current student of yours, it leaves me frustrated to watch a teacher of mine openly denying the systematic racism ongoing in the United States. You mentioned the white counterparts to the black victims of police brutality, but you failed to mention that statistics show that black people are disproportionately targeted by police officers and are oftentimes victims of the rampant racism in our police department. I also find it shameful that you used to support Black Lives Matter and other movements combatting antiracism but when George Floyd died and more instances of systematic racism amongst our police department emerged, you became a skeptic.
In this article, you clearly emphasized your view that systematic racism was not present whatsoever in America or our police departments. You also compared the oppression experienced by BIPOC to white people, who have not been oppressed in America whatsoever and most likely never will be oppressed. It is harmful and dangerous to compare centuries of systematic oppression and enslavement to supremacy and dominance. I find it disappointing that you would do so.
In our school too, systematic racism is omnipresent. Have you not heard of the racist jokes that persist amongst our student body? The multitude of students that say the n-word without any hesitation? It is harmful for you to assume that racism is not an issue in our police department, for it is not only there but it is also in our school itself.
your privilege is evident. i should not be surprised. you never have to worry about your husband’s, son’s or brother’s life every time they’re out, you don’t have to be stopped at airports because of your name, you aren’t immediately given a label due to your appearance. the color of your skin has never been the reason for you to be in any dire circumstance where your life was also in danger. understandable. but not justifiable. your argument does have some validity, but the overarching message is not a belief that should be promoted. i’m worried that this blog post encouraged some kids to follow in your footsteps. you must admit it: bedford hs is racist. no denying it. and this post certainly did not alleviate that sentiment.
that being said, i am not sure i can look at you the same way. i just hope this isn’t a fuel for any increased amount of discrimination in our school.
It is quite disheartening to see what may have possibly been the most exemplary English teacher in all of school reject and deny systematic racism amongst not only our community, but also in the United States and our police department. Quite frankly, Mrs. McDermott, I am disappointed and concerned in your lack of empathy for those affected by police brutality and systematic racism. While it is clear that you do acknowledge those who are victims of systematic racism against Black people, you still attempt to combat honoring these victims by bringing up few and far-flung cases of White people being hurt and affected by the police.
However, these words are to be expected from you, a White person, who has never once feared for their life when being stopped by police, who has never once been confronted with the same racist comments a Black person may have, who has never once been eerily looked at by someone believing you are a criminal for the sole purpose of your skin color. While race may be a social construct, it was created by the White man and unfortunately it continues to persist in our society and decide many things. Despite what you may say, racism is an rampant issue in America and race is something that people will judge you buy.
Let us move on from the enigmas of systematic racism in the country and in our police department and focus on BHS. Your condescending behavior to the diversity committee, whose main goal was to highlight racism within our community so that people can further get educated, is simply horrible. As a White teacher oblivious to the lack of diversity in our school, to the slurs kids throw around as if they mean nothing, you are able to write this article without any hesitation or pondering upon whether there truly is racism in our community. Take a minute to think: have you ever seen one Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, or Indigenous teacher? The clear answer is no; there has never been one POC teacher at this school, and there most likely will never be.
I also find it quite ironic that while you denounced Donald Trump in this article, the comments on this post are mainly incoming from supporters of Trump. It simply shows that even though you may not support Trump, your views are shared by many that do.
I am concerned that you would write this article denouncing systematic racism and I urge you to rethink your views.
Your passion in believing you are right is impressive. Your blind spot in recognizing logical fallacies and circular arguments is stunning and scary. Amplify your critical thinking skills to parse out a good and worthy cause (e.g. “get rid of racism”) from the methodology in doing so: critical race theory/Kendi/ white fragility. Example: Notice how you make an argument with labeling and/or name calling — “You are a white person”, etc. You do NOT fight racism with MORE racism.
You must realize that propaganda is universal, we have no actual differences that can stop us from being affected in the same way as a citizen in North Korea, Iran, China, or another country we label as backwards. You made the mistake of assuming that we are somehow different. If you look back at our own country’s recent history, you will identify obvious propaganda. Imagine if you started to give logical reasons why the popular viewpoint on some issue is wrong in one of those countries or even in the US some years ago – what do you expect to happen? People will just see your point and realize that they’re being lied to by the institutions everyone around them trusts? Or will they take the immediate action to silence, ostracize, and even destroy you? Knowing the obvious answer and seeing it happen to you right now, it must be staring you in the face that you made the wrong move by saying the truth with your name tied to it. What exactly do you think many of your student have done? I guarantee that many of them decided to write simply whatever it took to shuck such attention away from themselves. You will never manage to convince someone of anything without trust. Nobody believes logic that contradicts people or institutions that they trust, they always assume that you are missing something or are purposefully misleading. Your only hope is that a critical mass of people in this country cease to trust the institutions you already know are wrong. The only way that will happen is if you can show that said institutions have conflicts of interest. Good luck, considering that the only person with power standing in opposition to these organizations with monopolies on credibility and propagation of information is currently a victim of a blatantly obvious coup. Of course, you hint that you for some reason despise him (I guess you came to that conclusion by trusting the same institutions you know have incentives against him and also already see that they lie about at least one major issue), it sees that your only hope for a career and maybe even life is that you change your attitude.
This is disgusting. There are obvious statistics that show the targeting of black people and other POC by cops across the country. The fact that you had the audacity to take two examples of white people being killed by cops and comparing them to Breonna and George is disgraceful. You chose to ignore the hundreds of studies done to show that blacks and hispanics are 50% more likely to encounter physical force from police than white people. And the argument in defending the lack of diversity in schools is pathetic. Maybe you should ask yourself why there is such a lack of diversity in schools. Maybe because POC are not given the same opportunities as white people and therefore do not receive equal representation? This article is not an example of intellectualism, you are not addressing all of the facts, many which would disprove your arguments. You say that there should be more open-mindedness and the willingness to see both sides, but the truth is that whites do not have a say in what is or is not racist because they have not suffered from systematic racism. Ever. Maybe you should be citing more sources that are written by actual black people who have suffered from racism and discrimination. It is embarrassing to admit that I had you as a teacher. But considering you teach at Bedford it is not surprising that you, a white woman, would think its okay to be writing something like this.
It is not surprising that you, a student, do not have critical thinking skills and demonstrate an inability to grasp her point about the value of pursuing enlightenment ideals over postmodernist critical race theory logical fallacies.
Now that’s a provocative statement and let’s take a moment- did my dismissing of your point of view as ‘a student’ as an opinion of someone somewhat lesser educated or experienced irritate you or make you feel like ‘an other’? Does it make you feel like I’m trying to say your opinion is worth less and shouldn’t be heard? How did it feel for disenfranchised black people to experience less weight given to their words in courts of law, schools, and all aspects of their existence during Jim Crow? It must have been dehumanizing and incredibly frustrating. They must have felt like they didn’t have a say in their own lives. Can you empathize with them? Now let’s take your comments above re: the article and the author about “whites don’t have a say…” or “you, a white woman…” and ask ourselves if you are trying to teach her a lesson with the same race-based ignorant statements and arguments – e,g. RACISM- that have been used in the past to such terrible ends. If you can’t make an argument without labeling and racism, then your argument needs work. Otherwise how do you expect people to take you seriously?
As a current student of yours, I found it so incredibly disheartening to see this. As a POC, I feel like I can no longer respect you. You are not allowed to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement; you are not black. This isn’t your “opinion”, this is non-factual assumptions that are simply not true. If you wish to actually see if more black people are killed than white, it is a google search away. The jab at the #MeToo movement is so so so scary, as I felt already at home in your class. You are responsible for teaching the future, please stop putting these racist ideas into your readers. I am so disappointed in you.
She is not being racist! In fact, you are being more racist than her!! You literally just told her she can’t say her opinion because she’s not black.
All she’s doing is trying to point out the flaws in our mob mentality and make us question our sources.
She actually is being racist because as a white person, she does not have the right to speak on POC oppression. I agree that she is trying to get us to confront our “mob mentality”, but by doing so she has offended multiple demographics of people. Also, telling her “she can’t say her opinion because she’s not black” isn’t racism, it’s just common sense. Of course she can’t speak on behalf of people of color, because she IS NOT a person of color. That would be like saying a penguin should represent crocodiles. Of course they shouldn’t because this penguin is NOT a crocodile, and therefore does not personally face the struggles that the crocodile faces. This in no way was meant to offend you, and I hope you will understand my point of view. <3
Dear Mrs. McDermott,
I just wanted to start by saying the main idea of your article, to understand all viewpoints I do agree with. It is important to see and understand that there are many different sides to a story. What I don’t agree with is just about everything else. You mentioned that this work was for teachers which is why you use academic type language. Unlike that, I will be mainly using clearcut language that anyone who has an able mind and a decent reading level will understand. I refuse to hide behind the language you use. The way I see it, the more “intellectual words” one uses the more the message you are trying to convey gets clouded and fades into obscurity.
In your article, there is much to discuss and try and figure out. The one part I want to talk about is the denial that systemic racism does occur throughout our country. The way I see it, there seems to be little to no understanding that our country, historically, was rooted in racism. We see racial divides and disparities throughout our country. Whether that be social class, incarceration, or even going for job interviews. There is no argument that we are seeing systemic racism throughout the country and the world. You say that you get racism does occur, so then I guess what I don’t understand is why you are so hesitant to say that our system is built upon it? You were there in American Dream Honors on the days we learned history. You saw the same information we saw. I get that statement carries a lot, but then again as part of the POC, I see it a bit more. I think the main issue many people are having with you right now is that you don’t seem willing to take into account the side that the BLM Movement has. You say that you do and that you are entitled to your own opinion. And you’re right. Everyone does have a right to their own opinion. It’s what you’re doing with your opinion that makes us worried. You seem to not want to teach the BLM side or diminish the voice that is growing louder from the movement and instead resort back to a place of comfort which is the “other side.” The other side is the white side. Not the BLM, not the BiPOC. The side that we have been taught since we were young. The way that I see it and many others see it, is that 11 or 12 years of learning the same thing is getting a little ridiculous. We want to learn the side of the minorities and understand what they have and are going through and fix it. You talked to me about getting rid of institutions like the police. And yes to some extent, the police force needs to be diminished and those funds would hopefully go towards more issues like how to treat mental health and giving people more access to places so we won’t have to rely on the police. That is the goal. And yes some institutions we should get rid of- so we can build them back up and make them even better. Everything about this country needs improvement to some extent and our goal is to make everyone treated equally. Not based on race. But based on merit.
You also talked to me about how you think it was a mistake to show the documentary 13th to my class. How it was “indoctrinating” into certain ideals. I think you’re wrong. Plain and simple. For me, that documentary has helped shape me into who I am today. That documentary had so much impact on who I am as a person which is why I’m writing this in the first place. Without you showing me that documentary who knows where I would be today as a person. One thing we always refer to is the Bedford Bubble. This protective force that shields us from the “real world.” Which is why it was so important to show that documentary. It opened my eyes to the world and I guarantee that it opened up others as well and helped change people’s perspectives. You talked about wanting to teach all ideas and all perspectives. Well by not showing this documentary aren’t you going against that statement? You want to teach all perspectives well. I hate to break it to you but this is a perspective and by not showing it you are silencing it. I don’t know that intent but that’s the take I am seeing. I am disappointed by that. I am sorry that you think it is a mistake to show it. I don’t think it was a mistake, I think you had the opportunity to be the teacher that was able to change so many students’ lives and help them live a better life. And now you’re going back on that? As an educator, I believe that making a difference in a student’s life is just as rewarding as being able to teach all sides. There was a time where a majority of students loved and respected you and unfortunately, I think that has changed.
Another thing you talked to me about was the Asian Experience. You seemed to be telling me, a matter of factly, what the Asian experience was. When you said all those things my heart kind of broke. As an Asian adoptee, I have been placed in a pretty strange situation where I am a person of color but I grew up in a white community. And then it‘s also trying to figure out my stance in regards to racism around the country and where I stand within the BLM movement. You seem to know a lot about the Asian experience and I just want you to enlighten me. I don’t fully understand my experience and that is okay with me. It is a path that will never be completed and right now I’m still navigating through. I know that what we learned in American Dream helped me continue navigating on the path so I don’t get lost. I wish you seemed a little bit more interested in my own experience because it has caused so much confusion for me and I could have used some guidance. It appears that because you talk to some students of different cultures it seems like you know all and just seem “woke.” I just see so many issues with that. By only talking to a few students from a culture that is different from your own does not give you the right to make so many assumptions. What I believe you can get from speaking to others is a sort of baseline understanding. It doesn’t mean that you can get into the intricacies and complexity of what one may be feeling.
I have read your critiques and I would like to critique them on my own as well. I do not know how accurate I will be from your interpretation, but I am writing based on how I interpreted them and I will critique them the way I see fit. The parts in quotation will be what was originally written, and I will write what I think below the claims.
“Kendi and DiAngelo consistently employ an either/or logical fallacy.”
As a student, I am hopeful that these classrooms will become a safe space to have these discussions. I do believe that currently, it is hard to have these conversations because these types of discussions are new and this is a time of adaptation. The line “However, if someone wants to discuss antiracist ideology without fully supporting it, that person is considered not only uneducated but racist.” There are many many circumstances where that is simply not true. The discussion of an antiracist ideology is merely a discussion. And there are points of being uneducated, for example, how many people benefit from a system that was built on racism. And that is the purpose of this is to get people educated and to make them aware. I do see how this either/or mindset works but a good amount of the time a discussion leads to calcification and the growth of an ideology.
“Well-intentioned educators lack an understanding of this ideology’s origins”
You are right. Educators can lack an understanding of the origins. What we can see even just looking at the broad scope of history is we can see it back when Europeans were taking slaves from Africa. It started back when we thought it was okay to put a price tag on a person’s life. And yes you can argue against me. Go for it. I would love to hear it. From what I am hearing, you believe in truth without bias. You believe the evidence presented to you. Did you think that they might skew the numbers to fit a narrative? There was one statistic that you gave me. That 76% of Black families are broken (meaning someone in a normal family is missing like the father). You said that not all people fit that narrative which is true, not everyone does and that’s okay. But it’s what you said with that. You said that immigrant Nigerians don’t fit this narrative. From what you told me, we were looking at families already in the US. We weren’t looking at immigration and their families. Also, that statistic says 76% of black families that were reported to this study were a part of a broken family. So even if we included the Nigerians in the study, there still is a 24% that the families are “ not broken.” The statistic never said 100% of black families are broken so there is an issue there with your interpretation.
“Antiracism considers critical thinking, logic, and science to be “white””
We do not consider all critical thinking, logic, and science to be white. What we consider white is the thinking that does not take into account the minority side. You say we disregard Enlightenment Ideas and that simply is incorrect. I do think we all should have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc, the issue is not everyone is receiving those rights equally. What we want is for everyone to be able to exercise their rights to the extent that I and you do. And sure you may try and argue that the statement is hypocritical since you say we are trying to silence you. What we want is to try and get you to see our side, but from our experience, you are very headstrong in not listening to us. You act as if you’re the only one who is heavily opinionated. For me, my opinions lean away from you. That’s not to say I won’t listen before I conclude because I did. You say that you listened to the other side and I do admit you’ve done some research into this but it appears that you have stopped listening to the other side.
“Students are learning some regressive, racist ideas.”
Not only did earlier you try to argue about an either/or mindset but now you’re accusing us, the students, of this. I don’t know if you see the hypocrisy in your initial critique. How can you call students regressive when at least we can admit that racism happens everywhere in every aspect of life? You accuse us of racist ideas when we are the ones voicing for change meanwhile you are here denying the very existence of systemic racism when I know for a fact we have discussed at length and you did support my ideas. Also, what is wrong with being the change? We want to change. We’ve been taught that if you see any inaccuracy within the world that we should voice our opinions and demand a change. So is this you going back on that statement? There are so many unanswered questions about this one critique.
I don’t know if you’ll ever read this or if I’ll even send it to you. But all of this stuff I was too afraid to bring up in conversation with you because I was afraid. I should not have to feel afraid when trying to have a civilized conversation. You have always been an easy teacher to talk to and within my discussion, with you, I honestly did not know how it would go. I do know to the people that read this, hi thank you for getting this far, my analysis and my critique have come from my conversation with Mrs. McDermott and my analysis of her article, I’ve also incorporated some of the analysis from the conversations I’ve had with fellow peers. I do also know that the reason I am writing this is that I wanted to keep our discussion as neutral as possible in the sense that I knew that if I started attacking the conversation would escalate and I would not receive what your intent was. I am writing this as a way to cope with the fact that I am having trouble understanding it all. Back in Sophmore year, you were interested in what my experience was, racism, and how to support, what happened to that? I do know that you intended to bring into light that teaching these kinds of topics is hard and will continue to be hard and that it needs to be handled delicately. The way that I see it, and as many others see it, and as I said earlier is that you want to shine the spotlight away from the whole antiracism ideology.
And finally one more thing: the use of the n-word. I do think it is important to understand it and how much harm it can do. But the way I see it, we can still discuss the word and its context without verbalizing it. I told you when we were talking that verbalizing words have a lot of power just like writing. Verbalizing confirms an idea. Many of us know today the impact the n-word can have on other people and it also gives us a lot of discomforts. I know that you said education is offensive and that discomfort is a part of that. And that is how you get those discussions as to why they make you uncomfortable. But again, you don’t know what other people have gone through, it’s one thing reading and understanding it, but verbalizing makes it more real.
Alright. I think that covers everything I wanted to discuss at the moment. I do hope that if I share this with you, you take this into account when formulating your narrative. I hope that you come and listen to what we have to say and just think about it. I know how hard it is to change a person’s mind after they have it set into stone but I just ask for you, and anyone who is reading, to just stop and think about how it can impact your views or if it even changed them at all. And if they didn’t why? I believe that if you want to have a great conversation with someone, you will walk away adjusting something about your belief. I’m not saying a complete change of belief but even a slight tweak, that is how you know it was a good talk. So that is what I am asking of you today. And tomorrow. And every day throughout your life. Have those discussions. And try and find areas of your beliefs that you can maybe readjust.
These thoughtful responses from our Bedford student population…gives me hope for change. Let’s keep talking, remain respectful, and recognize that all of us carry unintended biases that can affect the way we see ourselves and each other.
I just wanted to express how utterly disappointed I am after reading this article. Upon first seeing it, I thought: “Cool! One of my favorite teachers wrote an article!” But after reading through, I am shocked. I am a student of yours, and I have always greatly enjoyed being taught by you. However, I will never walk into your class with the same joy again, never think of you with the same admiration as I once did. It’s so disappointing to see someone you look up to completely discredit both the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, deny systemic racism, and claim that teaching the stories of POC is essentially white erasure. As a person of color growing up in a mainly white community, I can say that learning about racial minorities’ contributions to history is so incredibly important. When you grow up in a world where you have little to no representation in the media, pop culture, politics, etc, it is always extremely empowering to learn that there are other minorities who have made important contributions to the world you’re now living in. And forget about my feelings–it’s important for white kids to know that people of color are important in the course of history as well, that we’ve earned our seat at the table. Failure to teach white students about the contributions of ALL races ensures that they grow up to hopefully value and be more accepting of those with different backgrounds and cultures. This is especially important in Bedford, where as a POC I have experienced racism on all scales. It happens here, whether you see it or not. Just last year, someone in one of my classes was making rude comments to me about my race, and as I held back tears, the last thing I wanted to do was explain what happened to one of the white adults in the building who would never understand what that was like. It’s not their fault either, it’s not any white person’s fault–it’s just a fact that white people will never have that experience. However, it is a white person’s fault to refuse to learn or teach about the experiences of people of color. Or to claim that doing so is overshadowing the other side of the story, when that “other side” is one that has been pounded into our brains since first grade, the “other side” that leaves children of color questioning: Where am I in that narrative? How do I belong here?
If you’ve read all of this, thank you. I know that it can be hard to hear out the person who is denouncing your article, but I know you- or at least I feel like I did. And the teacher I thought I knew would’ve read through this and tried to at least understand a bit of how I feel and why this particular article strikes me negatively. I hope that you understand and my comment has given you a new perspective on this topic.
-A BHS Student
Just to clarify, I meant to say that “Failure to teach white students about the contributions of all races makes it less likely that they’ll grow up to value and be more accepting of those with different backgrounds and cultures.”
Thank you for writing this article. I agree whole heartedly with what you’ve discussed about activism in teaching and as you described, the current Antiracism Ideology. Of course I agree with the large majority of people who see real racism as evil, because racism judges people based on factors out of their own control and factors that do not add to one’s own societal impact. However, I have noticed in the past few years that modern activists often accuse any perspective outside of their own bubble of being racist. BLM and some racial activists have created a ‘boy who cried wolf’ scenario. Also, falsely calling someone a racist is a significant smear that can have grave consequences to someone’s personal and professional lives. We are essentially reliving McCarthyism, but instead of instilling fear of a foreign enemy, our own country is the enemy. It is really divisive, suggesting that one main political party is dubbed as racist while the other claims it is open minded, when you could argue the opposite is true. Politics aside, it is important to call out real racism when you see it, but nowadays people use the term too loosely and use it to label anything suggesting a different analytical perspective. Just look at the other comments on this article. You are taking heat for sharing an open-minded perspective on an important issue. Not to mention you are sharing the change that you have experienced and admit having been a part of this ideology that you are critiquing. I remember sitting in your American Dream class my sophomore year, watching that documentary about systemic racism. I remember having a few key issues with that video, and to some extent, I’ll admit that I judged you for that. I was pleasantly surprised to see you write this article, and I hope you don’t let the negative responses from other students change your new perspective. Please know that some of us respect that you are willing to call out an educational system that sonetimes teaches politics more often than it should.
Dear Mrs. McDermott,
I would like to commend you on your courage to write on an alternative view point. Additionally, I think your students have done an excellent job articulating their feelings. Because I have the experience of age (haha), I thought I might share some thoughts with your students:
1. For those of you who think/thought Mrs. McDermott is/was an excellent teacher, why would her essay on a differing view point change your opinion of her teaching ability.
2. As you get older, you will begin to form your own opinions based upon your own life experiences, not on the indoctrination of social media.
3. What you are passionate about now will change as your view of the world changes.
4. Although I grew up in New Hampshire, I was from a lower middle class family where women were not expected to go to college. There was no diversity in my public school system. I worked my way through college and graduate school. During my internship, I was paired with a male African American intern. I didn’t care about his race, but every chance he had, he would bring it up – making it his crutch and excuse. One day, he said that our intern supervisor didn’t like him because he was black and that she was discriminating against him. I turned around, looked him in the eye and told him that perhaps she didn’t like him was because all he did was complain and that he was really slacking at the job. Each and every one of us, regardless of our race or gender can chose to improve our outlook, decision making, and performance without making excuses.
5. Our country has become non-forgiving. No one is able to say something that is perceived as “wrong”, to say something offensive, to criticize, to say something nice about how someone looks, and the list goes on. This political correctness is creating a society of intolerance.
6. Please, oh please, do not let this article become a catalyst to crucify Mrs. McDermott, as we have seen in so many other instances here in Bedford. Instead, take a step back and engage in positive conversations. There are two sides to every topic, and the truth lies in the middle.
Although you are right that positive conversation is healthy and productive as a society, Mrs. McDermott spoke out of turn. She denied the existence of systemic racism, simplified a message students were trying to send to the dumbest terms to degrade it, and went as far to critique a book, “White Fragility” while simultaneously proving its point. She says the author considers education and logical thinking “white,” and how this degrades the race; however this proves the disparity between educational opportunities for rich and poor communities. Yes, poorer communities are more POC, but that is due to the fact that they were forced to be there by systems put in place by white people. She therefore proves the point of systemic racism, contrasting her earlier argument. In addition, Mrs. McDermott spoke about topics that only come from experience, from people of color. Critiquing a movement such as the anti-racism one should not come from someone who has not experienced racism at all during their life, because they do not have the personal lens with which to filter it.
In reference to your internship, you have no idea of your partners experience, and as a woman you should know that prejudice is not deduced by those not experiencing it. Men have no idea that sometimes I have to speed walk in public because I think someone is following me, because they have never experienced it. Look at it through that lens and accept that you cannot dismiss someone else’s complaints without accepting that you have an inherent privilege over them.
My opinion of her changed because literature is such a subjective topic, and teachers can choose to shape students opinions based on their perception of a book and its subject matter. She says ” our words carry an authoritative weight”, therefore pushing an idea, which is so clearly biased, can foster a new generation of intolerance. She also said the n-word. Not okay.
Hi. Thank you for your response. I would like to reiterate that in my internship, this person was a not performing well, and it had nothing to do with his race. I had no need to know what my partner’s experience due to the color of his skin was as he didn’t have a need to know my experiences as a woman were. Neither was relevant to the fact that he was a slacker. Instead of looking at his performance in comparison to the performance of the other interns, he chose to use his race as the issue/excuse. He should have asked himself “what can I do differently or better?” I believe that all people should be judged on their actions and performance and for him to bring in any other factors that were not related to that showed a lack of insight on his part. I will not and nor should I apologize for doing my job well, and I feel like that is what I am expected to do because of these new social pressures. We are all responsible to reflect daily on how we can be better humans. We can change our own behaviors, words, and actions. Finally, women are not alone in feeling uncomfortable in certain situations. As above, it is your responsibility to reflect on why you put yourself in a situation where you felt you were being followed. Only in that reflection can you avoid putting yourself in that situation again and avoid the feeling. It is not the responsibility of the innocent person meandering behind you.
Dear Mrs. Mcdermott,
I’m sorry that so many people have attacked you about this article. You make some valid points, despite some things that perhaps could have been approached a little better.
To be honest, I’m glad to see an article that actually acknowledges the flaws in modern “equalizing” movements. This is something that I have been unable to verbalize very well, particularly aloud, because as you said, people have polarized the “anti-racism” movement to the point that anyone who questions any of those extreme claims is automatically labeled as “racist.” Think of the feminist movement– I’m all for women being considered of the same value as men; I would like to be paid what is fair, rather than less than my male counterpart. But where does it end? People are asking for reparations, people want revenge as if it’s some kind of twisted justice. Women’s colleges are allowed, while Men’s colleges have vanished. Women are allowed to insult men, but when a man insults women, an outcry is raised. The same goes for race: when a white person hurts a black person, it’s called racism, but under the same circumstances, when a black person hurts a white person, racism isn’t even mentioned. Like you said, where is the evidence? And why can’t I question the popularly circulated stories without being called “racist”? The media do not tell the whole truth, that’s for sure, and anyone who believes politicians is blind.
It saddens me to see the state that America has fallen into, this state of being in which civil rights is merely about revenge and politics, rather than about the way human beings treat each other. It saddens me to see my classmates write these angry and semi-eloquent essays about their anti-racism, much of which is valid, while they’re missing the point the whole time! The point is not that racism doesn’t exist (it does), or that the anti-racism movement is bad (it’s not). The point is that people have twisted civil rights beyond what is logical or correct. I can only hope that people will think to question their sources, and actually think about their beliefs rather than just blindly agreeing with what their political party believes or what their friends believe.
A Saddened Senior
“But where does it end? People are asking for reparations, people want revenge as if it’s some kind of twisted justice.”
Surely you are not claiming that an acknowledgement of past harm – that is: slavery, rape, lynching and the dehumanization of an entire race – is out of desire for revenge and twisted justice? See, it comes across as if you are regurgitating some of the same right wing talking points that this teacher utilized in her (anti-)racist essay, and I would’ve expected better from the Class of 2021! If your ancestors were enslaved in this country longer than they have been free, maybe you would have an ounce of empathy and shame for the institutional racism that has afforded you the opportunity to grow up in a town that is 94% white, while your peers of color have to constantly bear the burden of living in a society that promotes white supremacy and promotes views such as yours and this teacher’s.
[…] recently read an article written by Ms. Laura McDermott, discussing the role of the “antiracism ideology” in education and academia. As an alumnus of […]
didn’t write this, but i think you should read it. not everybody needs a voice, especially ones so clearly cribbed from the usual suspects, and trust me, you’re not saying anything incisive, special, or noteworthy.
[…] Teachers Can and Should Critique the Antiracism Ideology, Laura McDermott, Project Forever Free, October 23, 2020 […]
[…] Teachers Can and Should Critique the Antiracism Ideology, Laura McDermott, Project Forever Free, October 23, 2020 […]