Nothing can be changed until it is faced

Equity Corner by Adonai Mack

June 15, 2020
“A riot is the language of the unheard.” —Martin Luther King Jr. “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” ­— James Baldwin As I sat back and watched the burning of cities around the country from the uprising against police brutality and the killing of another unarmed black man, George Floyd, I struggled to decide how to explain the anger, disappointment and fear that exists for black Americans in 2020.  I have received several texts or calls asking how I was feeling, am I OK. All those who have reached out, I appreciate it. I have also struggled to articulate to people how I feel and what this all means to me. How do I explain to people that I’ve been angry since 1992? That I’m pissed every time I have to tell my son — a 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound, 14-year-old baby faced child — that he can’t wear the hood to his sweatshirt in public, or that he has to understand that every time he gets upset that he can’t understand a concept in class that his outburst will cast him as the troubled and dumb black boy with an IEP? Or that the color of his skin will make him a target both on and off a school campus? How do I explain that this is how most (not all) black people feel in America? I figured the best way I could illustrate my thoughts and my emotions is to provide a history lesson, share some stories and then, of course, give you something to work on (i.e., some reading linked at the end of this article).   In 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street, was one of the most prosperous African-American communities in the United States. But on May 31 of that year, the Tulsa Tribune reported that a black man, Dick Rowland, attempted to rape a white woman, Sarah Page. Whites in the area refused to wait for the investigative process to play out, sparking two days of unprecedented racial violence. Thirty-five city blocks went up in flames, 300 people died, and 800 were injured (JSTOR Daily). These words do not to justice but this video does. The Watts Riots, also known as the Watts Rebellion, was a large series of riots that broke out August 11, 1965, in the predominantly black neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles. It was a low-key traffic stop around 7 p.m. on a Wednesday evening that ignited what would become known as the Watts Riots. The Watts Riots lasted for six days, resulting in 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries and 4,000 arrests, involving 34,000 people and ending in the destruction of 1,000 buildings, totaling $40 million in damages (History Channel). Watch this video to really see the experience. The Los Angeles Riots of 1992 occurred when four Los Angeles policemen — three of them white — were acquitted of the savage beating of Rodney King, an African-American man. Caught on camera by a bystander, graphic video of the attack was broadcast into homes across the nation and worldwide. Fury over the acquittal — stoked by years of racial and economic inequality in the city — spilled over into the streets, resulting in five days of rioting in Los Angeles. It ignited a national conversation about racial and economic disparity and police use of force (NPR). This video is eerily familiar. History has taught us that the black community and the police have had a trying relationship at best and an abusive relationship at its worst. This is all too familiar for my own family. Whether it was my grandfather being told, “Boy, if you don’t get out of town by sundown, we’re having us a hanging” for whistling at a white woman to the police calling my parents to inquire if they knew where their car was (I was driving it).  The reaction to this has been to protest. Of course, peaceful protests are the goal, but how else are people supposed to respond to decades of inequalities in housing, the lack of economic opportunities, institutionalized racism, being chased down and shot while jogging, 911 calls for enforcing park rules, killed at the hand of police and consistent gaps in opportunities to learn? Martin Luther King looks like a hero in history, but let us not forget that he was a pariah and the most hated man in America in the 1960s. And he conducted peaceful protests! These uprisings become one of the few avenues to address aggrieved people when all other diplomacy fails.  What we see in society, we will surely see in our classrooms. Our students are going to come back to our classrooms after an isolated spring and an intense summer. All of our educators must be prepared to have that conversation. This goes beyond social emotional learning, mathematics, English, science. History is happening before their eyes. They will be looking to the adults for leadership.  My best friend, who is a teacher and happens to be white, one time told me that she doesn’t see color. My response was when you don’t see color, all you’re doing is disrespecting who I am and the culture I come from. My differences should be celebrated, not ignored or overlooked. I eat different foods, we celebrate holidays differently, our family gatherings are different. And that is OK. It is these lessons that we need to explore in our classrooms. Those police officers in Minneapolis were students once. I have to ask … if our schools were more inclusive, had that equity lens, celebrated different cultures, would they still be putting their knees on George Floyd’s neck? This leads me to what you can do. Educate yourself. We cannot continue to act as if a conversation about race is off the table. We must challenge ourselves to be uncomfortable and have that discussion. It’s already been too late. And you can start with KQED’s Mind Shift list of anti-racism reading materials and another list (both listed below). Listen to our state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, speak in this video. When people ask me how I am doing … yes I am angry, but I am no angrier now than I was when my 6th grade teacher failed to recommend me for algebra, when my 8th grade teacher tried to expel me from school for behavior similar to my white classmates, when I watch three white police officers be acquitted for beating Rodney King, or when I saw the video of police officers kneel on the neck of George Floyd. The only difference between 18-year-old me and wanting to fight is that 48-year-old me knows how to use my anger to educate those who don’t know and inspire those who do know.  Adonai Mack is ACSA’s Senior Director of Equity and Diversity. Resources: Anti-racism reading materials: Resources for study, discussion and action:

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