On COVID & IntegrationBy Anna | April 21, 2020
This week, both Nikole Hannah-Jones (interviewed by Dometi Pongo for MTV News) and Ibram X Kendi (in his essay for The Atlantic) expressed how, one more time, communities of color are suffering disproportionally from this pandemic in the most acute and violent ways. In addition to the health crisis, COVID 19 leaves no stone unturned, including employment, housing, and of course,s education. Professor Jack Schneider (you may remember him from the IS podcast) detailed the specific inequities in education many parents and students across the country are all too familiar with.
So, how do we respond?
As a white, privileged parent who is deeply invested in the practice of anti-racist school integration, I frequently consider my intentions, my actions, and my impact. I am also now a full time “instructor” (as a dear friend so sweetly reminded me, not a qualified teacher) to my two kids, ages 4 and 8. This is not the educational system I envisioned for my family; “quarantine” and “integration” are polar opposites. I was encouraged and moved by the conversation with Garrett Bucks after his beautiful essay, which helped me to set a compass with my children. But looking to the community outside of our nuclear family, I have felt less sure what I can do to contribute to the greater goal of educational justice right now.
The situation across the country and around the world is rapidly changing. As one of a few Integrated Schools Parent Board Members humbly tasked with leadership since our founder and friend’s passing, I constantly think about our role as an organization during this crisis. Where should we focus? What should we be advocating? How can we help, while isolated and “safer at home”?
I continue to miss Courtney. I miss our conversations, the questions we grappled with, both the broader abstract ideas and their practical application. “To grapple,” became one of our favorite verbs. I always left our conversations feeling inspired and connected. I wonder what critically thoughtful conversations we would be having right now if she were here. What I do know is that the mission and central theory of action of Integrated Schools, the idea of fostering behavior change within white and/or privileged families, to be part of the work of creating truly integrated schools, is as important as ever. The inequities in education, income, healthcare, and criminal justice that COVID19 continues to expose are the great shame of our society. Dismantling this structural system cannot be done alongside perpetual segregation and constant opportunity hoarding.
We are part of a project that is envisioning a different world and we are trying to live in a different way. We are neither surprised nor shocked by the inequities we are seeing, and even though we are physically separated from our integrating school communities, we see how important integrated spaces are. We need these spaces so that when solutions and answers to the problem of systemic racism and inequity come from the community, come from BIPOC, come from those forced to live on the margins of society, we can actually hear what they are saying. Those of us with power, access and privilege can’t lead the way to a just society because our vantage point is riddled with blind spots. Integrated spaces allow us to deeply understand the challenges being faced, and know the people facing them well enough to hear the solutions they propose and how they want us to show up. For those of us who are learning how to orbit in integrating spaces while trying to do it with an antiracist mindset, our communities and the relationships we build within them serve as our barometers. It is physically being in community where we learn the meaning of practicing anti-racism, mostly by listening and not taking up too much space. These places and relationships offer us needed guidance and direction for how we best, as author and activist Dani McClain so eloquently puts it, can “live for the we.”
In a phone call with a dear friend and IS Podcast host Andrew Lefkowits, he said, “you know, the world we want to build is much bigger than just integrated schools. There is a lot that needs to change which has nothing to do with education. We feel strongly that the path to the better place is through schools, through places where kids (and adults) can learn to care for one another, embrace one another’s uniqueness and humanity.” Through places centered in growing the “we.”
Andrew and Courtney interviewed Dr. David Kirkland for the podcast a while back and he said “When no one is on the margin, none of us has to be frightened that we will be marginal. And everyone benefits in that conversation. Everyone benefits in that dynamic.” The catastrophic impact felt by communities and schools where vulnerability is concentrated is evidence that the system must change. May this moment serve as a clarion call to address structural racism so we no longer have these shamefully violent and damaging social inequities. We want everyone in from the margins.
So, if you are living in any form of comfort right now, you can be a part of a demand for change. If you have disposable income, or received a stimulus check you do not need, look for places in your community working to get resources directly to those who need them. If you aren’t sure who or how, ask around. Look for places centering equity and practicing antiracism (a good hint is that they are led by BIPOC), and give your resources directly to them.
In the meantime, how you show up at school still matters, even now. How you talk to teachers and administrators, what you ask for, how you respond to distance learning, what you are advocating, may it be centered in equity. Not conceptual theoretical equity, but the equity of lived experiences and relationships, the kind that comes from listening. By not taking up too much space with our teachers, they can more equitably divide their time with the students who need them most. The same can be said for the relationships built in the school community. Where and with whom we connect, may it be centered in relationship building.
As for Integrated Schools, the organization, we’re continuing to build a network of white and/or privileged parents who seek educational justice in their children’s schools and in their communities. Our work has always been distributed in locales around the country and the internet has been our main organizing tool. Our goal now is to do what we’ve always done: Keep the conversations going, stay connected, compare notes, seek advice, build the movement. Because the segregation, inequities, and injustices of our educational systems aren’t pausing for this virus, and they won’t correct themselves when it’s over, either. We have work to do now, to leverage our privilege in service of the educational inequities rearing their ugly heads in this crisis, and we’ll have work to do when it’s over, too—perhaps more work than we thought possible.
You’re an important part of this movement. We encourage you to engage with us, ask your questions, invest in this work, and share it with others. Subscribe to the Podcast, join the Facebook community, find a local chapter, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, join our Patreon come to our book club in June (we’re reading Raising White Kids by Dr. Jennifer Harvey). Send us an email. We look forward to hearing from you, as Courtney always said, as we try to know better and do better.
Yours in service,
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Integrated Schools is growing a grassroots movement of, by and for parents who are intentionally, joyfully and humbly enrolling their children in integrating schools. Learn more >