In the last week, we have witnessed a huge surge globally in outrage, calls for justice, and cries for reform of the systemic racism that pervades our societies the world over. These demonstrations and shows of solidarity were ignited by the death of George Floyd, an American man who died a brutal death in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the United States. Mr. Floyd was black. We add his name to a long list of those killed in racially imbalanced power structures that lead inexorably to such tragedies. This is not just a case of yet another white man or police officer killing another black man. People around the world are increasingly acknowledging that this is a turning point, and an opportunity to confront the fact that racism is a norm we have allowed to fester for far too long.
As a school, ASH condemns all racism, hate, violence, and the stranglehold those in power have over the powerless or the disenfranchised. In particular, we condemn the senseless violence and death persistently visited on people of color. Black lives matter. We are shocked and saddened when we see events like the death of George Floyd play out before our eyes. But we need to do more.
As part of our process for creating a new mission statement for the school, the entire community furthered the cause of hearing and valuing every voice. A statement like this is often followed by a phrase such as “regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.” I personally would like to argue that this is an empty phrase. In fact, we should be saying “because of race, religion, sexual orientation” and so on. As an international community, it is precisely because we are diverse and different that we have the potential to be strong and complementary for one another. At its heart, this is a statement about diversity and the value of every single person including their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and so on, not disregarding these.
My wife and I have spoken in the past about how proud I was that my children were colorblind. Given the fact they have grown up in multiple countries (mostly in Asia) with classmates in international schools from myriad races and cultures, we thought they did not see (or care about) the color or backgrounds of the people they played and worked with every day. Over time, we came to see that not seeing or caring about these differences is the opposite of what we would want for them. They do see colors, races, sexual orientation, religion, and they value them all. That is far better than being blind to them. In fact, it is the only way we will ever eradicate racism. Rather than ignoring all the differences we have and highlighting the ways we are all the same, we should acknowledge that we have specific differences, and that these differences are what make us a unified, beautiful whole when we all come together to tackle a challenge. We need to learn to value all races as opposed to pretending race does not exist.
One way to move us all forward in the understanding of race and racism is first to acknowledge that in many parts of the world, people who are white are automatically in a position of privilege, rather than pretend this is not the case or simply say “It doesn't matter to me. I’m not racist. I have black friends.” Statements like this miss the point that racism is a systemic norm. As part of the system, we are not helpful unless we work consciously to disrupt that system. We need to be active advocates for diversity and seeing the strengths in all people and acknowledge that there are many differences between us all, and that is what makes us strong and beautiful. Especially with our children, we should not shy away from discussions about race and white privilege. We should help them understand how to be the change we have not yet been able to bring to the world. As one of our teachers said, we need to be part of a “positive pandemic” that will spread around the world and end racism.
What Can We Do?
Statements of support only go so far. It is important to take action if we want to be part of a solution to any problem we identify. We are launching several staff think tank groups this summer. These groups will serve as innovation centers for re-thinking schools and education in light of our previous conversations about being future-ready, but also tied to our response to COVID-19 and beyond. We will also launch a think tank on race, diversity, and privilege in our school and society through the lenses of our mission, vision, and core values. This Fall, the think tank will serve as a portal to a wider group including students and community members to address ways in which we can become part of an active solution in our immediate surroundings and the world at large. You will hear more about this development when school starts again in August. We will consider and enact policy, practice, curriculum, and community action to raise awareness of systemic racism and propel us all in becoming better human beings and building a better world. Change has to start locally in order to spread globally.
Photo credit: IG@clay.banks, Charlotte, NC, USA