Perhaps nothing is positioned more paradoxically than schools. In a hierarchical society, schools play an instrumental role in reproducing the social order. Still, schools hold the promise of upsetting that social order, too. It is not uncommon to hear folks on either end of the political spectrum position education as the great equalizer.
Too often, though, this promise is an empty one used to provide hope, no matter how unlikely, to those on the bottom of the social hierarchy. The most skilled and vicious among us convince us they believe in this promise while actively propping up the hierarchy. This is how Minneapolis—a supposed liberal bastion—can be called a miracle while maintaining the largest gaps between white students and students of color in the country. It is paramount that our school board not only understand this positioning but also have the courage to disrupt it.
On Thursday, The Children’s Theatre hosted the final Animate the Race forum to highlight the school board race. All of the candidates were present with the notable exception of Ira Jourdain and Doug Mann. As has been the case in previous events the theme was racial justice and equity. And, as was the case in previous events, candidates made clear where they are at on these most fundamental issues.
The first question of the night illustrated just how wide the chasm is. Reynolds-Anthony Harris, the moderator of the event, asked the candidates to diagnose the problem in the district.
- Kim Ellison began by citing the tearing apart of families by ICE and the inhumanity of our immigration systems.
- Kimberly Caprini advocated for students inherent brilliance and for those who can’t answer a question in class “not because [they] don’t know the answer but [they] don’t know how to answer.”
- Her opponent in District 2, Kerry Jo Felder, talked about spending money to bus students to the suburbs instead of investing in them and their communities.
- Tracine Asberry precisely named the issue by stating “these so called gaps are solveable problems but when it comes time to solve them, we wimp out.” She added we should never have to hear “change takes time.”
- Josh Reimnitz also echoed Asberry saying that the problem comes in not having the courage to do what is needed and “backstepping.”
- Rather than center young people and bravely confront how whiteness shapes the state of education in this Reimnitz’s challenger Bob Walser decided to throw shade at Animate the Race by implying the Fellows are subservient to corporate interests and big money. Clearly not having read a single word of what any of the Fellows have written, nor understanding the goal of Animate the Race at all, Walser double-downed on his privilege by refusing to answer the next question from Mr. Harris, choosing instead to continue on his tirade. Nothing is a clearer manifestation of whiteness and the privilege that comes with it. A room full of people were waiting to hear how Mr. Walser would contribute to closing the worst gaps in the country, and instead this middle-class white man deflects and blames others. It was disgusting and I told him as much in the moment.
This is how Minneapolis—a supposed liberal bastion—can be called a miracle while maintaining the largest gaps between white students and students of color in the country. It is paramount that our school board not only understand this positioning but also have the courage to disrupt it.
The night continued with signs that perhaps Minneapolis can break free from the white liberal racism that grips it so tightly. When asked what the candidates would do to honor the indigenous and to begin decolonizing our education all the candidates acknowledged the importance of decolonizing. While details were sparse, Asberry again provided the key takeaway citing Red Pedagogy by Sandy Grande by asking: “Can democracy be built upon the bloody soils of genocide?” and demanding a “response in proportion to the genocide.”
The next couple of questions were focused on the importance of Ethnic Studies. All of the candidates were in support of making Ethnic Studies required credits as well as expanding them beyond high school into the middle schools and elementary schools. Again, Walser provided the only cringe-worthy response. Walser cited his experience as a musical anthropologist and prescribed “immersing yourself in the culture.” He gave anecdotes of his time with Native groups and expressed how much he loved his experience. Never once did he remove himself and his whiteness from the center of the experience. He talked about taking a cultural tour and expected that to be sufficient engagement. It was disheartening to say the least.
By the end of the night it was clear that there is some hope amongst this slate of board candidates. No matter who is elected, though, we, the community, are going to need to stay engaged and hold everyone accountable to unlearning the ways our institutions prop up white supremacy