This Is What White Supremacy Looks Like in Our High Schools

“A parent came in here screaming that you’re brainwashing all our kids to follow Sharia Law,” the administrator told me. “You need to take it down.” I couldn’t believe a public school administrator was asking me to take down a poster of the sitting president, the first Black American to lead from the Oval Office, because a white parent came in parroting a grievance that she heard from conservative media.

“This is how it is here,” the administrator told me. The implied threat was very clear. If I caused a fuss, I wouldn’t have a job next year. My wife and I were planning on having a baby, and I had over $100,000 in student loan debt. The threat was deeply disturbing, but not an uncommon one lobbed against new teachers who “step out of line.”

It didn’t take me long to realize we cannot trust our educational system to protect students of color. In 2014, just as the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson began, my only Black American female student came to me sobbing. She said her classmates called her “n***** b****”, and she couldn’t take it anymore, she was exhausted. Later, when a math teacher asked what was wrong, the student confided in her and said her classmate Johnny and his friends were responsible for calling her despicable names. The teacher responded: “Oh, I know Johnny. He wouldn’t do that.”

My only Black student said her classmates called her “n***** b****”, and she couldn’t take it anymore. The teacher responded: “Oh, I know Johnny. He wouldn’t do that.”

I decided to escalate the issue. Not only did Johnny direct terror at a Black student, but he was also responsible for flying the Confederate flag in the school’s parking lot. But instead of seeing the student disciplined, I got myself into trouble.

My administrator tried to placate my report by saying she’d sit down with Johnny to talk about what he’d done. My recommendation of seeking restorative justice was rejected because it wasn’t practiced at this school. I offered to talk one-on-one with Johnny about the pain he was inflicting. Noting my position as the school’s history teacher, I offered to talk about the problems with the Confederate flag. This idea was also rejected.

I reached out to my teacher’s union to ask for help on how to proceed. The advice I got was “don’t rock the boat.” I sent a letter to the district superintendent asking how the district can prevent such bold acts of racism and protect our students of color. What I got in return was a letter of discipline, an action taken against me by the administrator for insubordination. I was written up not just because I had rejected my administrator’s handling of racial violence, but because I drew attention to it and had created an uncomfortable situation for the district. My superiors wanted me to sign the letter to put in my file. After conferring with a lawyer friend, I didn’t sign it.

Later that year, the superintendent walked into my classroom. They said I hadn’t been properly filling out some paperwork, which gave the district grounds to discontinue my contract. It was a clear and direct threat to my position as an educator at the district.

I asked the school’s English teacher to audit my paperwork, and we found I had been filing my paperwork correctly; it was the rest of the staff that had gotten it wrong. My administrator didn’t appreciate being told this.

I later resigned and took a temporary teaching job at an affluent suburban district. The district ended up replacing me with the math teacher’s daughter. She was an accountant who had received an “emergency” certificate in social studies, beating out countless other qualified teachers who had applied.

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