Our nation is simultaneously experiencing two global pandemics: COVID-19 and racial inequity.
While we all strive to adjust to what is known as our “new normal” with face coverings, social distancing, virtual learning and the ramifications of COVID-19, Black and brown people across the nation continue to fight for the basic right of equity and respect.
It is unbelievable that in 2020, people of color still have to advocate that Black Lives Matter – six decades after the Civil Rights Movement and four centuries after the first Africans were forcibly made to build our nation.
For three of these centuries, following Carl Linnaeus’ classification of whites and Blacks as different types of human beings in the 1700s, we have been striving to dismantle systemic racism. Linnaeus referred to the white race as “changeable, clever and inventive” while referring to the Black race as “cunning, aggressive, inattentive and ruled by impulsivity.”
This scientific racism that led to the ideology that people of color were in some way less than their white counterparts is indoctrinated in the minds of some people all over the world and continues to manifest in everyday behaviors and actions whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Today, we live in a nation where people of color continue to be judged by the color of their skin versus the content of their character. It is unconscionable that people of color are still held to a different standard than their white counterparts and even ridiculed for raising the bar and not accepting the status quo. It is even more disheartening to know that no matter how educated, professional, ambitious, dedicated and hard-working a person of color may be, there is still the reality that a person of color will experience microaggressions and other audacious disrespectful treatment.
Microaggressions are everyday, subtle, intentional and unintentional interactions or behaviors that communicate some type of bias toward historically marginalized groups. As an African American leader, I have experienced microaggressions constantly throughout my career. Expressions such as “you speak so articulately” or “when I see you, I don’t see color” are the epitome of a microaggression. There are also very subtle racial undertones that require you to think critically to understand the intent.
It is imperative that we reflect on our actions, thoughts and beliefs about people who are different than we are. We must be aware of our own biases and be able to identify when those around us are victims of bias or perpetrators of bias. And, we must be unapologetic to say something. It is no good standing by.
We want to believe that people have good intentions. However, we must not be easily fooled by those with ill intentions to conquer and divide or oppress. Leadership is bigger than holding a position of power or having the authority to make decisions.
Effective leadership is about empowering others around you and having the courage to speak up when needed as well as going high when some may go low. It is about knowing your strengths and areas of growth and being comfortable within your own skin. Leaders show up every day ready to conquer the world in spite of a global pandemic.
In ACPS, we have adopted a five-year strategic plan, ACPS 2025: Equity for All, that keeps racial equity at the heart of our work. It is our intent to denounce hatred, biases and racism so that we can engage our next generation of leaders to exhibit characteristics that will positively change the entire world.
As educators who believe in young people, we strive to be the change that we would like to see in the world. Becoming an educator is like taking an oath to be a role model and exemplar for humanity while using life and history as teachable moments. Whether you believe it or not, working in ACPS is an honor because we are able to serve our young people regardless of their life’s circumstances and truly love the work we do each day for our students.
I am fortunate to be leading ACPS at a time when we are taking bold steps to combat these racial inequities as illustrated by the adoption of our new strategic plan and the introduction of The Identity Project: Renaming Our Schools. These will serve as a catalyst to accomplish the work before us and explore the history, behaviors, policies and practices that have brought us to this place in time. I invite you to learn more about our work, follow us on this antiracism journey and hold us accountable for the goals we have set forth.
As we all continue to work collaboratively to grow through these dual global pandemics, COVID-19 and racial injustice, we must remember that we are better together than alone. It truly takes an entire community to rise up and take a stand against oppressive acts that lead to hurt and pain. Our young people are watching. I truly hope that when they grow up they will be able to look us in the eyes and tell us, “Well done.”
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.