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    Back to School on Racism & Diversity

    Teaching the Truth About Racism to Children

    –By Lyndsey Schlax–

    (Editor’s Note: Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts launched the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course in 2015. She has just resumed teaching that groundbreaking class. In this column, her students share their thoughts about LGBT-related matters, including their concerns, what they have learned in class and more. Sometimes Schlax will share her thoughts too, as she does for this issue.)

    There’s a picture going around on social media showing a tiny white child, no more than 2 years old, wearing a pointed white hood and robe. The outfit is immediately recognizable, and at complete odds with my standard “aw, cute baby” reaction. Standing in front of black police officers, the baby is reaching out to touch their riot shields, in typical curious kid fashion. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time to see innocence snuffed out and weaponized, in service of a hateful agenda. Indoctrination into racism and white supremacy starts that early, although not often that intensely.

    That picture, of that baby KKK member, is from 1992. That child is likely 25 years old now. Maybe they’re a police officer, a teacher, a doctor, or a parent; maybe they were at the rally in Charlottesville. Maybe they knew James Fields was planning to drive his car into the crowd. Fields’ high school history teacher knew he idolized Hitler, so this wasn’t a new piece of him.

    You know who didn’t know that James Fields was going to a white supremacist rally, where he might have the opportunity and desire to kill someone? His mother. She thought he was just going to a Trump rally. She apparently knew he was violent, but couldn’t stop him, or change his views by the time he was an adult—he was too strong, and too set in his beliefs. The adults in his life didn’t explicitly teach him how not to be a bigot, and in the end, he became exactly that.

    We can’t be those adults, whether parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, or mentors. We need to talk to our children about racism—teach them how to stop hate; read to them; give them role models, examples, and language for what’s going on in their world. We need to empower their voices because they will be the ones leading this fight. And we need to do it now, when they’re learning how to be people. White supremacists are raising their children to be racists, and they will win this battle for our country if we don’t give our children the tools to stop them.

    Some of us are learning right now that the America they believed they lived in isn’t real, and maybe never was. Some of us are not surprised, but are devastated all the same. Some of us are still in disbelief, some are disheartened, and the only people in America right now who aren’t worried and hurting are either white supremacists or are not paying attention. We shouldn’t be shocked, but many are, because they didn’t learn the truth while they were in school. We can change that—it doesn’t have to be this way. We can teach the truth.

    We can, and must, teach our children to love, to take care of each other, and to see their country for what it really is, so they can work to bring the United States to its true potential, and to repair the harm that’s been done to so many marginalized groups. If America lived up to the myth of exceptionalism we’ve all been taught, it would be a phenomenal place. It would be the home of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses; where all people are created equal, and where no one will be deprived of life, liberty, or property.

    This can all feel like too much to take on, or like it’s happening far away, or like it’s not your fight. But this is our fight, especially if you’re privileged in some way, and most especially if you’re white like me. We must all stand against the continued empowerment of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and home-grown terrorists. Freedom only happens in solidarity—women like me can’t be free until the LGBTQ community is free, until people of color are free, until people with disabilities are free. Until we are all free.

    The land of the free and the home of the brave doesn’t truly exist if we stay quiet when Nazis kill someone on American soil. It only works if we’re actually brave, and if our children are brave, because that’s what will make us all free. As I start a new school year of teaching in this political reality, I’m recommitting to doing the work, and to believing that young people will lead us forward. I hope you’ll join me. Go read them some books, talk to them about race, and show them what it looks like to fight back against racism, especially if you’re white.

    We have to. Otherwise, hate will win.

    For more information about the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, please visit http://www.sfsota.org/

    Lyndsey Schlax has been a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District since 2008. She is uniquely qualified to address multiple areas of LGBT studies, having also specialized in subjects such as Modern World History, Government, Economics and U.S. Politics. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and earned her M.A. in Teaching at the University of San Francisco.