I don’t write much about my work. Not because there are not fabulous, hilarious and heartbreaking stories at school. I could write something worthy every day. But by definition and law, the students own their stories, and like the decades of counseling clients and pastoral conversations, their stories stay in my heart until time erases most of them.
But this summer no one is untouched by the ugliness of the overt racism and white supremacy in our streets, our newsfeeds, and in our government.
After the election last year, especially in January I noticed an uptick of boldness of the dark side of the Force in our school. Mostly misogyny. But with swift attention it seemed to quiet.
This August I find myself wondering if the Hitler Youth are going to show up in September. When I looked at the video of Charlottesville, what bothered me most was how many young men were in the pictures. Not much older than my flock.
So, I am thinking about being ready. Ready personally. Ready professionally. To deal with the evils of racism and White supremacy in whatever form I can identify it. I do not judge the thoughts, philosophies or tactics of others fighting evil. I might engage them, but I do not judge them. I was heartened to see Antifa and Pacifist clergy facing danger together. It will take everyone to survive this. All I can do is contextualize the fight to my own life, heart, mind and situation. So I am getting ready.
Personally. Daily questions. Am I patrolling my own thoughts words and deeds for the constant and absolutely culturally pandemic toxins that cause me to cling to my privilege or disadvantage our employees and students of color? Am I owning these thoughts, words and behaviors and rooting them out? For me this is spiritual. I work at all times in all places for a once, and ever, brown-skinned Palestinian Jew. I don’t ask What Would He Do? I ask What Is He Doing? Here, now. I try and do that thing. He never does racist bullshit. He never protects privilege. He sees, listens to, and gives voice to the oppressed. He also never gives up on anyone.
Professionally. I work at a school where the16-21-year-old student body is majority underclass. With a high percentage of trauma survivors. A high percentage with mental health issues. Higher than the general population in gay, queer, trans. Our student body is about 60% white, 30% Hispanic and 10% other. Our school is a voluntary program on a community college campus. I have a college diversity policy that is clear and bold, and the administration above me will back me up in the enforcement of it. I am in charge of discipline for 250 young adults. I have a lot of latitude. I can send them home to change their shirt. I can release them from the program in a moment if I think it is warranted.
But my goal is not to get rid of my overtly racist students. I have had a few. I have been lucky to have dealt with them one at a time. They are young, and I refuse to give up on them just yet. Here is what I have done, and will always try and do. (All of this presumes no physical violence, or direct threats of violence – which always warrant dismissal)
1- Protect the direct victim if there is one. I start by accepting their testimony. And they get to be pissed off, and they get a pass on words they used in their own defense. Then I protect the school environment by at least temporarily removing the offender. I act as swiftly as I can. This is one of those rare times that I have no problem walking into a class and publicly removing someone. It is a small school. This is noticed.
2 – Then clarity. I use my voice. To say No, nope, and in no way. To one and all. With the offender - conversation - but strong, and in the end hierarchical, conversation. This is where I use all the privilege I can muster. And whatever personal and spiritual power that has been put into me. If they don’t accept this and the restrictions it will place upon them, they will be gone. They get mad, but I have yet to lose one at this point.
3- If they accept the discipline put in place, then we continue the conversation. I Affirm their personhood, and treat them with respect that they are not dishing out. Why? Because I want, even for a moment, to separate their personhood from their ideas and behaviors. This would be the first step they would need to take to become ex-fascists. I tell them that I want them in my school and that I want them to graduate. If they accept this from me, I am winning.
4- I try not to kick them out. If the victim does not want to sit with them in class, then the offender gets moved. I may move them from the high school to the GED program. But if I dismiss them, they use that to fuel their delusional persecution story. If I keep them, then for every hour, for each day, that they bring their personhood through the door to try and pass Algebra class, and at least stifle their racism at the door, they are living in the liminal space that makes at least possible, their salvation.