Our President Is Wrong on Race and Our Kids Need to Hear Us Say It

Aug 25, 2017 12:00:00 AM

by Justin Ohlemiller

I need to say it. You need to say it. Teachers need to say it. School leaders need to say it. We all need to say it. Our president—who drew a moral equivalency between White supremacists and the groups protesting racism in Charlottesville—is wrong. And we all have a responsibility to speak that truth—if not for the sake of our nation, then for the health and safety of our children. This is not a partisan issue. By blaming “both sides” for the display of hatred, racism and bigotry in Charlottesville, the president was defending White supremacists and neo-Nazis—and Republicans and Democrats alike repudiated his remarks. As Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said, "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.” And that needs to be a message that we are unafraid to talk about in our schools. Yes, I’m making the case that teachers and principals in this state and nation need to be unafraid to say these words: “President Trump was wrong.” By refusing to outright condemn White supremacists and neo-Nazis, and instead repeatedly trying to spread the blame to counter-protesters, he failed an important moral test. There is no comparison between White supremacists and the counter-protesters speaking out against them. I can already hear the pushback on this—[pullquote position="right"]am I asking teachers to bring politics into the classroom?[/pullquote] Absolutely not. Teaching our children that the president is wrong on this topic is no more political than stopping bullying or teaching our children to be kind to their peers. Racism, bigotry and the hatred displayed in Charlottesville is not okay, and we need to stand up to any leader—including the president—when there is any equivocation on that statement. We need to act. Our young people are paying attention and seeing the atrocities of Charlottesville. And many of them are scared and angry because of what they’re seeing. One African-American mother, who is part of the parent leadership team at Stand, just spoke to me about a conversation she had with her son this weekend. He said to her after seeing a video of a Black man being beaten, “you see, they hate us.” Thankfully, that mom quickly comforted her son and explained that those hateful actions he witnessed were coming from a very small group of bigots who don’t represent the overwhelming majority of this country. And she reinforced the importance of loving everyone, regardless of their race, religion or nationality. Now that child is going to learn that his president just defended the very same groups that perpetuate the violence he witnessed online. We all need to tell that young man that we love him. From the teachers in his school, to his neighbors, to people like me who fight for improving his educational opportunities. We need to back up the words his mom spoke to him: [pullquote]Hate is not welcome in this community or nation.[/pullquote] Our children are watching. They’re trying to develop their understanding of this country and world we live in. And they’re relying on us to help them shape those world views. Here are a few things schools and surrounding communities can do to push back on hate and ensure our children feel welcomed, loved and safe:
  • Take time during the school day to ask our young people about their feelings and emotions after the events of Charlottesville. There are a number of resources available for educators and parents to speak to young people about Charlottesville. On Twitter, people are using #CharlottesvilleCurriculum to share ideas and resources. The American Federation for Teachers has collected lessons and resources, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has a Teaching Tolerance program with extensive resources.
  • Set up a campaign in your school to focus on kindness, and ask students and teachers to lead it. There are plenty of programs and resources available to help teach and measure kindness in our schools.
  • Ask your school or school district to provide resources and training opportunities focused on diversity, inclusion and racism.
  • As teachers, you can engage parents in a discussion about how or if the racial strife in Charlottesville is impacting their child.
In this critical time in our history, our children need us to be unafraid to talk about race and do something we likely never imagined we’d have to do—stand up to the bigotry and hatred that’s now being defended and whitewashed by the President.
An original version of this post appeared on Stand Indiana.
Photo courtesy of Stand Indiana.

Justin Ohlemiller

Justin Ohlemiller is the executive director of Stand Indiana. In his role leading Stand’s Indiana affiliate, Justin brings a deep understanding of marketing and communications, an intimate knowledge of government and the city of Indianapolis, and a strong passion for education reform. Justin began his career with former Indianapolis mayor and education reform champion Bart Peterson, serving as press secretary before being named deputy chief of staff in 2007. Later, Justin helped lead Indiana Congressman Andre Carson’s communications operation and managed Carson’s Indianapolis office as district director. Most recently, Justin served as senior vice president of TrendyMinds, a growing and successful communications marketing firm in Indy. Justin played an active role on Indianapolis’ Super Bowl Host Committee in 2011-12, serving as a volunteer on the communications team and sitting on two subcommittees. His past volunteer work also includes being a mentor as part of the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, and tutoring Indianapolis public school students as part of United Way’s Read Up program. In 2012, the Indianapolis Business Journal recognized Justin as one of Indianapolis’ top young business talents by naming him to its list of “40 under 40.” Originally from Muncie, Indiana, Justin graduated from Butler University with a degree in telecommunications. He now lives in the IPS school district. In addition to being a self-proclaimed political junkie, he is a huge fan of the Indianapolis Colts and the Butler Bulldogs. Justin is excited that Stand takes a grassroots approach to improving education, instead of a top-down approach. He eagerly leads the Indiana team as it works to cultivate a community-driven movement for education reform in the Hoosier state.

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