Like many of you, I woke up yesterday feeling such joy in hearing that Reverend Raphael Warnock became Georgia’s first Black Senator and the first Black Senator from the Deep South. This was in stark contrast to how the day ended, after the violent riots and civil unrest in Washington, DC. These unconscionable acts left me with sadness, disbelief, confusion, and grief during what should have been the next phase in a peaceful transfer of power.
Like us, our children have many questions, powerful opinions, and strong feelings about what is taking place in their country. While as teachers and administrators we may not have all the answers, we are committed to providing opportunities for students to ask questions and discuss these events. We have encouraged teachers to check in with students and foster discussions in their classes as are developmentally appropriate.
Division Heads met with faculty members yesterday after school to share resources with them and continue to offer support and encouragement for civic engagement with students. The events we are witnessing speak to the urgency and importance of understanding our history, understanding democratic principles, and promoting and teaching civil discourse.
What stands out to me, and I know so many of you, is the racism at the heart of yesterday’s riots. Regarding the riots, Dr. Bernice King, CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “This is not abnormal. As my father said, this nation was ‘born in genocide.’ We have yet to earnestly address America’s violent roots, its white supremacy, and its racism. With urgency, we must. If we do not, violence in many forms will persist, no matter who is in office.” The disparity in treatment between the ways in which people of color peacefully protest centuries of oppression and yesterday’s white rioters who caused chaos and destruction in the Capitol building is striking and shameful.
The root of this disparity is mired in the systemic and structural racism that has served as a filter covering our country’s past and present. It’s tempting to explain away yesterday’s actions as unconscionable acts performed by a small, radical subset of extremist white nationalists—but the continuum implicates our society more broadly.
In this TED Talk, writer Baratunde Thurston defines systems as “collective stories we all buy into.” Our country’s origin is often romanticized in the retelling, but the truth is that it is rooted in racism as a means to justify enslaving and killing people. Until we are willing and able to address this systemic racism at our nation’s roots, we are doomed to watch history repeat itself. Yesterday’s events were not just about extremist white supremacists who tell themselves that America is “their” country and who will go to extreme lengths to “reclaim” it. Rather, these events make clear that what happened yesterday is an expected result of the fictional stories we tell ourselves and our inability to correct the narrative to reflect the truth: whiteness is not incidental to this narrative; rather, it is at this narrative’s center.
Yesterday’s crisis reinforces the importance of doing the work to critically think about and deconstruct the “racist ideas” that Ibram X. Kendi discusses in How to be an Antiracist. We can meet this challenging time with presence of mind and equanimity by maintaining a broad perspective and by acting in ways that are highly principled. The long-term preservation of our democracy and peaceful future for all our children depends on it.
I hope you will join me this evening at our parent event, Continuing Conversations about Race and Antiracism. We will look at our country’s historical legacy and then discuss how we might work together in multiracial coalitions to change what Bryan Stevenson calls “the narrative of racial differences” from one that allows white supremacy to exist to one that honors everyone’s humanity.
In closing, below are some resources that can help guide conversations you may have with (mostly older) children. If you have additional concerns or questions about how your children are processing these events, I encourage you to reach out to your teachers or Division Heads. As always, I am incredibly impressed with the way our teachers jump into action to think critically and kindly about how to best support students during difficult times, as well as create opportunities for true intellectual and ethical growth.
Warmly and in solidarity,
Head of School
- How to Talk to Your Child About the News by KidsHealth
- Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers by The National Association of School Psychologists
- Common Sense Media: Explaining News to our Kids