EoC, We Have a Problem
Teaching is white. As a profession, the demographics for educators is 80% white. For Washington State, it’s 90%. Seattle Public Schools, however, has the most diverse teaching force at 75% white. Seattle Public Schools has also taken a very strict anti-racist stance since the new superintendent has taken over – at least in words.
One would believe that given these circumstances, educators of color would be at the forefront of this anti-racist movement in the district. We have the most concentrated numbers of educators of color. We are the only district in the state whose educator union has a program called The Center for Racial Equity, created and led by a Black womxn. We are one of the few districts in the state that has an official Ethnic Studies program. It looks like a great place to be for educators of color, right?
What we have in SPS are “leaders”, the vast majority of whom are white, talking about racial equity without having any idea what that actually means. They are claiming to work on goals like increasing the literacy rates of 3rd grade African American males, diversifying the workforce, and creating a culturally responsive workforce. In the most diverse district in the state one would assume those people leading these goals are people of color who have a great deal of understanding about what racial justice looks like. You’d be wrong. They are all white and they are leading these goals the white way.
What does the white way look like, you ask? You always ask such thoughtful questions. I appreciate that. Well, if you’re a person of color, I’m sure you know where I’m going. First, and always foremost, there’s tokenization. They put “taskforces” and “workgroups” together with a generous sprinkle of POC that perform various roles in the district. They may even bring in POC outside of the organization – you know… the token Black parent. Second, they elevate some POC to very visible roles that have little to nothing to do with the actual stated goals, which gives the illusion that a person of color is leading the work. That way, when someone calls them out on the lack of leadership of color, they can point to the one or two people that may have some vaguely related responsibility but no real positional power.
Last, and the most insidious and destructive, is the #BrownTax. The #BrownTax shows up in many ways. The most common I’ve seen is at the school building level where a Black or Brown educator becomes the disciplinarian who deals with “those kids” the (white) teachers can’t seem to “control”. Often times, principals will purposefully hire Black men for the role of instructional assistant for kids who are in special education programs for behavioral support: white teacher with the pay that comes with that title/Black disciplinarian in the form of an IA with the pay that (does not) come with that title.
Right now I’m on a medical leave for stress along with at least three of my colleagues, all of whom are womxn of color who have been leading racial justice work for the past several years in the district. The #BrownTax taxes more than our pocketbooks. It taxes our physical, psychological, and emotional well-being. SPS leadership has created a perfect storm for the most severe #BrownTax that can exist on an institutional level. Here’s how it works.
- We say we are anti-racist.
- We don’t change any of the infrastructure or procedures that are racist.
- We put white people in charge of the goals ignoring the fact that educators of color have already been doing this work for years.
- The white people realize (if we’re lucky) they don’t know what they’re doing.
- They push the work, but not the title or the money, off on people of color, sometimes the same EoC that have already been doing the work.
- They don’t provide time, money, human power, or other resources needed to complete the work.
- They disregard the work and recommendations of the people of color they pushed the work off on and do the white thing anyway.
Let’s Look At a Case Study
I can speak most authoritatively on my own examples, which include the Ethnic Studies program. This program began in 2017 before our current superintendent was hired. I put together a group of educators, now called the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, to assist in creating the program. Today, that group consists of 23 K-12 educators: 4 white educators, 4 Latinx educators, 5 Black educators, 4 Asian educators, 3 Filipinx educators, and 1 Asian Pacific Islander educator. As you can see, we are mostly educators of color, about 20% of us identify as queer, and 70% of us are womxn. This group has been leading in the creation of curriculum, professional development, and general decision making about the Ethnic Studies program since 2017. We meet once a month for an entire day, 7 months per year. That may seem like a lot, but when you consider we’re building a K-12 interdisciplinary program for the largest district in the state from scratch, that is nothing. Oh, and did I mention the Advisory Group doesn’t get paid? That’s important to know, too.
Despite the fact that students and community members show up to virtually every school board meeting demanding ethnic studies, and despite the fact that we claim we are anti-racist, and despite the fact that our work is helping to inform state-wide creation of ethnic studies curriculum, we are currently in a situation where I am the only person on the institutional level who works on this program full time. Again, it’s a K-12 interdisciplinary program, which means I am responsible for creating curricula for each content area at each grade level and training the 4000+ educators in the 100+ schools across the district on how to use those curricula.
Like I said, I’m on leave in large part because of this #BrownTax, but also because of #7 on the list above. I have been excluded from discussions and conversations by “leadership” about ethnic studies more times than I can remember. I have been micro – and macro – aggressed by the white people who are “leading” the district goals for racial equity. So, I’m on leave. When I left for leave I was in the middle of writing course descriptions for ethnic studies courses that could be cross-credited by high schoolers for graduation requirements. I first consulted the Advisory Group who gave me instructions on how to write the descriptions, but since we meet so infrequently and for such short amounts of time, it was on me to finish the descriptions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang that long, and when I left my supervisor asked me what should be done. I told her the Advisory Group would need to finish the course descriptions.
Guess what? Instead of going to the Advisory Group as a whole, they reached out to one of the 2 white men in the group for advice who promptly pointed out the racism and misogyny of that move and provided the names and contact info for the advisory group members. Were they contacted? Nope. Instead, the white man who is now “leading” this work went to the high school department heads, almost entirely white, and asked them to recruit teachers from their schools to write the course descriptions. We have no way of knowing if these people even know what ethnic studies is or if they have any understanding of racism. None of the department heads except for two have even had any ethnic studies professional development. Meanwhile, the Advisory Group, who literally wrote the program into existence and already started the course description writing effort, is completely ignored and dismissed.
Honestly, I don’t know. That’s why I’m on leave. I have pushed and advocated, fought and provided evidence. I have loudly pointed out all the instances of systemic white supremacy. I have organized and accomplished with virtually no support. What now? That’s the question of the day.
Fortunately, we have many white accomplices in this fight for ethnic studies who are holding shit together right now while so many educators of color are entirely burnt out, but it shouldn’t be this way and it doesn’t have to be this way. We have so many dedicated and brilliant educators of color who are skilled and willing to lead the way. To truly be anti-racist SPS needs to value those of us who have been doing the work for years and stop trying to go around us so they can check a box on a piece of paper, but Seattle Public Schools does not like educators of color.