Those Savage Civil Servants
I am the child of a civil servants. My mother is a lifetime social worker for the State of Illinois. My father is now a retired Illinois State Trooper. The apple doesn’t fall far… as my sister is a civil servant for the State of Illinois, and I as a high school teacher in the State of New York.
I have no clear/concise words to express my feelings in this moment. We are all awaiting an announcement about a Black body whose life experienced violence at the hands of a Missouri State civil servant. This memory, this image, this mirage, this deja vu has played multiple times in the very distance past, in the very recent past, and according to news across the country will be delivered to a plethora of additional families of color in the very near future.
As I grow, as I reflect, and as I question my own place within my civil servitude – I see that I too am implicitly perpetuating the racism and privilege of White America – simply by walking into my place of employment each and everyday. Each day I am walking into an individual school building run by a larger institution of governance purposed to “teach” sub-ordinance to its citizens of color. My place of employment engenders inferiority in my clients. And implicitly impedes and seeks to stunt the progress of its most feeble citizenry.
Part of the beauty of White Supremacy is that it is a near perfected system. It requires almost no effort and no support from allies and enemies alike to propagate its caste. It matters not if you’re Black, White, and everything between. Its default is to multiply. It is by definition a virus. It is perhaps the most virile ailment on Earth.
As a civil servant, we, perhaps, stand alone between upholding historically racist authority and power over our subjects while also tasked with protecting and educating them to liberation and freedom. The battle with which I am having with myself at this moment is – is it even worth it to continue within this system? In this very moment, I do not think I will be returning to my post as a teacher next year. I feel surrounded by hypocrisy, ignorance, and indifference to the suffering of my students. These students look like me. These students represent me. I represent these students. Its almost a good thing that they [my students] are ignorant of the bureaucracy and administration(s) that castigate them in almost every way. Their ignorance, is my pain.
I actually don’t know how to move when I, as a teacher, see the same racism that steals Michael Brown’s life away show its ugly face in the classrooms that educate us all from preschool up through the ivory tower. Its something I never imagined taking part in. Its as though I’ve caught myself, red-handed in killing my people. Its hard seeing the parallels between the privilege of police officers feeling their lives endangered by unarmed gangster boos with the ball-tugging teachers feeling offended and threatened enough by their students to revoke their right to a free and consistent education in the public school classroom.
When I see the power politics at play behind closed doors, I can’t help but to be as offended as my students would be if they had the privilege to be a part of the processes that ensure their destruction. In the past week alone I think I’ve been involved in three separate situations where social ignorance makes space for racism and classism to block justified debate and decision-making in favor of a better world for we people of color.
It is easy to forget that our job [civil servants] is to maintain the order and will of the state. However, no matter what [y]our will, [y]our purpose, or belief system, civil servants serve as the [un]armed task forced directed to walk the fine line between empowering and protecting its citizens, and maintaining State-sanctioned rule.“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” – James Baldwin
[I don’t think this is the exact quote, but you get my drift]
To my police officer brothers and sisters – You are a power wielding servant of the people. Question your training, question your bias, question your approach to all situations. You set the tone for all interactions you engage in. If you know people are frightened by your very appearance, you should strategize your interactions AND communication before engaging your community, in which you’re sworn to protect.
To my educator brothers and sisters – Outside of our Law Enforcement brothers and sisters, we hold the keys to our populations’ futures. Question why your teacher training infused little to NO scholarly works from Black, Latino/Chicano/Native scholars. Then go out and seek that knowledge yourself. It was done for a reason. Question how your approach to communicating with, about, and around your students teaches oppression. Understand that your discipline practices, of any kind, mirror those used in the criminal justice system. Understand that we are the blood relative of the state and federal run prisons across the nation. Understand that your actions and thoughts with your students should, at all times, be contextualized as working with minors, as working with developing human beings, and as stemming directly from the ingredients you bring into that classroom and your practice everyday. Understand that what we do in our classrooms is a direct and explicit offshoot of what our law enforcement brothers and sisters do in the streets each day. We are just confined to our classrooms. Understand that as law enforcement accidentally/prematurely takes Black and Brown lives from the streets each day, we do too. And in far greater numbers as we force our students to assimilate to white/western/dominant ideology coded as education and curriculum. Understand that we are perhaps the biggest bandits and most ruthless killers within these institutionalized systems, as we are sworn to educate the masses out of oppression, yet focus more on our own middle-class creature comforts . Most importantly, understand that racism is alive and well in all of our school buildings, and that if we don’t care to identify it, then we are implicitly leading our students, of color and caste to a road of mediocrity at best: prison or death at worst.
To my friends of color – You are greatness incarnate. The young people around you soak in your presence with every second of exposure whether you know it or not. Do great things all of the time so they can see that they too have the ability to move freely about this world, as opposed to the subjugated pathways our institutions have already carved out for them.
To my White Brothers and Sisters – Seek empathy. Seek knowledge. Seek communication with those as much unlike yourself as possible. Your most basic of thoughts and actions hold more power than many of you may ever know. Far too often, I personally feel surrounded by dictation and projection as opposed to acknowledgement and understanding. Two quick examples of situations that have happened within the past week.
Ex 1 – I recently traveled to upstate NY for a training. After getting off the commuter rail, I jumped in a cab to get to the training destination. As I took my seat in the cab, I realized the cab driver had gotten another, additional rider to join with me. This person, who in walking behind me clearly saw me besiege and enter the cab first proceeded to open the door and get into his seat. As he [an older white man] did, I looked at him, and said hello with a smile. He proceeded to look me in my eye, say nothing, and take his seat. My neck cocked real quick to the side. My thought bubble read: “Did this mf really just hear me greet him, and not say shit to me?” The ancestral energy flowing through my bones went from 0-100 n…. real quick. Luckily our cab ride together only last about two minutes together. You see me, you heard me, you entered a space that I was in first. Acknowledge my existence. Its simple.
Ex 2 – I was walking somewhere in the streets of NYC. As I approached an intersection there was a heavy flow of foot traffic coming from my left that caused me to come to an abrupt stop, as there was no way I could walk through them without interrupting all 7 of our’s progress. As I stopped, a young White couple (male and female) who happened to be walking approximately 4 strides behind me not only caught up to me, but proceeded to walk, unaffected through the oncoming crowd. It almost seemed magical, as I don’t know how they calculated their trajectory and determined that they could get through the sea of people without fucking everybody’s shit up! Not only did they not notice me stop my gate and wait the 5 seconds for the small crowd to clear, they also failed to acknowledge the black couple they abruptly cut off. The female member of the couple [positioned on the right] failed to acknowledge that she literally bumped into the black girl as she walked through. They failed to acknowledge the Black female’s angst at their lack of awareness. Failed to hear my bewildered “Are you fucking serious?” in response to the situation as it unfolded in front of me. Sometimes all it takes is a little hand, I’m sorry, my bad, slowing of pace, or side step to at least show someone that you see them, and are adjusting to also incorporate space for their safe passage through time and life as well.
White brothers and sisters… acknowledge those around you. If you see me, I exist.
To my other friends – Don’t believe the hype. I refuse to believe that I must live in a world where Black, Brown, Female, Trans, Disabled, etc… humans must come second to those that are too consumed with themselves to see that change and growth are possible and necessary. Starting today, be the change. Starting tomorrow, share the change.
To my school-aged little brothers and sisters – I love you so much, and only find the strength to do this for you. I’m moving to hold myself accountable for figuring out how to liberate you so that you don’t have to live in a world that acts like it doesn’t see you.
To my brothers and sisters in and around Ferguson, Missouri – I support you. Thank you for standing up for yourselves in a system designed not to care about you. Keep holding us all accountable to speak out about the injustices that happen everyday, everywhere, and every time we step outside our homes and into this liberating multi-dimensional American culture.