Well Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is at it again. He’s been criticized before, by the Mayor of Phoenix among others, for violating civil rights and for ignoring some 40,000 felony arrest warrants so he can focus on rounding up people with brown skin. “Immigrants” and “Criminals”, Sheriff Joe calls them, but he doesn’t seem to care what their legal status. To quote the Mayor:
American citizens and U.S. veterans who fought for our rights are seeing their own rights violated. Immigrants, who are here legally, with paperwork in hand, are being treated like criminals. Vendors, with valid visas and properly licensed equipment, are being detained.
Last week, Arpaio paraded 220 “immigrants”, all reportedly Mexican, from the Durango Jail to the Tent City, and sent out a Press Release to announce this, and be sure media were present. They were dressed in prison stripes, chained, and marched down the street (traffic was rerouted for them), with an enormous force of armed guards around and above them.
This from a Sheriff who has some 2,700 civil rights violations filed against him from 2004-2007 and who has apparently cost the County some $43 million in legal settlements over the jails during his tenure.
Unfortunately, too many in this country see this sort of public humiliation to be permissible for people of color. It’s really unfortunate that we are teaching youth that it’s okay to treat POC not only differently from white people, but it’s okay to humiliate POC publicly.
Two years ago, Tarleton State University, the second-largest school in the Texas A&M system, discovered that an annual MLK Jr-day party at one of their fraternities was predicated on white students dressing up like racist stereotypes of black people.
Last fall, there was the case of the white teacher who tied up two black girls and made them get under a desk to demonstrate how slave traders treated slaves as they were bringing them to this country.
Last week, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a predominantly black elementary school called off their “Cotton Picking Day” where students were encouraged to come to school dressed as slaves for the day as part of Black History Month.
Of course these events are offensive and of course they are racist, and there are lots of other events like them. And, you’ll note, they are happening in schools. Not Sheriff Arpaio’s event, of course, but all the local kids heard about that and/or saw it on the tv. So are we talking about these events in schools? Are we, as adults, merely ascribing them to ‘extremists’ and assuming that ‘that sort of thing wouldn’t happen here’, or are we looking, with our students, at the cultural forces that make the people who do these things think it’s a good idea?
What do you do when a student in your class uses a term like “that’s so gangster” or “that’s so ghetto”? Do you punish, or do you start a conversation with the class about what those terms actually mean?
One of the difficult aspects of being a teacher is the constant pressure to be a role model. Not just the I-say-please-and-thank-you variety, but the how-do-I-respond-to-hate variety, regardless of how ‘minor’ the infraction. It’s African-American Month, February is, so will we spend it with platitudes about how post-racial, post-civil-rights, post-slavery we are, casting furtive glances at the black student in the corner to see how he responds, or will we engage our students with actual conversation about real events that still take place and how we must respond to all forms of hate and prejudice, even when someone argues they’re ‘just joking’? Every time a teacher does not challenge these comments (or behaviors, like pulling eyes back to mimic Asians), that teacher has just taught the entire class that it’s not that big a deal to put down or humiliate people of color.