Roberta A. Drury, Margus D. Morrison, Andre Mackneil, Aaron Salter, Geraldine Talley, Celestine Chaney, Heyward Patterson, Katherine Massey, Pearl Young, Ruth Whitfield. Those are the names of the people who died in Buffalo Saturday.
They were mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters and brothers. They were people with childhood memories, plans for their weekends and hopes for their futures. They were people who cared and gave back to their community in meaningful ways. Many were the rocks of their families. They were civil rights leaders. People living their lives for good. They were people who were living their lives, day by day, until those lives were stolen from them by hate. We can’t comprehend the totality of the lives of the people that we lost on Saturday. Our hearts break for their families, their neighbors, and for Buffalo.
Let Saturday be a reminder to us all of our repeated failure, as a society, to hold racism to account. Leaders on both sides of the aisle have enabled white supremacy not just to persist, but to thrive. By using coded language, refusing to name racism when they see it, making excuses for racist behavior, or simply remaining silent, they have ushered white supremacy into the mainstream. For children and public schools, the normalization of such extremism is behind an upsurge of candidates running for school board on exclusionary and racist platforms, the nationwide frenzy to ban teaching about race and bias, as well as homophobic and transphobic legislation.
We have to work toward creating a future in which white supremacy holds no power. We in New York pride ourselves on our diversity and our progressive politics, and yet people can grow up here still thinking that violence and oppression are the answer. The facts of Saturday’s tragedy are proof that anti-racist and culturally responsive social emotional curricula is necessary for ALL students regardless of race. When we fail to teach children to connect with those who are different from them, we miss an opportunity to combat the racist ideologies they may encounter elsewhere. When we fail to lift up the value of historically marginalized people in our classrooms, we leave a vacuum that can be filled by a narrative of hate. But when our schools get it right, we can all thrive.
Education has the power to end the proliferation of white supremacist ideology in the first place. New York’s leaders and lawmakers must demand a commitment to teach truth in all of our classrooms. They must invest in culturally diverse curricula and materials. They must provide anti racism and anti bias training for educators, students & community members. All those in power, at every level of government, must emphatically denounce racist rhetoric in all its insidious forms. There are no “differences of opinion” when it comes to white supremacist ideas and they deserve no space or credence in our political dialogue, our schools or our nation.
We in New York’s communities know what we stand for. We need leaders who are willing to stand with us.