This opinion piece is by Cynthia Liu, founder of K-12 News Network.
UPDATE 7-9-14: the person whose ugly tweet was reproduced below has apologized for his behavior and BATs co-founders insisted he do so. In addition the National BATs released the following message on Facebook (responses also at the link) following this incident:
“Official BAT Statement on Racism, Discrimination, “Color Blindness” and Privilege”
The Badass Teachers Association categorically condemns all attacks on people for their race, gender, sexual orientation; and welcomes a dialogue with anyone about how to reduce the impact of historic discrimination and marginalization on our students, their families, and everyone in our society. We also recognize that we are not “over” race; that “color blindness” and “difference blindness” are not acceptable posture in the face of differences in power and position, whether of individuals or group. We also urge our members to interrogate their own positions of privilege be it of race, gender or class, and critically examine their own words and actions in heated debates on these issues. We do not say these things to stifle debate, or suggest we have answers to all important questions, but to make sure that historically marginalized people feel comfortable in all our BAT spaces and activities.
Like many, I came back from July 4 celebrations to hear of a horror show unfolding on Twitter involving many respected voices in the #edujustice community. I read what I could of the tweets that were public and felt sick to my stomach that people in a profession I respect were savaging one another. I am appalled that Melinda Anderson, and now Sabrina Stevens, two women of color whose work I respect and who’ve gotten my back numerous times in many locations and situations, and who I know are deeply committed to public education and the children served by it, are still targets of vitriol for simply calling out bad behavior by the self-identified Bad Ass Teachers who piled on to the fray.
Here’s one example of many recent personal attacks on Sabrina made by @sobronxteacher, with whom she’s documented many years’ worth of disturbing and inappropriate Twitter exchanges:
As best as I can piece things together, a conflict broke out on Twitter between @gatorbonBC*, an NEA delegate from Florida, and @MDAwriter (Melinda Anderson), a communications staffer and writer for the NEA’s social media channels. I’m still not entirely sure what the original conflict was about although it seems Melinda Anderson’s employment at the NEA may be in jeopardy as a result of the words they exchanged, and it seems that @GatrobonBC escalated the situation to the NEA. In any case, it’s deteriorated to the point where personal attacks using racist and sexist language by online bystanders and rubberneckers have come to dominate Twitter exchanges about the original incident, as in the example above when Sabrina tried to speak up in defense of Melinda’s dissenting comments.
It’s come to the point where we cannot ignore it, nor should we, and original acts of calling out disrespectful, abusive language have been answered by more instances of misogyny, name-calling, and racist language.
I want to therefore CALL IN all BATs who are committed to anti-racism, who embrace and champion cultural competency, decry misogyny and sexist language in addressing each other, and who seek to model the very kinds of justice and right conduct we aspire to ourselves and want to impart to students. If these things matter to you, I want to hear from you. What solutions do you see here?
If bullying is a problem, let us look to our own behavior first. If harassment and relational violence — exacerbated by a medium limited to 140 characters — target individuals who dissent (and illustrate, in an ugly way, WHY teachers need due process protections in what can be a highly-charged and political environment), then let us short-circuit the sniping. If Twitter is the medium that facilitates sniping, then let’s have the dispute discussed or resolved by the original participants either by phone or (it’s probably too late), in person.
I believe that there comes a time that bitter public disputes should be taken offline and mediated by an independent party — in this case, the NEA.
I also believe that calling out members of a coalition can serve a purpose, just as calling in serves a purpose. Calling out marks the boundaries of unacceptable behavior, marks injury sustained, flags the danger that intersectional fabric is about to be torn, perhaps permanently. Calling out is a way to make the transgressor own the transgression, instead of having the person transgressed carry the burden of injury in isolation and silence.
Ngọc Loan Trần says this in their brilliant piece, “Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable”:
I don’t propose practicing “calling in” in opposition to calling out. I don’t think that our work has room for binary thinking and action. However, I do think that it’s possible to have multiple tools, strategies, and methods existing simultaneously. It’s about being strategic, weighing the stakes and figuring out what we’re trying to build and how we are going do it together.
So, what exactly is “calling in”? I’ve spent over a year of trying to figure this out for myself, and this practice is still coming to me daily. The first part of calling each other in is allowing mistakes to happen. Mistakes in communities seeking justice and freedom may not hurt any less but they also have possibility for transforming the ways we build with each other for a new, better world. We have got to believe that we can transform.
When confronted with another person’s mistake, I often think about what makes my relationship with this person important. Is it that we’ve done work together before? Is it that I know their politics? Is it that I trust their politics? Are they a family member? Oh shit, my mom? Is it that I’ve heard them talk about patience or accountability or justice before? Where is our common ground? And is our common ground strong enough to carry us through how we have enacted violence on each other?
I start “call in” conversations by identifying the behavior and defining why I am choosing to engage with them. I prioritize my values and invite them to think about theirs and where we share them. And then we talk about it. We talk about it together, like people who genuinely care about each other. We offer patience and compassion to each other and also keep it real, ending the conversation when we need to and know that it wasn’t a loss to give it a try.
Because when I see problematic behavior from someone who is connected to me, who is committed to some of the things I am, I want to believe that it’s possible for us to move through and beyond whatever mistake was committed. [emphasis in bold mine]
Perhaps both @GatorbonBC and @MDAwriter made mistakes. Are the mistakes irrevocable? Is it worth shredding or destruction of each person? I am unwilling to see either person as “disposable.” We who support public education are overmatched and need every single person who can be effective working to full capacity in order to win against powerful and entrenched interests. But these calls to a higher goal can’t be a reason to quash dissent or evade deeper issues, like the latent -isms that permeate all of our interactions. I truly hope there can be personal reconciliation in this damaging encounter between two people, @GatorbonBC and @MDAwriter, both of whom have a great deal to give to the public education movement.
I’m CALLING IN, instead of calling out, all BATs who believe that disagreement among people who support public education can be discussed without resorting to epithets, threats over jobs, or social media pillorying or shunning. I try to say online what I would say to a person to his or her face, with all the responsibility and sensitivity that implies. Likewise, do you own what you say online? If so, how will you own the responsibility to promote cultural competency — anti-racist, anti-misogynist language and actions — that must be what our youth also learn going forward? I am heartened by the support for Melinda and Sabrina on Twitter, but I have not seen anyone urge @sobronxteacher to make an apology for unacceptable behavior.
So, when will a genuine apology or other meaningful gesture toward redress be forthcoming? We who are against the school-to-prison pipeline point to restorative justice to repair injury and mend conflict. Is this lip service or are we trained, aware, and able to enact this ourselves? I believe the ball is in @sobronxteacher’s court.
If you believe that #educolor IS #edujustice, then come and make community over here. Talk to me. Let’s see if we’re worthy of each others’ trust. Let’s earn that trust through reciprocal actions.
It may seem as if the details of the conflict between two women, or even a bigger group, is limited to personality difference. But this is larger than what transpired July 4 and 5.
This is about student organizer Stephanie Rivera’s attempt to open a conversation about the inadequacy of “colorblindness” as a framework for cultivating K-12 students who now make up the majority of students in American public schools — and how many vocal BATs on the National BATs page shut down the student Stephanie was trying to help be heard, as well as Stephanie herself.
If we are not agreed that teachers should be as diverse as the communities they teach, then what sort of coalition is this? If women of color continually get shut down on a more frequent basis if they dare to challenge the lack of intersectional process and face exaggerated vitriol for doing so, can we really call this “random”? We know better than this disingenuousness.
What kind of Badassery is it that cannot find a way to establish a working coalition that has people of color at its core? Where is the Badassery that moves beyond simple ignore/tokenize cycles to recognize and support the work of colleagues and peers of color who have equal value and standing?
This isn’t only about what went down July 4 and 5, this goes back to at least two difficult listserv discussions I’ve been privy to regarding the wisdom of “allying” with mostly white Tea Party people who oppose Common Core (which generated excellent, thoughtful posts from allies), and likely several others I’m not privy to. This has to do with leadership of the National BATs who leverage the power of “49,000 voices” in aggregate but are far less successful defining boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior by individual BATs and seemingly unwilling to exert influence they might have to stop problematic attacks like the example I posted above during these flareups.
The friction over women of color as leaders and definers of progressivism on their own terms goes back centuries. It won’t be solved this summer. But we have models of powerful coalitions that did work well together in Freedom Summers and Freedom Rides that lent mass protest power to eventual passage of Civil Rights legislation. We know the struggle to make public education a liberatory experience harkens back to Brown v. Board of Education, and the reality, described so powerfully by the same Melinda Anderson that was trashed on Twitter, that the price of integrating black and white children in the 1950s and 1960s was the widespread loss of jobs among African American teachers when all-black schools closed.
It harkens back to the Chicano desegregation Supreme Court case, Mendez v. Westminster, struggles to reclaim Native children from boarding schools set up to strip them of their language and heritage, and slaves actively acquiring literacy despite possible mutilation or death by slaveholders. And the struggle includes an eight year old Chinese girl named Mary Tape who simply wanted to attend school in 1884, and the California legislature passed a law specifically barring Chinese American children from the schools. Education justice has always been centrally about people of color trying to get access to the same resources and quality of education as the dominant group.
If our vexed history of race and racism in public education is ever to end, simple demographic changes won’t be enough. A true end will have to start with a public commitment to consciously and explicitly embrace anti-racist/anti-misogynist/homophobia-free ethics by advocates for education justice. A new beginning will require that under new rules of intersectional engagement, no one who truly works to strengthen public education as a means for liberation can be disposable, and the first step toward that is to end the racist/misogynist trashing of others.
It isn’t only the Badass Teachers who wrestle with issues of race, gender/sexuality, and class and intesectional struggle, it’s the feminist blogosphere as well. A women’s blogging conference I’ll be attending later this month has set aside space to discuss the increased frequency of these flareups on Twitter and elsewhere, and how it is white feminists/women of color are persistently targeted for abuse and attack when they assert a point of view that isn’t deferential, soothing, or agreeable.
*Disclosure: Prior to the begininng of the NEA RA meeting, I had asked @GatorbonBC and many other NEA RA attendees to report back for K12NN, which @GatorbonBC did and for which I’m grateful. I’ve temporarily suspended the postings from these teachers to make a statement about uncalled-for personal attacks on Melinda and Sabrina and will resume NEA RA reports soon.