“To Dismantle Systems of Violence”

The geographical coincidence of my birth often leaves me disappointed and embarrassed—mortified.

I am a son of the South, more specifically South Carolina. And while my birthplace and current home are in the Upstate and nearly as far from Charleston, SC, as one can be and remain in the state, the massacre, the racist terrorism now known as #AMEShooting left me yesterday certain that words were destined to be inadequate.

So when I read Sally Kohn on Twitter, I was compelled to respond:

While tone-deaf and insincere political rhetoric neither starts nor ends with Nikki Haley, Mark Sanford, or Lindsey Graham in SC or across the U.S., there is a certain inexcusable arrogant nastiness I hear when these so-called leaders speak.

Why? Because I am from here, and as a white male Southerner, I know what white people say when only white people are around, what men say when only men are around, what straight people say when only straight people are around.

I have done it. I bear witness to it daily.

I live among the Bible thumping “heritage is not hate” crowd that knows next to nothing about either religious charity or the scarred history to which they cling like a decaying corpse.

I have also witnessed a nation morn heinous violence followed by President Obama making a plea for “all our children”—only to witness also how nothing changed because the real American value is not being a Christian nation or protecting the land of the free but a commitment to unadulterated violence and hatred symbolized by the insult to human decency known as the right to bear arms.

As I was wrestling with the futility of words, I read Nicole Nguyen’s Education Scholars: Challenging Racial Injustice Begins With Us, in which she offers a powerful challenge:

As public transit riders shuffled on and off the train, I began to understand that we cannot solve complex social problems like institutional racism within the prototypical ivory tower as armchair critics. Our scholarship cannot merely inform our own ideas and advance our own careers. If we are to train future teachers, principals, and education researchers, we must recognize how schools perpetuate and disrupt systems of inequality, nourish the critical consciousness of our students, model antiracist and decolonizing pedagogies, and build the tool kits necessary for creating more-democratic schools.

If we are to counter the oppressive systems of inequality that brutalize youths, we cannot do it alone. We must marshal the intellect of all those who board the train, young people in particular. We do not need university solutions to public problems.

Nguyen’s words should be read in full, but she concludes with a clear “mission of colleges of education: to serve as political allies of the young people in our communities to dismantle systems of violence.”

I humbly add this is the mission of every denizen of a place called “free,” called “just.”

I also read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Take Down the Confederate Flag—Now, pausing at his “Cowardice, too, is heritage.”

Violence through the barrel of a gun, violence spat in a racial slur, violence flapping in the breeze on statehouse grounds—these are all cowardice.

As is the paralysis that follows that violence each time.

Because not taking action seems to be a heritage that unites every region of this country.

Baldwin

One comment

  1. Joan Kramer

    Thank you Paul Thomas. I admit I was waiting for your words. I had none of my own. My mother was from North Carolina, I was born in DC (which I consider as southern as the south) and I grew up being afraid to go back there. While I know the violence isn’t limited to those places, I have mostly experienced the racism and hatred spoken to me because I am white. Public school teachers I have known unfortunately are some of the worst in their attitudes. How can we do what Ms. Nguyen wants when the system of segregation and attitudes of racism persist in our public schools? And now with charters, at least here in my city Los Angeles, whites are finding inexpensive alternatives to private schools. Anything to keep them away from people of color. While I do have some hope with the young, I don’t see change happening any time soon. I just have to repeat your last words here: “Because not taking action seems to be a heritage that unites every region of this country.”

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