Buffalo, Racism and Education – New Jersey Education Association


By Sundjata Sekou

No one comes to this moment without history placing us here.

An armed, dangerous, murderous and racist 18-year-old white man who arrives at Buffalo’s Tops grocery store with the intention of killing black people is the historic consequence of a society that fails to face its legacy of racism .

The place that most fails to confront America’s legacy of racism is the K-12 public school system. We live in a country where schools are still named after slave owners and accomplices. Students attend schools that daily reinforce the contribution of Greek, Roman, European, Western, and predominantly white societies to civilizations. Yet they refuse to educate children on how black societies like ancient Egypt, Nubia, ancient Ghana, Mali, Songhai and other African nations contributed to civilizations in the fields of writing, mathematics, science, religion, music and the arts.

In most programs, the only time black people appear is during slavery and the civil rights movement. Simplifying the history of a people to two points in time is an educational malfeasance. But to this day, in most classrooms, this practice continues.

Although Asian civilizations contributed to the digital system, paper, printing, and agricultural advances in the world, the mere mention that people from these regions did these things is almost universally ignored in most curricula. Additionally, most curricula ignore the fact that Mesoamerican societies such as the Olmecs had cities, a calendar, and a writing system. The Aztecs built a city on a lake and schools. The Incas built a city 9,000 feet in the air. The Iroquois Confederacy, made up of the Mohawks, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, Seneca and Tuscarora, formed a multi-state government in North America before the establishment of the United States.

Why don’t most children know these facts? Why don’t most adults learn these facts before maybe college or when they become self-taught? This is because of the omission of these facts from state learning standards. Wack learning standards create wack programs that produce wack teachers who are evaluated by wack administrators who expect to see exclusive wack lessons. For a teacher to be “doped” (very good) at including Black, Brown, Asian, Native, and Aboriginal history, they must smuggle contraband into classrooms. What is smuggling from this perspective? Contraband is inclusive lessons and books.

So the essential question is how do you become a dope teacher and dismantle an education system that reinforces and promotes whiteness and largely excludes the history of brown, Asian, indigenous, indigenous, and especially black people? The second critical question is how do we stop perpetuating the myths fueled by white supremacy that mass shooters can use to justify their racism?

If you’re a dope teacher creating space in your classroom for students to discuss, question, and challenge American racism, I salute you!

If you are a teacher who neglects to engage students in issues of race, histories of African and indigenous peoples before slavery and colonialism, you are doing all students a disservice. To become a dope teacher, you must undertake a self-study effort on non-European nations, attend the NJEA Member Conference on Colors September 16-17, NJEA REAL Movement Workshops, read books of the Zinn Project, and you and your children should attend MapSo Freedom School events.

What students need now and in the future is for teachers to become liberators of education, uncompromising truth tellers, abolitionist teachers, student advocates, researchers, presenters of facts histories and deconstructors of American historical myths.

This is what we need to do as educators to rid ourselves of the dangerous scourge of white supremacists online and in person!

Sundjata Sekou is a third-grade math and science teacher at Mount Vernon Avenue Elementary School in Irvington. He is a member of the NJEA Amistad curriculum design team. Sékou can be contacted at [email protected]


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