(The below is an email that Bob Riddle sent to the Crossroads community on May 30.)
These are just some of the emotions I’ve struggled with this past week, as have many of us, after watching videos of the brutal murder of George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota, at the hands of police and the blatant racist profiling of Christian Cooper by a white woman in New York City. These incidents follow what many have described as the lynching of jogger Ahmaud Arbery in February by armed white residents of a small Georgia town and the senseless police shooting of Breonna Taylor—an EMT working on the frontlines of the Covid-19 crisis—in her own Louisville apartment in March.
As a white American, I feel these emotions while reading or watching stories about such atrocities, but I also have the luxury of knowing that I myself will never be the victim of racial profiling or white vigilantism.
But if you identify as a person of color in this country, particularly as an African American, those emotions are likely present at every moment of your life, in every corner of our country. You may wonder, “Will I be next?” or “Will my son be next?”
I have struggled to write this email all week, not knowing what feeble words of wisdom, what words of support, I could possibly offer, given the magnitude of this crisis of racism in our country. This week we have been given more reminders of the virulent hatred for people of color—particularly black people of color—that has existed for 400 years on the soil stolen from indigenous peoples, and we are outraged. Yet we all want to believe that we have somehow evolved, that racism is less of a problem than it was 40 years ago, let alone 400 years ago, that these incidents are the exception but not the rule.
We are wrong.
Yes, laws have changed and opportunities are available that once were not, and yes, America did finally elect an African American president. Yet we all know deep down that the insidious disease of racism has not been cured, and still thrives throughout our country.
This week, Crossroads awarded diplomas to our 45th graduating class—the Class of 2020—amid the backdrop of the dual crises of a global pandemic and racism. It was a bittersweet moment for sure, as they always are, but this time I struggled with my fear, my anxiety, my worry for our graduates and their future. This is not the world any of us wanted them to enter. And it’s the world they are now inheriting.
I became an educator because I wanted to make schools better for young people, to give them a more supportive, more nurturing, more affirming environment than the one I had when I was growing up. And yet I recognize that, for all the ways I may be able to impact their lives while they are students at Crossroads, I need to also make sure I have an impact on the world they are inheriting. We all do.
We must resolve to use these latest incidents as a call to action for each of us. We all have the ability to raise our voices, to write letters and make phone calls, to put pressure on politicians, to vote out of office those who fail to do anything about these barbarisms (or worse, inflame them) and to march in protest. We all can donate our time or our financial resources to local and national organizations committed to combatting racist policies, like the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative or the Southern Poverty Law Center, or to the hundreds of other grassroots organizations fighting racism in our country. And we can all make sure that, in everything we do, we are promoting a culture of equity and justice in our schools, in our homes and in our communities.
In short, we all need to commit to being antiracists.
As Ibram X. Kendi, the first speaker this year of our Younes and Soraya Nazarian Equity & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series, wrote in his powerful book “How to be an Antiracist”:
“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”
At Crossroads, we are fortunate to have individuals who are not just committed to being antiracists, but who are doing the critical work on behalf of our students and our community. I’d like to share with you an email from Spanish teacher Silvia Salazar, our Upper School diversity coordinator, who shared her own thoughts and feelings with our professional community, along with some resources. Silvia is working tirelessly to make sure our School is supportive and nurturing for all members of our community, and most especially our students of color. She lives and breathes Dr. Kendi’s definition of an antiracist.
I also want to share a letter co-signed by the Crossroads School Equity & Justice Institute to Attorney General William Barr and Assistant Attorney for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband, a few weeks ago, urging them to “open a full and thorough hate crimes investigation into the horrific killing of Ahmaud Arbery." The Institute’s founding director, Derric J. Johnson—who is also a member of the LA County Commission on Human Relations—is working tirelessly as an antiracist to enact change within our greater community, helping to make sure the country our students will inherit has the promise, the hope, the opportunity to one day be free of racism.
Finally, I want to share the most important voice—that of one of our students, who posted a video of powerful words he wrote as these events unfolded. The voice of junior TJ Muhammad—the voice of a young black man—resonates loudly and clearly. It’s a voice we all need to hear, and one to which we need to respond. TJ is our future, and he’s calling out for our help.
I was 10 years old when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. And although I knew very little about him at the time, I somehow knew the world had lost a great man. Time and again, in my deepest moments of despair and anguish over the challenges our country continues to face, I turn to his words, his leadership, his example. I often feel saddened that the world lost such a great man, and that we need his voice now more than ever. And then I realize—we all need to be like him. We all need to follow in his footsteps, in whatever ways we can, and continue the fight, continue the good work, until the world one day is cured of this virus we know as racism.
This should not and cannot just be the struggle of people of color, for if we are to eliminate institutional racism and white supremacy in our country, it means that white allies need to use our privilege to support this work as well.
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
Dr. King concluded his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail with those words; sadly, they resonate just as strongly today. If nothing else, let’s not be silent. Let’s raise our voices in rage, in despair, in solidarity and in promise. Let’s commit to being antiracists, and to once and for all rid our nation of this horrible plague, with the hope that those radiant stars of love and personhood—for all people—will shine for future generations.