Black is Beautiful

Jordyn Bryant

This month’s guest blog post comes from a University of Washington undergraduate student, Jordyn Bryant, and reflections on learning from a course called, Race Ethnicity and Education.


Black history is rich. Black history is painful and traumatic. Black history is intricate, beautiful, empowering, and full of complexities. It is also overpowering and violent, especially to a young Black student. To a White student it may be shameful and embarrassing. But history is history, right? We must teach history through a lens of neutrality, right? “Teach facts as they have occurred. Incorporate the perspectives of both sides. Don’t make White students feel uncomfortable. Exclude the despicable. Teach the American Dream.” How do we unpack a history as complex and gut-wrenching as Black history? How do we teach a history that is still ongoing? How do we show our students that they are both products of history, and catalysts for meaningful change? 

Manifest Destiny | John Gast | 1872

For decades, American history has been taught from the limited perspective of the victor. We have been taught concepts of Westward Exploration and Manifest Destiny. We learn about our founding fathers, while they look far from being closely related to many of us. Black history is squeezed in between lessons. It is short. It is vague and uninspiring. It is a story of inevitability and peaceful rebellion. Black history should be centered in the history classroom. Black Excellence should be shouted from the rooftops. I argue that in order for this shift to occur, we need more Black history teachers, we need to teach Black literature in a way that is meaningful, and we need to teach Black freedom struggles in a way that is accurate and uncensored.

As we work to facilitate a history classroom that incorporates meaningful, impactful lessons that will leave a lasting impression on the students, we first must start with who is standing before the class. At the University of Washington, I have taken Black history courses by Black professors that were incredibly inspiring. Given their positionality in teaching this history, they were able to share personal anecdotes and connections to the pervasive nature of racism. They were also unafraid to argue that a true retelling of Black trauma involves the exposure of many atrocities committed by White Americans throughout history. 

Data from the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction show that, while Black students make up 4.6% of the State’s K-12 student population, Black teachers (orange) make up less than 2% of the teaching force.

As explained by Gloria Ladson-Billings, “The first reason for naming one’s own reality involves how political and moral analysis is conducted in legal scholarship. Many mainstream legal scholars embrace universalism over particularity.” The beauty of particularity is that it humanizes history. It reminds students that they are active members of history and have the agency to determine the trajectory of their own future. By having a personal relationship with this history as a victim of systemic oppression, Black teachers are the most qualified to convey such a dynamic to students of all backgrounds.

Black history is not, and should not, need to be confined to a standard social studies course. The teaching of Black history through authors such as Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Octavia Butler can be an extremely powerful tool in conveying the emotions of those experiencing slavery, or those grappling with Eurocentric ideals of beauty today. Through literary devices and personal narratives, the incorporation of Black writing into a language arts course can be quite effective in conveying the ways that systems of oppression affect the individual. In Morrison’s writing, for example, she grabs her audience by the throat and forces them to hear the cries of Pecola and feel the rage of Cholly in The Bluest Eye

A Google search of most beautiful women demonstrates the Eurocentric ideals of beauty.

In an academic context, Black history is often conveyed through the telling of concrete timelines and seemingly justified circumstances surrounding economic necessity. By utilizing the mode of storytelling and centering the voices of the oppressed, this history can be conceptualized in a way that is honest and vulnerable. As this history is characterized by racist structures, struggles for freedom, and overt discrimination, students find this does not stray far from what Black people continue to experience today. A major flaw in our education system lies in the way that history is taught as stories of the past with little connection to where our country is currently. As students, we deserve to learn that protests and resistance from the Civil Rights Era have directly informed the ways that our people fight against police brutality and mass incarceration today. 

In I Am Not Your Negro, James Baldwin discussed the intricate relationships he had with major figures like Malcom X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the film we must grapple with the ways that Black bodies are slammed to the ground during protest, and Black activists are unjustifiably murdered for seeking basic human rights. In the classroom, this history is diluted. Though less painful to experience, we are stripped from the reality that Black people have a history that is violent and intergenerationally traumatizing. Students deserve to know the whole truth, so they have a toolkit to disrupt such systems of oppression that continue to harm our people.

When such systems are so pervasive and prevalent today, the teaching of the origins of such inequities must be exceptionally accurate. Rather than continuing a cycle of silencing the Black voice and the Black experience in America, the classroom must be a space where this story is nurtured and prioritized. This is essential in our undoing of generations of racism on the end of the perpetrator, and sorrow on the end of the abused. History cannot be neutral. To make an attempt to teach in such a way is an act of violence. Young children of any background deserve to know the truth of our country’s darkest histories so that they grow into rounded, well-informed adults. Black history requires a level of discomfort and a hefty amount of reflection. 

However, once the student has come to understand the pain of Black history, they can then appreciate The Black Renaissance, and Black joy for true beauty that it represents. For so many years, Blackness has been criminalized and criticized by our society, while turning a blind eye to the culprit of such misrepresentation. By turning the mirror onto the true history of our nation, we can truly begin to take steps towards an informed and impactful future.

Questions for America

Poetry by Ronnie Bwambale Bryan

This month’s blog post comes from a student poet.


My name is Ronnie Bwambale Bryan. I was born on April 25th, 2003, in Fort Portal, Uganda. I don’t want to write my full life story. I’m not sure if anyone will be interested in reading about this brief but significant chapter of my life. I’ve decided to share this experience with you since it encapsulates who I am as a person and as a writer. 

I was born into a warm and loving family. This love and warmth are what made me the person I am today. My parents worked extra hard to give me and my siblings the best childhood. As a child, I was very emotionally intelligent, and I understood my feelings before I could even speak or write. However, even when I learnt how to speak, I was not able to express myself. This is because I was a very quiet child who had a hard time socializing even with my family. So as soon as I joined school and learnt how to write that is all I ever did.

I loved literature because of the writing aspect of it. It helped me to organize my thoughts and be able to write them down on paper. This, to me, made sense because it helped with my functional writing. I took this habit of writing even outside of class and I occasionally wrote poems and short stories during my free time. Instead of talking to my parents or siblings like most people do, I opted to write. I used to write them letters every day, and I would slip them under their bedroom doors. At the time I didn’t consider myself a writer. This was just my way of “talking” to my family. The more I wrote these letters, the better my writing became and the more I felt, the more vocabulary I picked. This is because new feelings unlock new words. 

Fast forward to today. I am a poet. Poetry, for me, is more of a lifestyle than a hobby. I have been through some traumatic events that still linger to this day. For a while, I did not know how to deal with the trauma until I watched a certain show. One of the characters in the show said, “If you can’t accept and move past rejection, or at least use it as writing material – you’re not a real man.” The moment I heard this I experienced an “aha” moment. For me, it was not about rejection, but my trauma. Since I could not move past the trauma, I decided to use it as writing material. That is how I discovered poetry. My interests have changed over the years and that has also changed what I write about. That’s the beauty of life: you live and you learn. My life is a canvas, and I am the artist. Right now, my painting isn’t complete but someday it’ll be a delightful sight.


REVERIE

I love to write

To write is to create

To create is to bring meaning to the world

The feeling you get from collecting your thoughts

And putting them into words is unmatched

Thoughts aren’t easy things to collect

It’s like trying to collect seashells in a desert

To collect your thoughts is a fine line between sanity and insanity

So why do people write?

FREEDOM

Shackles off my feet    

And yet I am trapped

Trapped in a cage

 called “mindset”

The key to this cage is in my hands

Freedom is the key

But what is freedom?

Until I figure that out

I am confined in this prison

Trapped to rot in here forever

My ignorance is going to be my downfall

No one taught us freedom in school

And now I’ll pay dearly with my life.

ENIGMA

I see secrets behind your eyes

What are you protecting me from?

Bold of me to assume that

What are you trying to protect yourself from?

I see you. You’re different

Lip service doesn’t please you

More of an action person, aren’t you?

Trying to figure you out

But figuring you out is harder than solving a scooby doo mystery.

QUESTIONS FOR AMERICA

Dear America,

When are you going to grow up? 

You think you are grown but in reality, you are a toddler.

When are you going to realize you aren’t the best?

You flaunt your weapons while those same weapons take innocent lives.

Dear America,

Why is everything about racism a debate?

All lives matter until it’s black lives.

Why isn’t healthcare more affordable?

Having a child shouldn’t cost thrice as much as rent.

Dear America,

Why do I feel hopeless when I watch the news?

So much potential in the lives thrown away.

How does it feel to be you?

I bet even you don’t know the answer to that.

Tezcatlipoca

written by Andrea Malagón

This past spring, our Executive Director taught a course in the Department of American Ethnic Studies called Race, Ethnicity, and Education. They invited some of their students to submit their reflections and essays. This is the first of several. Below, Andrea Malagón, reflects on their learning from a study called “Abby as an Ally” that follows a white student enrolled in a Native American Literacy course and their journey of unlearning Whiteness.


I didn’t think I would like the reading Abby as an Ally. I thought this piece was going to be about white fragility and what white people need from movements. It’s hard for me to read about whiteness because I never know where it’s gonna go. I really like the approach of the author. I’ve never read an academic paper where there were paragraphs about the technical stuff and then vignettes about Mrs. Bee’s classroom. That structure was very new to me. I would like to write my academic papers and dissertations like that. It feels nice to know that the author had that option. If he had it then maybe I can too. 

I’ve never read about whiteness in this way. I never thought an article about a Native American literature class would center around a white student. It sounded dumb to me in the beginning. Especially since the class had Native American students. “Why would you do that?”I asked my computer screen. I wanted to stop reading, but I kept reading instead to figure it out.

This article showed me how one person reflected on their whiteness. How her privilege moves through spaces, lives, hearts, and minds. Her privilege was moving and working to her benefit even at that young age. She saw that. She thought about that. She got uncomfortable with her past. In adulthood, to me at least, it sounds like she was able to reconcile with her identity as a white woman. A white person. It takes time. I could have read this and thought, “Why can’t every white person be like Abby?”That’s not productive thinking. Not everyone cares to learn about the weight their identity carries. Some people don’t want to face guilt and let it settle in. They react negatively instead. While that is weak, it’s what they have on them. Weakness. Those people are in their own psychosis.

While I relate to the Native American students from the reading when they are angry that their land and people were taken away from them, I also relate to Abby because sometimes it’s hard to be mad when you don’t know the whole story. I have to agree it sounds crazy that the land I go to work, school, and walk on used to belong to someone else. It’s hard to get over those thoughts of, “Wow. I can’t believe life used to be like that,” to then think, “The US came to be by stealing land and labor.” It’s ugly, but it’s true. Everyone consumes knowledge differently. The intersections of our identities are a reason for that. 

It’s hard to read about whiteness because I don’t have it the way white people do but I have something close to it. I think I struggle with liberating myself from the white gaze because I despise the whiteness in me. I’m not trying to uplift or flaunt it. I want to be aware of it. Whiteness is a privilege. Any proximity to whiteness is a privilege. Neutrality is a tool used by those with white privilege.

Silence is never neutral.

Silence is never neutral.

Silence is never neutral.

Silence literally kills people.

When you discuss racism as a white people problem instead of something that people of color have to endure you’re holding white privilege and white supremacy accountable. To be honest, I’m starting to see these two concepts more similarly than before. I thought they were like peanut butter and jelly. Two spreads that go together.

Now, I feel like they are in the same jar (pictured above). They’ve always worked together. In a perfect world, we would all be sweet like fruit salad and sprinkle cinnamon on orange slices and marvel at the abundance. We don’t live in a perfect world, but there’s a lot to learn from it.

Abby as an Ally showed me that there’s nothing wrong with trying again after feeling uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with having feelings after hearing and taking in someone else’s point of view. It’s no wonder I have such a hard time trying to reflect. When I have uncomfortable feelings I tend to deflect. There is work that can be done there. I just need to stop rejecting it. I wish I could reflect on my emotions to the same caliber I reflect on history and public policy. It’s definitely a missing puzzle piece for me. This class and AFRAM 101 with Brukab Sisay really have shown me the power of reflection. While I might not be “good at it,” maybe there’s something meaningful happening when I notice I can improve that skill.

CRT and School Funding

Who controls education in Washington State, Part 3

In order to understand who controls education in Washington State, we must follow the money and the 50 year battle for equitable education spending 

“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex.”

Washington Constitution, article IX, section 1

***The hyperlinks throughout this post provide important context if you are unfamiliar with some of the legal history of education funding in Washington state. Here is a great introduction video

In this blog series, we have used the principles of CRT to shape our critique of how governmental bodies such as the EOGOAC, WA Leg. Education Committee members, and corporate media have limited and distorted the path towards education justice in Washington State. We have asked and answered this question of “Who Controls Education in Washington State?” because our advocacy work has brought us in proximity to and conflict with the various governmental bodies and private interests that have their hand around the neck of the levers of change in our education system. In the first blog post, we targeted the EOGOAC because our work at WAESN has included directly holding them accountable to their duty to our community to close the achievement gap and in the process; centering cultures of our community members. We find ourselves watching the watchmen, having to oversee both who controls education (legislation/private interests) and the structures of accountability and implementation (EOGOAC, PESB, and OSPI). 


After experiencing the rhetorical games, gaslighting, incrementalist reforms, and the exclusionary practices of the EOGOAC and OSPI, we zoomed out to the larger discourse around education in our second blog post. Here, our analysis looked at how the corporate local media, liberal and progressive legislators, and right-wing advocates have dominated the education advocacy discourse with a fear-mongering and limited framing for the value CRT brings to the path towards education liberation. Despite cooptation, misrepresentation, and out-right demonization of CRT, educator-organizers, led by POC-femmes, continue to fight for education justice and liberation using the framework of CRT. In this third post, we will zoom out further to do an analysis of the political-economic and legal structures that control our education system. We will continue to use CRT to recognize injustice in our education funding, respond to biases and inequities, redress the status-quo reforms of the past 50 years – including reparations and abolition of racist systems, actively cultivate equity in education and its funding, and build a system to sustain equity efforts for long-term solutions.

In order to combat the liberal “Culture War'” obfuscation, right-wing organizing, and attacks on CRT, we hope to begin to reframe the conversation of CRT’s influence in our political advocacy work and our vision for a decolonized ethnic studies. As Dr. David Stovall importantly reminded us in WAESN’s 4th Annual Assembly Panel on April 30th, 2022, in conversation with Dr. Anita Fernández (XITO) and our own WAESN organizers, we do this work in order to revolutionize our education system so it reflects the collective determination of our communities. This informative talk reminded us that schools are sites of struggles over collective memory and collective amnesia, and our work is grounded in the question of, “What knowledge should we pursue?” and, “How should we ensure accountability?” It also reminded us of the nature of our work. Firstly, CRT is a critical framework from which to engage in power analysis in pursuit of racial-justice, and secondly, we will be attacked, coopted, and excluded by the loudest, most powerful, moneyed voices.

session from WAESN’s 4th Annual Assembly on Organizing for Ethnic Studies

Many make claims as to the connections between CRT and education, so we want to clarify a few things before we continue. As we explained in part 2 of this blog series, many liberal education advocates circumscribe CRT (CRT-informed-teaching) as just a matter of curriculum/content in the classroom — i.e. teaching black authors or hiring black teachers. While these are fundamental demands of a CRT-informed politics of education, we must not limit the scope of CRT with changes of representation in the classroom. In pursuit of a just education system, we must extend our reading to the ways in which our classrooms are constructed, how our schools are funded, and our districts have been shaped by centuries of racial capitalism. In this post, we argue a CRT-informed politics of education must include the redistribution of funding. At WAESN, we believe that without recognizing inequity and historical injustices, CRT-lite curriculum changes proposed by liberals will not redressing the harm done to communities of color. We hope by reading this series, our readers understand that our current racial caste system is perpetuated by centuries of inadequate education funding and unjust revenue policy enacted by our state government. To put it in simpler terms, we will look into the recent history of where the money comes from, how it is collected, and where it goes. In an era of mass disillusionment and critical conscious raising impacts of COVID-19, the 2020 election, January 6th, and the 2020 BLM Uprising, we have the important duty to prepare our students for a changing world in perpetual crisis.

What is the McCleary Ruling? No equity, but more $.

Of all 50 states, only Washington declares providing basic public education as its “paramount duty.” Yet since the 1970s, Washington State courts have ruled that our legislators have failed to pass education policy that complies with our constitution. In the most recent case in 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary case that our legislators had still not “amply funded” “basic education.” The EOGOAC was tasked with closing the achievement gap in 2009 following this decision. With the passing of legislation that increased spending from 2013-18 (incld. EHB2242), the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state complied with the constitution to fund basic education in 2018. Some recent voices in education were placated by these education funding reforms and satisfied with the ruling. We at WAESN, among many other education advocates, are unconvinced that these changes did anything to redress the inequitable and inadequate funding policy of Washington State. In addition to failing to uphold effective community “accountability” mechanisms (the EOGOAC), our legislators have pushed through funding policy that has enabled historical inequity and injustice. We must watch the watchmen.  


It should be recognized that Washington State has significantly increased public spending on education since the 2012 McCleary ruling, as our legislators will quickly boast. State spending on public schools increased $14.2 billion or 110% from 2009–11 to 2019–21. By comparison, over the same period, all other state spending increased by just 52%. While much could be said for improving our national rankings from 29th to 18th in State spending on education per pupil, it does not mean we are making education our paramount duty here in Washington state, let alone are doing anything to redress historical inequities that our revenue and spending policies have created. Despite such increases, the achievement gap remains for students of color and our funding policy too often burdens working families.

In order to recognize injustice in our education funding and respond to the status-quo reforms of the past 50 years, we will turn our attention in the next installment of this series to the State’s reliance on property taxes to fund these budget increases, the problematic role local levies play in school funding, and finally how all of these reforms fail to take into account the legacies of racist policies that shape our communities, families, and classrooms.

Who Controls Education in Washington State? Part 2; This is not a “Culture War.”

Liberals and progressives who tell you this is a Culture War are co-opting and virtue signaling for their own personal gain.

In part 2 of the series we’ll be looking at who controls education by controlling the narrative around anti-CRT movements. Some have tried to change the narrative by calling it a “Republican war on teachers,” but Republicans aren’t the only antagonists. In a blue state, passive progressive liberals reign supreme.

Culture War” has been used as a rhetorical weapon in American political discourse since the 1920s. Its emergence in the heightened inequality following the Gilded Age is no coincidence, as liberals and conservatives had to respond to the growing momentum of multiracial working class communities calling for racial and economic liberation. In a 21st Century America riddled with under-funded schools, unsupported educators, and austerity budgets closing schools in cities like in Oakland, you might wonder, “Why we are still using a term like ‘culture wars’?”

Diving deeper into the CRT “Culture War” debate, we are able to see how the duopoly of our political discourse between liberals and conservatives limits and shapes what we think of as possible changes to our education system. Conservatives, on the one hand, scream “Communists!” while liberals repeat, “Nothing to see here. We don’t teach CRT.” Each reaction to CRT is a side on the same coin. That is why we are here to unpack how the liberal and conservative framing of CRT as a “Culture War” about curriculum is a distraction from revolutionizing our unjust school system beginning with fully funding our schools, supporting our teachers, and centering the needs and cultures of our most marginalized communities. 



Who’s fighting this so-called “Culture War”?

The reality for many activists and scholars is that Republicans are only one barrier to racial justice; progressive liberals, in trying to appease conservatives, have watered down the intent of CRT, and therefore, ethnic studies. When reading the liberal and progressive headlines, one can easily be convinced CRT is either for white folks to learn how to talk about race or for Black folks to see themselves in the books they read. While these are essential components of CRT, they barely scrape the surface of the changes we at WAESN know our schools need. Liberals and progressives who tell you this is a culture war co-opt our material and historical struggle for liberation

Instead of defending the framework of CRT, liberals want you to think this war is one of promoting multicultural “diversity” or fighting individual acts of bigotry and racism. These corporate-sponsored liberal headlines framing our education crisis as a CRT “Culture War” erase, abstract, and appropriate the demands of families, youth, and educator organizers. They silence us and our ancestors in the generations-long fight for liberation. For racial justice and economic liberation, we must make radical changes to our school funding programs, implement restorative justice, and collaborate for cultural restoration. But before we get into our solutions, we first must disrupt the looping rhetoric of the ruling elite and their control over the two parties. 

Origins of the Anti-CRT Movement in Washington State

Washington State plays a unique role in this national and generational crisis. The New Yorker claims Gig Harbor resident and conservative journalist, Christopher Rufo, is responsible for inventing the CRT “Culture War” in 2019, arguably starting with attacks against WAESN Executive Director, Tracy Castro-Gill. After leaking a City of Seattle “anti-racism” training and making his way onto Tucker Carlson in 2020, CRT made its way to Trump’s attention. For Rufo, CRT was the perfect term to attack because its foundations were rooted in the Marxist tradition of the 1960s. Rufo, unfortunately, was right that red-baiting and pandering to white fragility would work to spread anti-CRT sentiment and outrage. In response to the conservative weaponization of CRT, liberals have fallen prey to playing defense for something they fundamentally are at odds with, but this is not new. CRT is not a culture war, but a revolutionary framework that we at WAESN reclaim as a part of our project of Ethnic Studies. 

Rufo tweets admission of Southern Strategy tactics in attacking CRT

CRT is a framework to critique inequitable funding systems, misrepresentative and white-washed colonizer histories, individualistic capitalist values, and the disciplinary systems that disproportionately punish our students of color. Talking white male heads, including Luke Rosiak, Ben Shapiro, and other, local pundits have turned their strategies from broad attacks on scholarship to baseless personal attacks on leading education advocates in the state, including Tracy Castro Gill, the Executive Director of Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN). 

Unfortunately, for activists and organizers like Tracy, personal attacks, like those launched by Luke Rosiak and Ben Shapiro, have become a rite of passage, a necessary evil to being a political agitator. It comes at a deep emotional and psychological cost for activists, including death threats. Luke Rosiak tried to discredit Tracy by attacking their dead husband and accusing them of child abuse for supporting their trans child. Tracy’s response to these attacks can be read here. Tracy isn’t the only CRT advocate receiving threats and attacks here in Washington State. Jesse Hagopian, member of Black Lives Matter at School and a national advocate for education reform and racial equity, has been subjected to countless attacks and death threats. These attacks are aimed to sabotage the stability and momentum of the work to bring justice to our schools and our society.

While liberals play the role of political pundits in this “Culture War” from the comfort of their armchairs, educators doing the work are waging what can often feel like an actual war with violence ranging from the threat of losing jobs to physical and emotional violence or death. Counter-narrative is a crucial tenant of CRT and ethnic studies, so WAESN is here to set the story straight and shift the narrative from the “Culture Wars” to the ongoing struggle against political systemic racial and economic oppression.

Local Media’s Liberal and Progressive Co-optation

Today’s mainstream journalists stand in the long tradition of liberal Americans who, as James Baldwin warned us, “have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradictions, or public discussion of such contradictions, into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the field of battle.” The liberal outrage at banning To Kill a Mockingbird is the best encapsulation of white liberals turning their political discourse into a self-serving woke-badge of honor. James Baldwin’s writings, too often co-opted by liberals, warned us of the complacency of these liberals who argue that “as long as such books are being published…everything will be alright” in America. The current incarnation of Baldwin’s liberal is, “So long as we have POC representation, everything will seem alright.”

Despite countless local leaders making huge waves in the national struggle for liberation in our school systems, the Seattle Times continues to engage in this ideologically obstructionist discourse. Naomi Ishisaka’s Seattle Times article from August 2021 frames the struggle for CRT within the #TeachTruth action that took place at Yesler Terrace park to oppose anti-CRT bills as a part of a national day of action organized by the Zinn Education Project. Ishisaka’s detailing of the action highlights messages only favorable to the liberal framing of CRT. For example, several radical Black femmes, including WAESN’s Alexis Mburu, organized and spoke at this event, but were ignored in Ishisaka’s article. Her quotes of Jesse Hagopian were cherry-picked and among the more palatable quotes, thus erasing other radical organizers of the event from WAESN, Democratic Socialists of America, and the WA NAACP Youth Council. We believe watering down this story is the product of The Seattle Times’ conservative bent, but Ishisaka’s summary of the demands on the street were: curriculum reform. Our response: Um, no. If we are truly using CRT as a framework for rebuilding our education system, there needs to be a revolution of our school funding system, our punitive justice system, our tax code, and the fundamental values of our society. If we continue to allow liberals and conservatives to frame the political discourse as a “Cultural War,” we will continue to allow the ruling class to abstract our material conditions from the conversation. 

In stark contrast to the Seattle Times, the South Seattle Emerald does important work by amplifying often overlooked stories, not unlike this one. For example, the South Seattle Emerald (SSE) recently published an article by the National Liberated Ethnic Studies Coalition that declared that the time for ethnic studies organizing is now. SSE is the most pro-ethnic studies, pro-communities of color news outlet in the state and has published over a dozen articles on the positive work and impact of ethnic studies.

WAESN is in full support of SSE and its founder, Marcus Harrison Green, and his February 8th article published in the Seattle Times deserves what Dr. Django Paris calls a loving critique. In the piece, Green begins to ask an important question that progressives have been asking since the CRT “Culture War” exploded in the wake of 2020’s uprisings: “Do you know what critical race theory Is?” Green’s article does not answer this question, but it does answer what CRT is not. We agree with Green that CRT is not just a culturally inclusive and responsive curriculum. This is where our focus on the definition of CRT and that of Green differs. Green focuses on conservative attacks on “truth” like HB1807 which, as he highlights, “specifically names The 1619 Project and How to be an Antiracist as books that could effectively only be taught alongside ‘opposing’ literature.”

Green’s progressive framing of CRT as “teaching truth” also wrongly names Representative Tomiko Santos as the legislator challenging Conservative bill sponsor, Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen). It was Representative Monica Stonier who actually served him the tea during the House Education Committee hearing on the bill. Representative Tomiko Santos is quite possibly the most passive progressive liberal in the Washington State legislature. She is well-known in grassroots organizing as a gatekeeper to transformational change, insisting on “bipartisan wins.” Suggesting that she is somehow radical – or even supports radical change – causes harm to radical movements. 

Representative Stonier questions Representative Walsh’s sources at a House Education Committee hearing on SB 1807

Journalists asking questions in mainstream media outlets trying to define the “real CRT” should not spotlight progressives who dunk on Washington State conservatives. Instead, we should be asking why our systems, including education, continue to not only perpetuate racial injustice, but also reproduce class disparities. Green, however, does point in the right direction for who we should be listening to when it comes to defining CRT: local youth organizers, families, and community organizations. If we listen to the voices of those fighting for CRT, we learn that these grassroots efforts are being attacked from all sides. 

WAESN Under Attack

Educator organizers in Washington State like Tracy Castro-Gill, Michale Peña, Rita Green, Bruce Jackson, Fernell Miller, Nikkita Oliver, Wayne Au, Jesse Hagopian, Darrin Hoop, Sebrena and RenaMateja Burr, Marquita Prinzing, Jon Greenberg, Alexis Mburu, and countless youth organizers from WA NAACP Youth Council, The Root of our Youth, and WAESN have been fighting on multiple fronts to bring racial justice and ethnic studies to our schools. In 2019, many ethnic studies advocates’ work came to fruition after building the movement behind SB5023, which entrusted the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to “identify and make available” ethnic studies materials and resources to 7-12 educators. It was later extended to grades K-6 with SB6066. WAESN has played a fundamental role in creating the materials and resources provided by OSPI. However, WAESN’s advocacy efforts agitated the progressive and liberal policy makers attempting to win woke points with legislation that has little accountability, zero funding, and superficial community support. This agitation has fueled the liberals’ attacks on WAESN and made it easier to erase our work from the narrative. 

WAESN recently acquired emails between Jerry Price, OSPI social studies lead charged with developing the ethnic studies framework, and several, white, Zionist educators working to undermine the progress made by femmes of color. David Witus admits to filing a complaint because WAESN condemns Israel’s ongoing attacks on Palestine and because WAESN’s executive director frequently reminds white Jewish people they are, in fact, white no matter how much they tan. It worked, because OSPI removed WAESN from a list of PD providers in the ethnic studies framework, proving once again that our greatest detractors from liberation are passive progressive liberals, this time those liberals in OSPI who favored the feelings of white men over the work of femme educators of color.

WAESN was only re-listed as a PD provider after involving lawyers and sending daily emails to Superintendent Reykdal. Instead of building our coalition, connecting with educators and families, WAESN is forced to be on the defense from both sides of the political spectrum. This is why WAESN is fighting on multiple fronts; both conservatives and liberals want to reframe the education reform discussion to focus on the “cultural” aspects of CRT, when in reality they all fear the growing dissatisfaction with the racial and economic realities of our school system, one limited by the state of austerity and scarcity fabricated by the ruling elite. 

The everyday violence of underfunded, over-policed, and racist schools gets scapegoated as a red-state Republican “Culture War” issue while in reality, Washington schools face a continued crisis fueled by a defunct, do-nothing Democratic controlled state legislature. In a state with a Democratic controlled legislature, we have no excuses, no Trumps to blame, so we must face the fact that perhaps it’s time for us to rethink our allegiance to the Democratic Party. Democrats and “progressives” will not save us. We will save us.