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One White Male’s Perspective

By David Palmer, Science Department Head

One White Male’s Perspective

The mass murders in Atlanta need to be called what they are. They are hate crimes, but that is not enough. It angers me to hear attempts to explain the actions as a result of the killer’s struggles with addiction and feelings of failing his faith. Addiction doesn’t lead someone to go on a killing spree. It can make you desperate, but it makes the addict desperate to feed the addiction, not to kill. Hate makes you want to kill. And that young white man in Georgia killed women and killed Asians out of hate. Race and prejudice based hate crimes happen all too often in America because of our culture. This is a country dominated by white men, and as a white man, I want to say we are all far too complicit in perpetuating this patriarchy. The murderer is an extreme example, as all hate crimes are, but it is the “tip of the iceberg.” He was not a “lone wolf,” he is a product of the culture he was raised in- the same culture that I was raised in, the same culture that put a man in the White House who can be overtly degrading to women, overtly anti-Asian, and overtly blame immigrants and minorities and still have almost half of the voting population vote for him. I am not saying Donald Trump is to blame for this crime, I am saying American culture is responsible for both of them, and that culture is a white patriarchy that is racist, misogynist, and violent.

I don’t want to take away from the trauma the Asian community has experienced or the anxiety and fear that comes with being Asian in America. I just can’t help but see it in the context of a culture that allows, and promotes violence against African-Americans, violence and hatred toward immigrants, and violence and hatred toward women. And I see a common denominator in all that – white men. White men are not the target of these things, they are the perpetrators. I have heard reference to the phrase “not all men.” I refuse to use it myself, because, yes, of course, it is not all men and not all white men. But, when the culture we grow up in repeatedly delivers the messages that women are less than, minorities are less than, immigrants are less than, and to be feared, it makes them targets for the more desperate, the more angry, the more extreme members of the dominant group: white men.  

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Unraveling White Supremacy: Reflections on Becoming Anti-racist

By Dr. Heather Harwood, Classics Faculty

Unraveling White Supremacy: Reflections on Becoming Anti-racist

As Penelope, the heroine of the Odyssey, awaits her husband’s return from the Trojan war, she spends her time weaving and unweaving the same piece of fabric- a shroud intended for her father-in-law’s funeral. 

“[E]very day she wove the mighty cloth and then at night, by torchlight, she unwove it.” (2.107-108) The poet tells us that she had been doing this for three years before the dozens of suitors – local men who have been visiting her palace to ask for her  hand in marriage – discovered the trick. When they finally realize she has been deceiving them, these suitors become angry and tell her son Telemachus to force her to choose one of them right away – a crisis that begins the action of the rest of the poem’s long narrative.

Readers of the Odyssey often point to this passage as an example of Penelope’s “capacity for clever deceit and false storytelling,” evidence that she too, like her husband Odysseus, is polytrope, clever and versatile, or, as Emily Wilson newly translates this epithet, “complicated.” But as Wilson rightly points out, Penelope’s practice of doing and undoing is different from the kind of trickery for which her husband is known. While Odysseus’s lies are always designed to advance his way in the world or achieve some heroic feat, Penelope’s action is not a fabrication of the truth, but the opposite: a refabrication of her reality. With her nightly unfurling of the cloth, she is seeking to hold the sometimes violent threat of the suitors in check while simultaneously holding space for a different ending to her story, the ending she wants to come true and which will in fact be the end of the story, namely her husband’s homecoming. Penelope’s trick (if it can be considered one) both saves her life and makes it possible for the rest of the story to be sung. (Wilson, 45) 

I want to offer this story about Penelope as a starting point for my reflections on how to begin the work of becoming anti-racist for two reasons. First, many of the words currently in use to describe our relationship to racism and white supremacy (implicit, explicit, complicit) derive from words that can also be used to describe the intricate work of ancient textile production. Second, I think this story of Penelope weaving, unweaving and reweaving provides an apt metaphor for the work of becoming an anti-racist. Unraveling and untangling all of the threads of white supremist culture in your life is difficult work — ongoing, messy and often very uncomfortable. The narrative of American history is only part of the tapestry of white supremacy, which has its origins in ancient and modern European history. In what follows, I will present one way to think about how to develop a capacity for identifying, explicating and finally unraveling the threads of white supremacy. 

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The Pandemic Year: Reflections on Teaching, Covid-19, and Social Justice in 2020-2021

By Dr. Downing Kress, Modern Languages Faculty

The Pandemic Year: Reflections on Teaching, Covid-19, and Social Justice in 2020-2021

If I could travel back in time to March 2020 and describe to my former self the current state of the world, I would not have believed my own words. Never would I have imagined that I would be teaching French to high school students all over the world using Zoom, a platform I had never encountered before last spring, when I was teaching literature to undergraduates at NYU. On the eve of Spring Break 2020, when the NYU administration announced that break would be extended for one more week before likely bringing everyone back to campus, I don’t think that any of us – students, teachers, researchers, administrators – were prepared for the reality that we would, in fact, not be returning to our classrooms, lecture halls, or offices for the remainder of the academic year. Never would I have imagined that the only place I would be seeing my students would be on the computer screen, and that this strange new way of teaching would a year later be as habitual and familiar as brushing my teeth. Never would I have imagined that COVID-19 would affect my day-to-day life in the ways that it has, nor would I have imagined it would structure the ways in which I teach, as well as what I teach, in the language classroom. But teaching is always a learning process, and 2020-2021 has given us much to learn.

The world has changed and we have been transformed in innumerable ways over the past year. We have been forced to be apart from one another, something that is entirely unnatural to us humans. We have adapted by replacing visits with friends and family with FaceTime calls, and by trading out classrooms and large gathering spaces for breakout rooms found on our computer screens and cell phones.

And yet, despite our adaptations to living our lives virtually, much about this past year has been very much anchored in the physical word. Obviously, the very thing that pushed us into this virtual state – the coronavirus – is physically real. COVID-19 wreaks real havoc on the body of its victims, and also on the mental, social, and physical wellbeing of us all. The physical manifestations of this “invisible enemy” are pervasive and glaring, influencing the ways we operate and affecting the rhythms of cities and towns all over the world.

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Building a Social Justice Mindset: Parents as Partners Presentation

By Dr. Colleen Worrell, Directer of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning

Building a Social Justice Mindset: Parents as Partners Presentation

The following video is a recording of Dr. Worrell’s Parents as Partners presentation on building a social justice mindset.

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Becoming Dr. King’s “Beloved Community”

By Rev. Katie Solter, Religion Faculty and Associate Chaplain

 Becoming Dr. King’s “Beloved Community”

Religious scholar Karen Armstrong writes: “Religions have functioned throughout human history to inspire and justify actions that range from heinous crimes against humanity to nearly unfathomable acts of compassion, courage, and generosity.”  In my role as a religion teacher and chaplain at St. Mark’s, dedicated to the work of building an anti-racist school, I strive to provide a balanced representation of religions. We must understand religion’s complicity in the “heinous crimes” committed often in the name of religion’s presumed superiority of the dominant group throughout history, while exploring the important role religion plays in fighting oppression and promoting the values of non-violence, social justice, and equality as part of the “unfathomable acts of compassion, courage and generosity” religion inspires. 

The Role of Religion on January 6, 2021

The events of January 6, 2021 serve as a poignant example of these contrasting ideas. That morning we woke up to the news of Jon Ossoff’s and Raphael Warnock’s historic victories in Georgia’s run-off Senate elections, with Ossoff becoming the first Jewish Senator and Warnock, the first African-American Senator elected in the state of Georgia. In St. Mark’s required religion class, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (JCI), we discussed the rise in anti-Semitism this year and Jon Ossoff’s run for senate told a familiar story of how Ossoff’s opponents deployed anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes to undermine his candidacy. An infamous campaign advertisement, uncovered by the Jewish newspaper The Forward, exaggerated his features to make him look more stereotypically Jewish.  Yet, on this occasion, these age-old tactics failed as Ossoff achieved his improbable victory in a traditionally conservative state.    

At the same time, Rev. Rapheal Warnock’s election highlights the role the Black church continues to play in the political arena given the record turnout in Georgia for Black voters.  As Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale writes: “Since the end of the Civil War, the Black church has been a critical institution within the pro-democracy movement. Collectively serving as a general for justice, the Black church continues to be a refuge for the oppressed and a force with which to be reckoned on the issue of racial and economic equality through the power of the ballot.” Senator Warnock is senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist church in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once served and his election represents  a victory for the work Dr. King and the Black church have played in promoting the spiritual and social justice principles of Christian belief.  

The election of these two candidates alone–as examples of the important role religious understanding plays in the current political landscape– provided pertinent discussion topics in a JCI class at St. Mark’s. As we all know, later that afternoon, this day of historic victory for Jews and Black Christians in Georgia, quickly turned to a day of infamy. The attacks on the Capitol building highlighted the role religion can play in perpetuating hatred and White supremacist ideology, with Christian flags and banners waving side by side with anti-semitic and racist ones. In just a few short hours, we have two milestone events in our political history that illustrate the sometimes divergent, even contradictory roles religion can play. My job as a teacher of religion in an historical and educational moment that calls upon us to create an anti-racist school is to finds ways to place these moments in a broader intellectual context so my students can have a more balanced and nuanced understanding of religion’s complex legacy. 

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What’s Old is New: Changes in the Classics Department at St. Mark’s School

By Ms. Jeanna Cook, Classics Department Head

What’s Old is New: Changes in the Classics Department at St. Mark’s School

I know what you’re thinking, how could anything related to the Classics be new? You are right to assume that our body of evidence about the ancient world is limited to that which has survived. Fresh discoveries pulled out of the sands of Egypt or deaccessioned from a private collection are few and far between. The evolution, the excitement, and the new in Classics is in the reinterpretation of the material we have had in hand for thousands of years. Recently this reinterpretation has asked better questions about what is missing in order to form new understandings. What evidence of everyday lives in the ancient world has been passed over in favor of the historical record of Roman elites? Whose voices are missing in the historical, or written, record? How can we use the archaeological record to listen for these voices?

In response to the St. Mark’s: Actions to Be An Anti-Racist School petition and in alliance with the voices amplified by the BlackAtSM Instagram account, we introduced a new textbook, Suburani in the Classics Department over the summer. The readings in this text represent the real and imagined voices of the majority non-elite population, with numbers in the millions, who both benefited from and suffered under the dominance of Roman Imperium. 

The writers of Suburani by HandsUp Education developed this textbook in response to student interest in the lives of everyday people in Roman society. Most texts written for the Latin students of the past century have relied upon the historical record to tell the experience of Roman culture from the perspective of Roman boys and men. These characters are literate, involved in the conflicts of Rome’s political sphere, and authors and consumers of the literature and philosophy of their time. In contrast, Suburani couples the limited extant record of everyday people with the artifacts of everyday life. In this text, physical clues, such as amphorae that carried olive oil from Hispania to Rome, stamped roof tiles from large apartment blocks, and graffiti inscribed on neighborhood walls, develop the stories of the individuals who left a less verbose record of their lives in the first century CE.

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