Racism is a Tool for Oppression

The other day David Schoales included, in the context of a discussion group, a link to a June 2 statement issued by the Vermont Agency of Education director Daniel French. Following are the first two paragraphs of that statement:

“In light of the killing of George Floyd, another instance of police violence against a person of
color, we write to reaffirm the Agency of Education’s commitment to social justice and equity
literacy statewide. We firmly believe in our collective responsibility to create an anti-racist
education system and commit to supporting districts and schools in Vermont in their own
efforts to confront racism and create learning environments that are just, inclusive and

We recognize that the pursuit of racial equity is a process and journey that requires ownership
and self-reflection. We also recognize that education has the enormous power to liberate, but
due to the ingrained systems of white supremacy, has too often reinforced systems of
oppression in the United States. Finally, we recognize that we at AOE, as part of Vermont’s
collective education system, have more work to do to advance the cause of equity and inclusion.”

To read the entire statement go here: https://education.vermont.gov/sites/aoe/files/documents/edu-statement-on-the-killing-of-george-floyd.pdf

To this I responded:

It is necessary to recognize and give credit to Dan French for his strong statement.  Especially his unequivocal connection of racism to oppression.

Three years ago I was among a group of new school board members listening to Mr. French talking about the responsibilities as such.  Nothing like what he is saying now was included then. Events of the day have propelled Mr. French a long way. As with many of us “leaders” a huge hole in our education and understanding has been filling in. A hole so huge in fact it ought to serve as a sharp and painful reminder of how humble we must be as teachers. Our 12 year old black students understood the some vital realities of our society much better than their 42 year old white teachers. They just hadn’t yet acquired the skills and context to express what they were seeing and living.

We can now move forward with some major revisions in our curriculums.  That will be the measure of when and if we go from talk to action.  However it should be noted that Mr. French’s assertions and conclusions only get us halfway there.  Racism is, absolutely, to be equated with oppression.  But it is only the oppression of a specific group.  A minority at that.  In the grander and more fundamental picture racism is only a tool used to create a much broader and more deeply ingrained system of oppression called capitalism.  The system that suggests it is morally OK for some to have more than they need while others have too little.  Under those conditions we will always be intensely competing to exist and every advantage over  our neighbor will be viewed as justifiable self-interest.

The awareness that Mr French has yet to find is that all systemic oppression has to disappear.   The only purpose of slavery was cheap labor.  It is highly unlikely that discrimination will ever abate as long as economic injustice exists.  How can we say that all people are equal and then not divide the fruits of our labor equally?  How can I say that you have just as much right to live as I do but aren’t entitled to the same health care as I enjoy?   No one I have ever spoken to has felt like they got the education needed to understand the place they live.  One only has to look at the world today from global to local – to peer into the future – and see the decisions we have made to get here.  Why did we make those decisions?  Our schools must teach why those decisions were made.

Poverty, racism, climate and ecological collapse are the end result of what our children (us) have been taught for generations.

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