It’s haunted me since I entered the classroom, and unfortunately, it has only gotten worse.
In a world that feels increasingly unsafe, it’s understandable that people want to try and protect themselves. They want to figure out how they can survive, or assume that some kind of preparation will protect us from the deadly hatred of others.
Unfortunately, in our search for security, the worst parts of ourselves can come out. People create false scapegoats to blame, instead of looking the root of the issue squarely in the face. We’ve seen it countless times throughout history.
It’s something we’re continuing to do today.
When Pennsylvania’s Penn-Trafford school district chose to put a Middle-Eastern head scarf on the antagonist of its active-shooting-drill simulation video, district officials unfortunately perpetuated not only harmful but also factually untrue stereotypes about Middle Eastern and Islamic people. According to Mother Jones, no Middle Eastern person has committed a school shooting in the United States.
While the district is claiming that it has a “commitment to diversity,” and that perpetuating such stereotypes wasn’t the intent, it doesn’t change the fact that this aids in the explicit and implicit bias that ultimately creates a dangerous environment for our Middle Eastern and Muslim students and communities. As educators, we know that students listen and learn from the choices we make. When we let our biases influence the images we share with our students of other cultures, when we choose to show only the singular, problematic version of a culture’s story—one rooted in fear instead of reality—we pass on our harmful biases onto our students as well. We normalize the idea that Middle Eastern or Muslim cultures are “other,” people to be feared and ostracized.
We have to be honest with ourselves about the hate we create and the hate we ignore. If we continue to focus on cultures that we’re choosing to paint with fear instead of the actual issue itself, we’ll only fall further down the rabbit hole of divisive, dangerous beliefs.
This divisiveness only furthers the hatred that domestic terrorists often use to justify their heinous crimes.
These crimes create more of the fear that drives us to want to find those scapegoats to other and blame.
It’s on us to break that cycle. It’s on us to consciously choose to work on our implicit and explicit biases to start undoing the systemic oppression that has led us here. In doing so, we can help our students hopefully create a world much more loving, inclusive, and safe than the one we’ve created for them now.
The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.