Home > Uncategorized > Burlington WI Incident Shows the Uphill Fight to Achieve Racial Equity, the Difference Between Non-Racist and Anti-Racist Leadership

Burlington WI Incident Shows the Uphill Fight to Achieve Racial Equity, the Difference Between Non-Racist and Anti-Racist Leadership

October 24, 2020


This NBC news account about an idealistic teacher in Burlington WI illustrates the daunting task educators face in trying to teach about institutional racism. Based on the information in the news report, 4th grade teacher Melissa Statz offered her 4th grade students a lesson on that topic that involved a children’s book, an educational video, and a worksheet. None of the materials nor the lesson itself were advocating anything other than equal treatment under the law for students of color and only one parent in the class objected and Ms. Statz addressed that parent’s concerns. But once the rumor mill began cranking, Ms. Statz found herself in the middle of a storm and the evidence of latent racism in the community came to the forefront.

Initially the School Board and Superintendent tried to downplay the conflict that was emerging in the community by taking a neutral stance on the question of racism, characterizing the lesson as “unauthorized”, and handling the whole incident as “a personnel matter” that would be taken care of. Neither the latent racists nor the parents of children of color and their supporters were happy with that. When the incidents in the community and school district became increasingly racist the Superintendent produced an open letter that included this:

“I see how my perspective was offensive and understand that there is no neutrality when pursuing equity,” Superintendent Plank said in the letter. “The fact that we even need to specifically say that Black Lives Matter to affirm the importance of human beings is to say that we as a nation have not done a good job of regarding Black and brown people as valuable members of our society historically or currently.”

He acknowledged the district received “a wave of polarized feedback, some of it espousing racist, hateful, and threatening sentiments” and said that the attacks against school staff and community members must stop.

After trying to deal with racism by being “non-racist”, by declaring that racism is unacceptable, the Superintendent acknowledged that the district needed to support equity even if the cost of such a pursuit meant that some in the community would be upset.

And here’s the problem facing Burlington WI and every town and city in America: only those who are threatened by discussions on race can solve the problem of racism. The teachers, only 18% of whom are willing to teach about the issue, are not nearly as big a problem as the similar sized core of parents who do not want their children to learn about the issue. The only way the latent racism will ever be addressed is for those in the middle ground, those who are non-racist, to declare themselves as anti-racist… to declare their full support for equity and justice. For the percentage of THAT group far outnumbers the group of outright racists who are unyielding in their belief of white supremacy.

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