Students at two Michigan high schools left classes on Thursday to protest the kind of racist remark that should make anyone's stomach turn. "I was touching the teacher’s mic. I probably shouldn’t have been doing it," Keichean Wilson told Fox 2 Detroit. "She says to me, 'Get your cotton picking hands off of that.'"
Then, when given the opportunity to revise her statement, the substitute instead repeated it. "I don’t think I comprehended what she said at first, and then she repeated it," Wilson said. "You cannot say that. That’s really bad. So then she goes, ‘It’s an old saying that we used to say,’ and so I go, ‘Who do you think they said it to?’"
Farmington High students shouted "Black Lives Matter" and walked toward the district office, and students at the nearby North Farmington High School also participated in a walkout in support of Wilson, Fox 2 reported.
Keiona Turner, the parent of a sophomore at Farmington High, told ABC-affiliated WXYZ that she is tired of racism. “We have known that our ancestors have had to pick cotton," she said. "We are in the north, so there wasn’t much cotton picking up here. So, this is something that had to be ingrained in this person."
Superintendent Chris Delgado told Fox 2 the teacher was removed and will not be returning to teach at any school in the district. "The administration immediately addressed the situation and removed that substitute teacher and worked with her contract services to make sure she’s not back," he said.
The superintendent told WXYZ the district screens its substitutes, but certain elements of what they believe are difficult to screen for. "While we can conduct background checks and fingerprint for substitute teachers, we cannot screen for what's in their hearts and minds,” he said. “If you harbor racist feelings and do not embrace our diversity as a strength, do not apply to Farmington Public Schools."
The superintendent praised Wilson’s response in that he went to a conflict resolution staff member after the incident.
"I don’t have any hate toward her," he said. "I feel like the only way that things are going to change is people have love for everyone."
Students at the school will have access to counseling and restorative circles to help them process how they are feeling, WXYZ reported.
The substitute, who hasn’t been named publicly, is hardly the only teacher who picked Black History Month to let her true colors show.
Last February, a teacher gave a slavery yoga lesson at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center in Delaware. Another educator in Florida threatened to remove a Black child tickled by a teacher’s suggestion that slaves weren’t whipped. “How do you know? Were you there?” the student asked in a video he later posted on TikTok with several other clips from the Advanced Placement class. ”Let me help you out ... before I kick you out,” the teacher responded in the video.
That same month, a teacher in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond called a Black student's "Black King" T-shirt racist.
Susan Parks-Schlepp, a spokeswoman for the district, released this statement to KFOR defending the district’s decision to put the educator on paid administrative leave:
“Edmond Public Schools district administrators met this afternoon, Thursday, Feb. 25, with a Heartland Middle School teacher at the center of a complaint. The district recognizes the public’s desire for a quick resolution to this issue. However, it’s important to note that employees have fundamental rights to ensure fairness when they are the subject of a complaint. Those rights include an option for the teacher to respond to and contest any recommended disciplinary action. As such, the district cannot, at this time, divulge any further details about the outcome of today’s meeting.”
There’s no doubt that the district’s response was upsetting, as were the actual remarks from people tasked with educating our children, but what is perhaps more disheartening than any offending remark spewed in ignorance is the concentrated effort launched by Republicans to remove Black history from schools.
More than 35 states have introduced—and in some cases passed laws or other requirements to limit—education on race and racism in public schools, the education news nonprofit Chalkbeat reported. Black senators in Mississippi staged a walkout in January to protest proposed legislation banning schools from teaching critical race theory, but their Republican counterparts passed the legislation in the state Senate anyway, NPR reported.
In Alabama, where the state board of education has already passed one such ban, a superintendent told state legislators the policy is confusing parents. Superintendent Eric Mackey told the House Education Policy Committee he has had to field two calls from parents who wanted to cancel Black History Month programming, dubbing it critical race theory. "Having a Black history program is not CRT," Mackey said.
The framework is used to interpret law and maintains that racism has an undeniable effect on the legal foundation of American society, but racists have been redefining critical race theory to mean any subject dealing with prejudice that makes white people uncomfortable.
In fact, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is actually trying to codify that language. He is pushing a bill to ban schools and businesses from making white people feel "discomfort" during lessons on discrimination.
Stated in the proposed legislation’s language is a list of “unlawful employment practices” prohibiting any “condition of employment ... that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe any of the following concepts,” including: "An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin."
State Sen. Shevrin Jones, the only Black man on the state Senate education committee, made a passionate plea to his peers against censorship in voting against the bill. “This bill’s not for Blacks, this bill was not for any other race. This was directed to make whites not feel bad about what happened years ago,” Jones said. “At no point did anyone say white people should be held responsible for what happened, but what I would ask my white counterparts is, are you an enabler of what happened, or are you going to say we must talk about history?”
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