June 4, 2020
By Dianne Haulcy, Senior Vice President of Family Engagement, Think Small
WAKE UP! This morning I woke up with that Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes song that became popular in the 70’s.
Wake Up! “No more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead.”
Those words are as fresh today as they were 40 years ago. As an African American mother of three young men who are also tall and large in stature like George Floyd, I struggled and mourned as I watched the community I was born and raised in burn around me in the wake of a highly preventable murder of an African American man at the hands of police. I say once again today, wake up! It is time, Minnesota, that we realize we are drowning in the midst of two pandemics. The first pandemic, COVID-19 has stunted our economy and kept us inside our homes and outside of our normal routines of face to face community. Although we struggle under this pandemic as we watch the death tolls rise on a daily basis, we have seen how our country and local leadership has pulled together and responded. In a matter of six months, our entire world looks completely different in response to this Pandemic. We still have a long road ahead. But we have faced this virus head on and we have deployed heroic doctors in the medical field, first responders and EMT to move us in the right direction, revealing our capacity for systems to respond to crisis.
“Let’s wake up and realize that racist systems of oppression are just as deadly, if not deadlier than the coronavirus.”
This second pandemic we have been living with has been brewing for hundreds of years. Yes, we’ve called it something different but have not mobilized this crisis in the right direction. We don’t like to call the name of this second pandemic, but it is the system of white supremacy. Within days Minneapolis has become ground zero for the most recent horrific display of black body oppression that was caught on video. Our nation has been awakened to the system of white supremacy that is embedded in very deep way in America. It is pervasive within our political and government systems, our justice system, financial and housing systems, health systems and our educational systems in America. Like the coronavirus it is highly contagious and deadly leaving many black and brown citizens unable to sleep.
Wake Up! “Wake up all the teachers, time to teach a new way.”
Having worked in the field of human services and early childhood in the Twin Cities for over 25 years, I have been wrestling all week to try and articulate George Floyd’s senseless murder to the work we have been doing to make sure all children in Minnesota are ready for Kindergarten. For years, Minnesota has ranked at the very bottom in the country in our ability to graduate African American and Indigenous students from high school. We in the early childhood field know, unfortunately, that the disparities that put a child on the path towards academic success, start as early as in the womb and studies have shown linguistic disparities in low-income children and upper income children as early as 18 months.
What became crystal clear to me as I watched that video, and watched the face of a white officer look dead in the camera as if he had the right to be snuffing out the life of a black body; the justice system this officer was a part of, gave him implicit permission to act accordingly. Just as our educational and early childhood systems give implicit permission to devalue children with black and brown bodies by legislating their futures based upon zip codes and socioeconomic status. It is the same evil that transcends our entire system.
In Minnesota, we have what is a called a “Super Diverse” educational system. This means that there are multiple languages, cultures, ethnicities in many of our classrooms in the Twin Cities. The younger the classroom, the more diverse it is. However, we have no coordinated plan of how we equitably teach all of these children in the same space. So, our classrooms look a lot different than they did even 15 or 20 years ago, but our methods have not changed very much. What does that mean? It means that our teaching system, even in preschool and toddler rooms, carries with it the same implicit bias it always has and values white bodies as more valuable than black and brown bodies. Meaning, that white bodies become the standard by which all other people are measured. When this happens, we produce white people who lack the awareness and sensitivity of the cultural needs of others. Without some type of intervention, well intended child educators, unconsciously move throughout our systems in society, continuing to value white bodies over black and brown bodies, further perpetuating prejudice. It is learned behavior.
We need to think in a new way. It is time for us to stop believing multicultural curriculums are only for children of color. If this week has taught us anything, it should teach us that our young white children need to be taught that their white bodies are not superior to black and brown bodies. That all bodies have equal importance and sanctity. Even if all the children in the classroom are white, we need to find ways to creatively guide white children to an identity that is rooted in equity. We also need to assure that all black and brown children are in early childhood environments that celebrate their culture and most importantly do not implicitly view their bodies as inferior. What that means is that we truly need to “wake up” and stop being ignorant to what is going on around us.
Although I do not condone violence or the destruction of property, as we watched the 3rd precinct burn, with no police or fire personnel intervention, it became a symbol of what many black and brown people desire to happen to the structurally racist system of oppression that has built this country. We want it destroyed and we want to work together to build a new system with a foundation of true equity.
Wake Up! “Wake up all the builders, time to build a new land.”
As we look towards the very real task of cleaning up our city and rebuilding, I am proud to witness Minnesotans at our best. Before the smoke even cleared, people came out into the streets in droves with brooms and dustpans to clean up the piles of debris that accumulated throughout our city streets. No one even had to ask. People just did what they know needed to be done.
That is the kind of courageous behavior we need as we not only re-build the buildings that have been destroyed throughout south Minneapolis and other places around Minneapolis and St. Paul, but we need that same courage to roll up our sleeves and rebuild our systems in Minnesota and across America.
Let’s wake up and realize that racist systems of oppression are just as deadly, if not deadlier than the coronavirus. And in the same way we have come together to fight COVID-19, we can fight and dismantle white supremacy and rebuild a system of justice and equity. Fighting COVID-19 has been extremely hard on us all and it is not lost on me that our children are now growing up with a collective Adverse Childhood Experience by surviving COVID-19. However, the difference in how we are fighting the virus as compared to how we are fighting (or not fighting as the case may be) systemic racism, is that we are talking about COVID-19 and actively making structural changes that address the root of the issue. We receive almost daily updates from our Governor. Our entire economic system and the way we purchase and sell goods and food has shifted almost overnight. The mass media has been consumed with daily reports on our death tolls and testing for the virus and we are anxiously waiting for a cure. And although we may not always agree on the methods we are taking, we do seem to unified with a common result – flatten the curve and decrease the amount of people getting sick and dying.
In regards to our second pandemic of systemic racism, we do not like to talk about it at all. And when brave people of all colors try to talk about it, we get uncomfortable and try to shift the dialogue away from the true issue. We are divided on if there really is a problem, and even among those who are well aware of the systemic issues we face, we are not in agreement on a common agenda, content to whittle away in our silos with little to no true change.
In case you have not realized it yet, this is your wake up call. And I am calling on all of my colleagues in early childhood to wake up to the reality of what our system is complicit in. Let George Floyd’s murder be a wakeup call to us all. Let’s wake up and fight for a system rooted in equity, not exploiting black and brown bodies to sustain our programs. It is time for us to mobilize as we have mobilized around this common agenda of fighting COVID-19. We need to realize that our systems will look differently, just as they do now as we are fighting COVID-19. We will need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, as we are now being forced to do so with sheltering in place policies and helping our children with distance learning. We need to realize that our government will need to step in and do things differently, as they are now by providing stimulus checks and payroll protection, passing laws in a timely manner to address the Pandemic; it can be done.
If you had told our country even six months ago that we would be living in the world that we are living in now, most people, including myself, would not have believed it. That is a true testament to what we as humans are capable of when we are united in a common goal. Racial injustice is a global pandemic that requires an emergency response.
So, let’s WAKE UP and get to work!
Dianne Haulcy is the Senior Vice President of Family Engagement at Think Small and was a member of the NOW Learning Community through the Voices and Choices for Children Coalition - Minnesota.