Confronting our History of Hate

“My nine-year-old son asked me, ‘Mom, why are you doing this [organizing a rally to support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders]?’ My answer was simple. I told him, ‘I’m doing this for you.  It’s my job as a mother to protect you and your brother from physical and mental harm.’  I told him I didn’t want them and their generation to grow up the same way the people before them had.”

I was at a rally in the town where I teach, a town where our schools have a reputation as being some of the best in the state. That voice was the voice of the mom of one of my students.  Later, students from the town’s award-winning high school spoke.  What became clear through their stories of the slights, microaggressions, slurs and acts of bullying they had experienced was that those accolades and awards covered over some secrets that we need to address.  What good is a strong academic reputation if these same schools are a place where racial and ethnic ignorance reign? 

We have gaps in what we teach and discuss, and it leads to gaps in what our students understand.  Those gaps, of course, extend to us, the adults.  Connecticut’s Attorney General spoke at this event, too.  As an Asian-American, he said that over the past weeks he’d been asked repeatedly how he was doing, what he was thinking about the events in Atlanta.  He said he wasn’t sure how to respond at first, but the comment that pierced him most was when more than one person said, “I’m shocked that this could happen.  Aren’t you surprised?”  

No, William Tong was not surprised.  On the contrary, what shocked him was that some Americans had no knowledge of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that banned immigration from China to the U.S.  What shocked him was that some (most?) Americans had no memory or knowledge of the murder of Vincent Chin a full century later, in 1982.  It was a murder that got the brutal attackers probation and a $3000 fine. 

I listened to each speech, each testimonial, each call to action, and realized this:  it’s on me and my colleagues.  If we can’t combat this virus of hate that has infected and injured so many of our students, then we are not really an educational paragon.  We’re part of the system that permits and perpetuates racism.

Like my student’s mom said, “I don’t want this new generation of students to grow up the same way the people before them had.” 

We need to learn history, including (especially?) unpleasant history, so we don’t repeat it.

10 thoughts on “Confronting our History of Hate

  1. I did not know Vincent Chin’s story. Now I do. I am impressed with your student’s mother & I agree 100%. These lines of yours are powerfully important: If we can’t combat this virus of hate that has infected and injured so many of our students, then we are not really an educational paragon. We’re part of the system that permits and perpetuates racism.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree- what’s the point of the academics if we’re perpetuating or allowing the world to go on so full of hate? This line, it’s on me and my colleagues- I believe this with my whole heart. I still don’t know exactly how to do it- but I believe we are slowly (probably too slowly) learning. I appreciate having colleagues like you. I’d love to talk about the school wide read of Wishtree. Maybe we can get even more going there.

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  3. It is our job to teach respect, perspective and literally stop hate. It is imperative that we all take it upon ourselves to not only know, but understand both the pleasant and unpleasant histories — because as you, said, if we don’t, it will be repeated.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an important slice about a respecting diverse ideas and people and learning from the mistakes we (as a people) have made. I did not know of Vincent Chin either, but you can be sure I do now. As a people, America has NOT always been the inclusive and accepting country we purport to be. It is important to teach our students to be better then their parents and grandparents. In fact, the future of our country depends on it!

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  5. “What good is a strong academic reputation if these same schools are a place where racial and ethnic ignorance reign?” this truly hits the nail on the head. Your post demonstrated both insight and care. I’m glad you wrote about the gathering and its speakers. We cannot shy away from talking about all forms of bias in our classrooms.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s on us. We – teachers – need to do everything in our power to not only disrupt, but dismantle, racism. We need to not only disrupt, but eliminate, hate. I don’t know how, but I know we must. Maybe we can get together and do some of this essential work. I have to admit, I too was shocked that this happened. I too didn’t know about the historic events you listed here. I have so much to learn, and I want to (need to) learn it. Thank you for posting this honest slice.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The sharing of such stories and truths is vital. It is the only way to begin filling in the gaps, the only thing that leads to understanding and overcoming. It’s the foundation of awareness and change. Your words powerfully illustrate that our stories lie at the core of our humanity – and that we are all connected by them. This something often in my mind, along with this final line of yours, one of those vital truths: “We need to learn history, including (especially?) unpleasant history, so we don’t repeat it.” – Absolutely. Especially.

    Liked by 1 person

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