Raising Our Voices About Racism
There is a well-known story in China about the famous writer and political activist Lu Xun 鲁迅 (1881-1936). As a young man, Lu Xun studied medicine in Japan during the Russo-Japanese war, and one day his professor, whose lecture had ended early, filled the remaining class time by projecting slides of current events. In one slide, a Chinese man who was suspected of being a spy for the Russians was kneeling with his hands bound behind his back. A Japanese military officer prepared to behead him as a crowd of healthy looking, able bodied Chinese men watched but did nothing. In the preface to his first book of short stories entitled Nahan 《呐喊》 (A Call to Arms) Lu Xun wrote that this incident prompted him to quit medical school and become a writer and activist because, he said, it was more important to tend to the spiritual health of his countrymen than to study medicine. Lu Xun’s point is clear: the Japanese military officer executed this man in public, on Chinese soil, with many onlookers, because he could, and those who looked on silently were complicit. I am certain that all of my colleagues from Mainland China are very familiar with this story; perhaps some of you are as well.
Late last week our nation watched the televised murder of a Black man, George Floyd, by a White police officer. Today, many of our cities are burning. In our country, this incident was not a “one off.” It is the latest in what is a depressingly familiar pattern in our national culture: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown … Emmett Till … . These horrific murders and the now predictable absence of justice surrounding them happen in our country with haunting regularity because they can. And I believe that remaining silent is equal to complicity.
Today, at CAIS, we cannot remain silent. Our teachers are skilled and knowledgeable about talking to children in developmentally appropriate ways according to their age. In some cases kids may bring these events up in morning meetings, and we will talk about it. With older, more mature kids, teachers will bring it up. Many of us—myself included—are not particularly skilled at or comfortable with discussing issues of race and systemic racism in America. There is no easy and perfect conversation. But silence is a message, a lesson, and this week at CAIS we cannot remain silent.
This moment in history comes in the midst of a global pandemic that has now claimed over 100,000 lives in our country (and as you know, a disproportionate number of those lives have been people of color working essential, frontline jobs). This only adds to the stress. It is not ideal that we need to talk with your children about this through a computer screen—we cannot check in with them throughout the day, notice how they are feeling, and help them process their emotions. We need you to help—some of us have the privilege and comfort of being able to choose when to introduce our children to certain types of conversations; for others, this isn’t a choice but rather a facet of daily life. I urge you to talk to your children about this now if they ask; please do not remain silent. If talking about what’s happening in the news feels daunting to you, or if you’re not sure what to say to your child, I offer the following resources that may be helpful:
I am not sure at this moment how our school will respond to this national pattern of violence against Black people over the long term; we have already taken small steps in our curriculum. However, I am certain of this: math scores, Chinese vocabulary, or high school admissions are poor metrics of our school’s success if our children do not also learn to examine their own biases, stand up for their fellow citizens, and speak out against injustice. At CAIS we spent over a year articulating our school’s Core Values. Now is the time to live up to them. I hope our students find the courage to advocate for themselves and others when they notice injustices. I hope our students find the perseverance to continue to advocate for others, especially during times when it seems like hope is lost. I hope our students continue to be curious to ask questions—of us, of one another, of the world—to help us identify systemic inequalities so that we can continue to dismantle systems of oppression. I hope our CAIS community remembers to exercise kindness—to one another and to ourselves. We are all at different stages of understanding and we will inevitably all feel frustrated at ourselves and those around us. I hope that through repeated conversations and time/space for our own personal reflections, we continue to hold one another close and reach out to one another whether it be to voice our fears, share our frustrations, or to offer support. And in the spirit of our CAIS Core Value of inclusion, we need to reach out, embrace, and support our CAIS families of African heritage—now—whose experiences, pain, frustration, and fear I, for one, acknowledge I cannot fully comprehend. But we care, and we are one community.
Finally, we all recognize our unique privilege being able to work and study at a place like CAIS, and I hope our CAIS community finds the courage and determination to leverage our position and act on contributing to a better world for all of us.
With sadness, respect, and resolve,