Racial Microaggressions in Malden Public Schools
Emily is a 35-year-old Black teacher who used to work at a public school in Malden (names and circumstances have been changed). Every day at school she had seemingly small experiences that caused pangs of discomfort, but if she were to speak about them, she felt that no one would take her seriously. Whenever she would walk into a meeting, no one would greet her. All conversation would stop. One day she decided to try an experiment: she asked a white colleague to give voice to her concerns. The concerns were met with respect and a thoughtful discussion about how to change things. The tension she felt at this irony was palpable.
According to Elizabeth Scorsello, long time community member and member of Malden Community Organizing for Racial Equity (MaldenCORE), “There would be more examples and quotations, but because of the very issue of microaggressions, we can’t be more specific because BIPOC educators become even more vulnerable, losing their positions or livelihoods, for example, when they speak out. This is the nature of microaggressions.”
A “microaggression” is often small, subtle and difficult to pinpoint, which may lead those affected to doubt themselves, and to have no recourse. https://bit.ly/2RqRePV “Microaggressions are unconscious manifestations of a world view of inclusion, exclusion, superiority, and inferiority.” https://bit.ly/2T5Gasw Microaggressions can cause students and educators to experience trauma, causing mild to serious health concerns. https://bit.ly/3prNaf9
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) educators are regularly excluded from strategic conversations and hear language that appears that they are treated as “less than” or are blamed for actions they didn’t do. They feel trauma and have no one to report it to. Some say, “No one would believe me even if I did report it.” This results in a feeling of marginalization.
Here are some ways that microaggressions occur every day in Malden Public Schools:
● As a former education in Malden reported, Teachpoint, a measure of evaluating educators, is weaponized against BIPOC educators by observing the same educator seven times in one month and impromptu evaluations and this then goes on the educator’s record.
● A former school principal stood up on a stage, in front of a group of educators and repeatedly used the “N” word and there was no consequence.
● Teachers turning a blind eye to children — or their parents — using the “N” word towards BIPOC students (See 30-minute video of 7th grade Salemwood students’ testimony at Malden School Committee in April 2018: https://bit.ly/3cjUcxu) Unfortunately, those who spoke out at this forum received backlash and disbelief from their educators.
● Saying “I can’t tell Asians apart” (20-second video: https://bit.ly/3x18VFf)
● Asking a BIPOC classmate how they “got into that school” (30-second video: https://bit.ly/34R4dOz)
● “Asian languages and cultures are explicitly only valued after school, and only for those who can afford to utilize the [after school] program. This sends the message to kids that their languages have no academic value during the day — only after hours.” (Dr. Liz Tonogbanua, parent to two Asian students in Malden Public Schools)
● Saying that knowing a lot of people in the area should grant someone greater consideration negatively affects BIPOC and immigrant educators.
● The term “high functioning” district reflects a system that harms BIPOC students.
● Saying, “This is a problem for some people, but fortunately, it hasn’t affected me.”
If you are white, here are ways to be an ally:
● Educate yourself. Read “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum
● Resource for educators addressing microaggressions in the classroom: https://bit.ly/3il0NeC
● Be aware of what you are saying and the implications that it might have. Notice how what you say might affect others.
● Don’t make assumptions: Ask others how they feel.
● Don’t be defensive; if you have made an error, sincerely apologize without focusing on your intent.
● Be open to discussing your own attitudes and biases and how they might have hurt others or, in some way, revealed bias. (https://bit.ly/2T5Gasw)
● Advocate for more BIPOC educators in Malden; do this in collaboration with BIPOC educators, not as a “white savior.” (Layla F. Saad, Me and White Supremacy).
● Attend School Committee meetings and ask why there is no policy on microaggressions (see below).
Policy and accountability:
Malden Superintendent of Schools John Oteri said, “While we have long focused on diversity, equity and inclusion here in Malden Public Schools, we have continued to reexamine how we can get better to meet the needs of all our students, staff members and families. We have made a lot of progress, but we acknowledge that we still have more work to do,” Oteri said. “In fact, this work will not be done until each and every child and each and every member of our MPS staff feels safe and supported. This starts with listening to concerns and working with our school community to address those concerns, including those about microaggressions committed within the district.”
Malden Education Association President Deb Gesualdo commented, “I know that the lived experience of BIPOC employees and students includes experiencing microaggressions. The school district must provide comprehensive and ongoing training for ALL staff at ALL levels to ensure that our schools are welcoming, equitable, and inclusive for our BIPOC staff and students. MEA leadership and members would be more than willing to work with MPS district leadership, the School Committee, and community leaders to create policies that will support a welcoming, equitable, and inclusive environment in the Malden Public Schools. It is the collective responsibility of all who have the ability and privilege to safely speak up and speak out to work together to disrupt the status quo for the good of our school community.”
In conversations with Ashley Pierre, Director of Human Resources for Malden Public Schools, in order to attract BIPOC educators, the retention rate needs to be strong, based on a nurturing and welcoming environment. All employees in MPS need to understand this and work collaboratively to ensure that BIPOC educators feel welcome and included. In addition, there need to be safeguards for BIPOC educators. The District needs a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office to ensure there is no partisanship in any of the processes.
On February 4th, members of the Education Subcommittee of the Mystic Valley Branch of the NAACP shared that some district members of the Massachusetts Partnership for Diversity in Education (MPDE) “are making significant strides in trying to ‘get it right’.” No one as yet has the magic bullet. There are very few districts making steady progress in addressing and impacting this area.
“Retention will continue to be a challenge as long as there is a wide spectrum in salary ranges across districts, the relatively small existing population of teachers of color persists, and more seriously, the continuing unhealthy, non-inclusive environment lingers in some districts.”
They could point to no absolute models.
Everett City Councilor Gerly Adrien said that, in Everett, a Diversity Committee was created one year ago, after the George Floyd murder and civil actions, but she said that, to her knowledge, there is no policy that includes microaggressions in the schools.
The Malden Public Schools’ School Committee District Policy Manual has not been updated to include the term “microaggression” Federal guidelines regarding Title 9 have changed and Malden is not adhering to those guidelines.
Also, importantly, under the Trump administration’s Executive Order 13950, “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping,” unconscious or implicit bias training was prohibited for federal agencies (such as schools)…” (https://bit.ly/3grEvph)
The Trump administration issued orders that eliminated the focus on correcting discriminatory application of state and district discipline policies and practices and identifying the appropriate remedy when a civil rights violation occurred. (https://bit.ly/3uYcg6w)
On January 20th, the Biden administration revoked Executive Order 13950, requiring government agencies within 60 days to “suspend, revise, or rescind any such actions…” (https://bit.ly/3pwp17u) To date, this has not yet occurred within the Malden School District.
According to those interviewed, BIPOC educators and students are suffering daily within the Malden Public Schools and a large number of white educators and students don’t see or understand this. There are small, but significant ways to ensure a fair and just, and a more integrated and forward-thinking experience for all students, educators and everyone else involved in Malden Public Schools. A key way is policy change, beginning with incorporating the federal guidelines, and including the position of a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Fern Remedi-Brown lives in Malden, Massachusetts. She can be reached at @FernRemediBrown on Twitter or fremedib on Instagram.