‘No Child’ and institutional racism


(7/17/2019)

From: Mary Jo Klinker

Recently, I was able to catch Melissa Maxwell’s powerful performance in Great River Shakespeare Festival’s “No Child.” The play offers a glimpse into the systemic inequalities that plague American public schools — racial and class segregation by property taxes, resource distribution, access to qualified teachers, deteriorating buildings, and disproportionate suspension rates of children of color. These inequitable outcomes can best be defined as institutional or systemic, meaning that it doesn’t take individual bigots to create a social fabric that values some lives over others; it is the operating system of society.

Set at Malcolm X High School in the wake of the Bush-era’s No Child Left Behind policy, the play might seem distant to the rural educational environment of Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS). However, WAPS is one of 43 districts in Minnesota that have been identified as potentially discriminating against students of color and students with disabilities, based on 2015-2016 suspension data. As Chris Rogers reported in January 2019, of these significant racial disparities: “black students [are] being suspended more than six times as often as white students.” Locally, institutionalized racism has been documented in the public schools.

“No Child” exposes the dehumanizing treatment of children of color as criminals by the use of metal detectors, school resource officers and, as she says, they’ve been “preparing them for jail because we’ve abandoned them.” As historian Ibram X. Kendi has written of American racism, “This denial of racism is the heartbeat of racism. Where there is suffering from racist policies, there are denials that those policies are racist. The beat of denial sounds the same across time and space.” While watching “No Child” and Maxwell’s performance, I thought of Mark Morgan — the White House choice to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement — who said that he can “judge the likelihood that an unaccompanied minor will become a gang member by looking into that child’s eyes.” Racist policies and the denial of their brutal material realities have allowed for this moment: more than 2,000 children are currently being held in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol without their parents in facilities without enough food or toothbrushes.

“No Child” refuses to deny how racist American institutions have failed children. At a time of unprecedented systematic violence against children of color, will you also continue to deny this reality, locally and nationally?

 

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