Race in America: Changing reality by facing it

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In her latest column appearing in the New York Times, AFT President Randi Weingarten discusses the ongoing struggle to free our country from racism.

"'Separate but equal' is no longer the law of the land, but for too many people, it is still a fact of life," she writes. "African-Americans are disproportionately affected by poverty, unemployment and food insecurity. Black households have less than one-tenth the wealth of white households, on average. Millions of black, brown and poor children are relegated to under-resourced, struggling schools. People of color comprise about 30 percent of the United States' population but account for 60 percent of those in prison. Not since Reconstruction have there been as many attempts to restrict the right to vote."

Those of us who aren't regularly subject to outright prejudice have a moral obligation to do the hard and perhaps uncomfortable work of digging into unconscious and semiconscious behaviors and attitudes about race, Weingarten urges. "And that includes taking a look at our own privilege."

As a union, the AFT has tackled the issue head on. The AFT's Racial Equity Task Force recently issued "Reclaiming the Promise of Racial Equity: In Education, Economics and Our Criminal Justice System." The report offers concrete steps to create safe, welcoming and excellent public schools where parents want to send their children, where students—particularly boys of color—are engaged, and where educators want to work. It focuses on ways to end the institutional racism that pervades our criminal justice system, perpetuates economic adversity, and drives school discipline policies that have led to disproportionate suspensions and expulsions of students of color—as early as kindergarten in some charter schools—and have failed to make schools safer.

"But we know it is not enough to issue reports, or seek legislative remedies, or march for civil rights, or contribute to groups advancing social justice," Weingarten adds. "We have to confront prejudice whenever we see or hear it, and grapple with our own biases and behaviors. We have started this process of talking about race in our union. It has been tough and emotional, but it is absolutely necessary to ensure that black lives matter."

Read the full column.