Parkdale CI: Students call out the truth of anti-Black racism
Here is the full text of the speech presented at a rally demanding action on incidents of anti-Black racism by teacher and activist D Tyler Robinson. It goes beyond the specific acts of wearing blackface and using the “N-word” to explain the power and harm of inaction in dealing with them.
It’s beautiful to be here with you all – all you young people on Treaty 13 land, some ceded, some land unceded. My name is D Tyler Robinson, I am a high school teacher. I am a father. I am a son. I am a husband. I am also outraged at what is happening at this school and what is happening in front of the youth of our city. I have had the opportunity to speak to parents of students at the school and just now, had the opportunity to speak to a young man about what’s happening here. What’s beautiful to me is to see the critical consciousness and the intersectional solidarity that our young people are exhibiting – coming together, standing together against what is simply unjust, what is unright and what creates harm to our young people, our black youth and all youth. So thank you to those young people for standing up and speaking your truth.
We have to be plain and honest about what is happening in our schools. These young people were able to bring forth pictures that provided incontrovertible proof of the anti-Black racism that was happening in a classroom behind me. But my question is: What happens when we don’t have a picture of that teacher in blackface? What happens when the TDSB’s 2018- 2020 Human Rights Report tells us that 40 percent of hate reported incidents are anti-Black racism. When our young people come forward and don’t have that incontrovertible proof – they’re often gaslit and told that things are not as they seem to be- that what they know to be true is not, in fact, happening.
We need to listen to our young people. In this system of education, we constantly say “Student voice is what matters”. So, I want to talk about what happens on the ground floor for students – student experience. We must centre impact over intention. I’ll say that again: we centre impact over intention. The intention of the teacher does not matter. The impact is what matters. The harm is what matters. If there are instances of anti-Black racism – then we centre anti-Black racism. That’s what matters.
Let’s talk about what happened to these young people. First, there was the teacher in blackface. I spoke to one of the young people in his classroom who told me the teacher said, ‘It’s just my make-up and let’s move on with the class. What’s your outfit?’ So the subject is changed to make our young people think they don’t know exactly what’s happening. That creates harm. Historically, blackface is a way to say that Black people are lazy and dumb. That creates harm.
The grade nines gathered in the gym for a mentorship opportunity which I applaud, but if that teacher is there, walking around the gym, and the adults in the building are not comfortable- willing to call out what they see is anti-Black racism – that creates further harm. When our young people go down to the administration and report what’s happening in the class and the administration finally takes action at 12:15 – two hours later- that creates harm. When that administration’s response is to have that teacher wash their face and then remain in the building for the rest of the day – that creates harm.
When people come forward and feel bad about the negative attention the teacher is experiencing and make the kids who are calling out truth feel bad for calling out that truth – that creates further harm. We centre impact.
When the healing circle was commissioned- and I spoke to a parent and talked about this the following week- to bring forth healing. When these young people were asked to consider forgiveness before the truth of what had occurred had been acknowledged and before actual attempts to foster that forgiveness could come forth – that creates harm.
And lastly, I just want to say the sum total of actions and inactions by decision makers and leaders within our system of education and within our political spaces are the results of this harm. This harm is very clearly systemic racism. It’s a term that’s hard to understand at times but it’s simply the sum total of all of those inactions and actions.
It’s important to note that this incident is not new and not isolated. The speaker before me mentioned that the day prior to the blackface incident we also had a teacher using the “N-word” here. The week following the incident, we had a swastika put on the building here. So, of course now that brings in the antisemitism – but within the context of the anti-Black racism, that’s also targeted at Black youth.
So we have a crisis here. That’s what’s happening for kids. What’s happening for parents? Parents are suffering. They suffer when they see their young people experience that type of harm that hits to the core of their identity.
I am a parent. My daughter is two. It is her birthday today. It creates harm for me when I think about the system of education that she’s going to go into. That’s why I’m here, with all of you, talking about what needs to be done.
Most racism exists below the surface. Our young people here were able to bring forth the proof of it, but most of the time it happens below the surface. It is covert. It is hard to prove. Especially when we don’t educate our young people to recognize the signs and call them out and feel comfortable in doing that hard work – it runs unabated. It runs unchecked. This is why we’ve had reports on all of this for forty years and we’re still having these conversations.
At the school board, many teachers are acting in good faith, many are trying to do the work, but many just don’t have the tools. When administrators ask me: ‘What is it I should do?’ that means they are still trying to put together their understanding. If their understanding is not in place that means they cannot take those necessary actions. So, we have a crisis at our school board level.
I had a meeting with the TDSB director this past week and I believe that it is the Board’s intention to move forward in a serious way. However, this is a systemic problem. My curriculum team had a meeting with deputy ministers of education. They reported why a course on Anti-Black Racism and Systemic Oppression is not moving forward despite 1500 kids in 43 schools who want to learn about anti-Black racism and systemic oppression. It’s because the Minister of Education is not willing to take that action.
My call to action – and why I’m running for office – is this. In this province, we care about math, so there’s a kindergarten to grade 12 strategy for math. And in this province, we care about literacy, so in this province there’s a kindergarten to grade 12 strategy for literacy. If we want to address anti-Black racism and make sure, we’re not standing out here tomorrow and next week and in different towns across the province, we need a kindergarten through twelve strategy in anti-racism and systemic oppression. If we demand this of our government, we can begin to chip away at this work in a meaningful way.