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January 14, 2015 1

Beyond the Dream, Teaching King in Context

Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. Day is Mon­day, Jan­u­ary 19, and many edu­ca­tors will take the oppor­tu­nity to teach about King and his enor­mous con­tri­bu­tions to our soci­ety. As edu­ca­tors, how we approach the teach­ing of this hol­i­day makes an impact on how stu­dents under­stand the larger con­text of the Civil Rights Move­ment and whether they make a con­nec­tion between the past strug­gles to the cur­rent day and their own lives. Here are some thoughts about teach­ing the topic in a mean­ing­ful way:

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, LC-USZ62-126559

Cour­tesy of the Library of Con­gress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Col­lec­tion, LC-USZ62-126559

Focus on what Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. rep­re­sents.  King is an icon, a larger than life fig­ure and a tremen­dous ora­tor. These char­ac­ter­is­tics can lead stu­dents to believe that he sin­gle­hand­edly accom­plished the goals of the Civil Rights Move­ment or that they could never be like King.  It’s impor­tant to put King’s work into the con­text of the larger move­ment of peo­ple that he rep­re­sented.  Stu­dents need to know about King’s life, that he was a leader of all types of “ordi­nary” peo­ple, and it was them – peo­ple of all ages, all walks of life, all dif­fer­ent races and reli­gions – that made the Civil Rights Move­ment possible.

It is impor­tant to under­stand and teach that the Civil Rights Move­ment was a strate­gic, on-going  move­ment with spe­cific objec­tives.  Author Bryan Steven­son talks about the idea that peo­ple today often think of the civil rights move­ment as a 3 day event; “Day One, Rosa Parks gave up her seat on a bus; Day Two, Dr. King led a march on Wash­ing­ton; and Day Three, we signed all these laws.”  This sim­plis­tic view of the Civil Rights Move­ment leaves out all of the impor­tant ele­ments of strat­egy, strug­gle and the actual “move­ment” of the Civil Rights Movement.

Sim­i­larly, it is impor­tant to be spe­cific when talk­ing about King and the Civil Rights Move­ment. Dr. King’s legacy can­not be under­stood with­out talk­ing about big­otry, race and racism.  That may seem obvi­ous, but often edu­ca­tors are hes­i­tant to talk about race.  With thought­ful prepa­ra­tion, how­ever, these issues can be raised in a devel­op­men­tally appro­pri­ate way.  It’s also really use­ful to be spe­cific about the aims of the Civil Rights Move­ment– not just a vague notion of “equal­ity” but a social jus­tice move­ment that was seek­ing to end seg­re­ga­tion, secure vot­ing rights, advo­cate for worker’s rights, and address eco­nomic disparities.

In this way, we have teach­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties that con­nect the past to cur­rent events.  Stu­dents can see both the suc­cess of the Civil Rights Move­ment while also con­nect­ing to what forms of sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion and unequal treat­ment exist today.  For exam­ple, exam­in­ing the Vot­ing Rights Act allows for an oppor­tu­nity to ana­lyze the 2013 Supreme Court deci­sion which gut­ted the heart of that law or explore tac­tics like Voter ID laws which sup­press the abil­ity to vote.  Sim­i­larly, focus­ing on the impor­tance of youth involve­ment and lead­er­ship in all aspects of the Civil Rights Move­ment allows for an oppor­tu­nity to learn about cur­rent activism led by youth.  

We know that no edu­ca­tor has the lux­ury or time to focus on all aspects of King’s life and the work of the Civil Rights Move­ment. Choos­ing one spe­cific aspect of King’s life or the Civil Rights Move­ment can give stu­dents more oppor­tu­nity to under­stand and explore, whether focus­ing on Selma or The Children’s Cru­sade or the San­i­ta­tion Work­ers’ Strike in Memphis.

These are just a few exam­ples of the many dif­fer­ent entry points for learn­ing about Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. and the work of the Civil Rights Move­ment.  For many, the “go to” entry point is to focus on King’s most famous and most quoted “I Have a Dream” speech, specif­i­cally the end with its lyri­cal, mov­ing rep­e­ti­tion. Because this speech has vivid imagery and phrases that make it easy to teach, it can also be over­sim­pli­fied. We need to go beyond “the Dream” for stu­dents to truly make mean­ing of King’s legacy.  King’s dream was deeply rooted not just in “the Amer­i­can Dream,” but also in that time’s con­text of dis­crim­i­na­tion, racism and big­otry.  How­ever we choose to honor King’s legacy this year, stu­dents’ learn­ing should also be rooted in those con­cepts of injustice.

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October 2, 2014 0

GoFundMe Removes New Black Panther Party Page From Its Website

GoFundMe, an online crowd-sourcing plat­form that allows indi­vid­u­als and groups to raise money for a vari­ety of causes, today removed the New Black Pan­ther Party’s (NBPP) GoFundMe page. ADL con­tacted the com­pany yes­ter­day, inform­ing them that the NBPP’s use of the site appeared to vio­late their terms of ser­vice (TOS).gofundme-black-panther

The NBPP, the most promi­nent orga­nized anti-Semitic and racist black mil­i­tant group in Amer­ica, was using GoFundMe to solicit dona­tions to sup­port the group’s activ­i­ties despite the fact that GoFundMe’s Terms of Ser­vice explic­itly pro­hibit using the site for pro­mot­ing “hate, vio­lence, racial intol­er­ance…” and“content asso­ci­ated with hate groups.”

Before it was taken down, the NBPP’s GoFundMe page showed that the group had raised $700 on the site from 19 peo­ple. The NBPP’s stated goal was to raise a total of $20,000.

By tak­ing on racially-charged issues under the guise of cham­pi­oning civil rights, the NBPP has received national media atten­tion for its efforts, gar­nered some sup­port from promi­nent mem­bers of the African-American com­mu­nity, and attracted fol­low­ers. The group’s demon­stra­tions, con­fer­ences, and other events often blend inflam­ma­tory big­otry with calls for vio­lence, tar­nish­ing its efforts to pro­mote black pride and consciousness.

The NBPP has a long his­tory of pro­mot­ing racism and anti-Semitism and has been espe­cially active in recent months, enflam­ing the already tense sit­u­a­tion in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri.

ADL applauds GoFundMe for enforc­ing its TOS and not allow­ing hate groups like the NBPP to exploit the site to raise funds that will be used to pro­mote racist, anti-Semitic, and hate­ful messages.

ADL is a leader in com­bat­ing the spread of hate online. Last month, ADL announced the release of a series of Best Prac­tices for Respond­ing to Cyber­hate,  cre­ated with con­tri­bu­tions from a work­ing group of top indus­try lead­ers, includ­ing Face­book, Google, Microsoft, Twit­ter and oth­ers. ADL also empow­ers inter­net users them­selves to flag hate­ful con­tent through ADL’s Cyber-Safety Action Guide, which enables the com­mu­nity to reg­is­ter con­cerns with Inter­net ser­vice providers when they encounter hate­ful content.

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August 28, 2014 0

Moving Forward From Ferguson

“His­tory sim­mers beneath the sur­face in more com­mu­ni­ties than just Fer­gu­son,” Attor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder aptly rec­og­nized dur­ing his visit there. The con­ver­sa­tion about Fer­gu­son can­not start with the death of Michael Brown, a young unarmed black man shot to death by a white police offi­cer.  Though tragic in and of itself, the story goes back much further.ferguson-civil-rights

It is a sad tru­ism that America’s laws—and the peo­ple charged with enforc­ing them—have not always pro­tected com­mu­ni­ties of color.  In the infa­mous Dred Scott case, which orig­i­nated just miles from Fer­gu­son, the Supreme Court shame­fully ruled in 1857 that African Amer­i­cans had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  Though the case served as a cat­a­lyst for the Civil War and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amend­ments rat­i­fied shortly there­after to super­sede the rul­ing, deep-seated racism continued.

Jim Crow laws seg­re­gated soci­ety and rel­e­gated African Amer­i­cans to second-class cit­i­zens. Lynch­ings ter­ror­ized com­mu­ni­ties.  All too often not only did law enforce­ment fail to pro­tect African Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, but police offi­cers par­tic­i­pated in the lynch mobs.  Dur­ing the Civil Rights Move­ment, now-infamous images cap­tured police offi­cers using dogs, fire hoses and billy clubs against peace­ful protestors.

Since the Civil Rights Move­ment half a cen­tury ago we have worked hard as a nation to move towards a more just and equal soci­ety. We have come a long way, but Fer­gu­son stands as a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go.

In address­ing the cri­sis in Fer­gu­son, the first step must be open and respect­ful dia­logue.  We can­not move for­ward unless and until we face the past.  Part of that dis­cus­sion must be about the role of law enforce­ment and their rela­tion­ship with the com­mu­ni­ties they have sworn to serve and protect.

Since 1999 the Anti-Defamation League, in part­ner­ship with the United States Holo­caust Museum, has con­ducted train­ings for law enforce­ment—from police chiefs and the head of fed­eral agen­cies to recruits and new FBI agents—exploring what hap­pens when police lose sight of the val­ues they swore to uphold and their role as pro­tec­tors of the  peo­ple they serve. By con­trast­ing the con­duct of police in Nazi Ger­many, and the role that law enforce­ment is expected to play in our democ­racy, the pro­gram under­scores the impor­tance of safe­guard­ing con­sti­tu­tional rights, build­ing trust with the peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties they serve, and the tragic con­se­quences when there is a gap between how law enforce­ment behaves and the core val­ues of the profession.

We know from our work that the vast major­ity of offi­cers care deeply about the com­mu­ni­ties they serve.  But that is not to say police are infal­li­ble.  None of us is.  And there are cer­tainly some within law enforce­ment who engage in mis­con­duct, as is the case in every pro­fes­sion.  But the bad acts of some can­not and do not define law enforcement.

Amer­ica is strongest and safest when there is mutual under­stand­ing and trust between law enforce­ment and com­mu­ni­ties.  We must seek to build those bridges by rec­og­niz­ing our trou­ble­some past, acknowl­edg­ing the prob­lems per­sist­ing today, and com­mit­ting to changes that move us for­ward to a more per­fect union.

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