Accountability is the greatest form of love.
A few days ago, a former fellow teacher made a tone-deaf statement regarding the murder of George Floyd and the concept of police accountability on Facebook. I saw it and decided to respond. I would have been remiss if I didn’t. After all, this former colleague is someone who, for the majority of her teaching career, has worked in schools serving black children. The exchange quickly drew the attention of her family and friends, who responded with epithets as well as racist and ableist memes. The opportunity for civil discourse, which I, along with other former fellow teachers, hoped for became the breeding ground of verbal violence and hate.
I sat in my living room and tried to process where exactly it all fell apart. For a brief moment, there was consensus on the following: police need to hold police accountable, and George Floyd deserves justice. But by the time we had reached fifty or so comments, I had been unfriended and was unable to further engage with the post.
The interaction left me feeling uneasy. One of the things my former colleague mentioned was that the institution of police was a brotherhood, and as such, they would never turn against each other. The idea that brotherhood exempts an individual from speaking against injustice made me nervous, and the notion that she espoused this belief frightened me. Brotherhoods exist across professions, but they are not a vow of complicity and silence. If anything, they should be a commitment to accountability.
Like my former colleague, millions of educators will be reentering black classrooms with fixed mindsets and an unwillingness to engage in conversations that address the needs of black children. Millions of educators will outright deny the moral imperative to be cognizant of the issues affecting the populations they serve. Millions will make tone-deaf and racially insensitive statements. Millions.
It is a fact that black children are disproportionately suspended in schools, and are overall at the receiving end of harsher, more severe punishments. Too often, a black child’s first encounter with unjust policing begins in the classroom.
As we become more vocal on the injustices perpetrated against black people by the hands of police, we can’t turn an blind eye to what happens in schools. Educators, now more than ever, need to engage in anti-racist work inside and outside of the classroom. Educators, now more than ever, need to subscribe to the idea of accountability at every level. This isn’t a novel concept, but it is one that needs to looked at from an anti-racist lens.
A few years ago, I sat in a professional development session in which our Dean of Instruction introduced the term “diffcos” (short for difficult conversations). He argued that in order for our school to be better, we all needed to engage in consistent difficult conversations with one another. These, he insisted, needed to happen whenever we deemed them necessary.
The premise behind diffcos wasn’t meant to be polemical. Rather, it was an invocation to acknowledge our individual responsibility and power to address the little things, or the big things, that needed fixing. Diffcos were not an open invitation to engage in aimless call-out behavior and self-serving righteousness. Instead, they were opportunities to observe the world around us and to embrace our power and responsibility to make that world better. I didn’t know then that diffcos could become one of the most accessible tools we can use to fight injustice, eradicate ignorance, and challenge the status quo.
In light of the murder of George Floyd by the hands of police sworn to serve and protect, this idea of accountability, at the micro level, needs to be aggressively embraced by you and me. By all of us.
In a matter of months, millions of black children, brimming with hope and eagerness to learn, will be reentering their classrooms. And millions will have already endured the lasting effects of police brutality. Millions. In a world that continues to systematically fail them, classrooms need to become safe spaces. For those of us in the classroom, it is our duty to seek out education and justice at every turn and to engage in those difficult conversations whenever and with whomever.
I don’t know if my attempt at having a difficult conversation with that former colleague will lead to change. What I do know, however, is that our exchange is just one of the many difficult conversations I vow to have. Dismantling systems that perpetuate injustice will take daily work from all of us. These conversations will be uncomfortable and even painful. You may find yourself chastised or ridiculed for having them. But out of love and respect for black children, these conversations need to happen. Don’t let anybody fool you; accountability is the greatest form of love.
Annell López is a Dominican immigrant. Her work has appeared in Hobart, The New Orleans Review, Cagibi, Crack The Spine, Ponder Review, Bending Genres and elsewhere. Annell is an Assistant Poetry Editor for The Night Heron Barks. She is working on a collection of short stories. Follow her: @annellthebookbabe on Instagram and @AnnellLopez2 on Twitter.