COMMENTARY: Kern County Educators for Ethnic Studies stands with the Black Lives Matter movement

October 28, 2020 /

By Kern Educators for Ethnic Studies

Kern County Educators for Ethnic Studies stands in solidarity with our black students, teachers, and community. Unequivocally and unapologetically, we honor our community and say: Black
Lives Matter.

As educators in Kern County, many of us and our colleagues were appalled when we received a memo stating that we could not wear “Black Lives Matter” or have this displayed anywhere.

Rebecca Castro

Bakersfield City School District demonstrated its lack of understanding with its stated policy on the expression of the Black Lives Matter Movement. This memo was an insult and censorship to educators who attempt to provide inclusive and affirming spaces for black students. With this memo, BCSD neglected to stand in solidarity with the district’s black students, parents, teachers, stakeholders, and community members. This policy is an attempt to strip Black students from their identity and furthers systematic racism rather than embracing the principles of inclusion and equity that the district claims to strive for.

This statement quickly turned into an embarrassing attempt of a non-apology. Rather than take any responsibility for the statement, the district instead apologized “for the way local media misrepresented” the issue.

After multiple voices spoke out in shock and anger over this decision, a new memo was sent a day later stating that staff is now allowed to wear and express Black Lives Matter. 

Edith Mata

The district also stated staff may wear “All Lives Matter” clothing as well. On a surface level, this may sound fair. Unfortunately, however, this illustrates how out of touch our district is with institutional racism. We expect our school district, an educational institution, to be culturally relevant, just as we are expected to be educators for this very same district.

Does BCSD not understand that “All Lives Matter” was created in opposition to the Black Lives Matter Movement? The “All Lives Matters” statement communicates to our black students and parents that they do not experience institutionalized racism in our country, despite evidence showing otherwise. It is a hurtful and disappointing statement to our black community and the 2,500+ black students BCSD serves. Equating Black Lives Matter with All Lives matter as “inclusive and welcoming” is disrespectful, disingenuous, and disappointing.

Randy Villegas

Earlier this year, a BCSD employee Carrie Maxwell threatened a woman and her daughter attending a black lives matter protest, yelling, “I’ll (expletive) kill you.” This racist behavior from white teachers to students who challenge institutional racism tells our black students that they
are not safe in their own classrooms. It is unacceptable that students or teachers may fear being criminalized or threatened for saying “Black Lives Matter.” However, these racist incidents emerge beyond the classroom.

Two weeks ago, plastered all over national news media, was a local video where a Trump supporter physically attacked a peaceful Black Lives Matter protestor. This individual was clearly not willing to understand the Black Lives Matter perspective. Finally, we cannot forget Robert Forbes who died after a Black Lives Matter protest, after being hit by a vehicle driven by a man with tattoos associated with white supremacist groups. Sadly, BCSD has repeated harm against black students by failing to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Kern County Educators for Ethnic Studies honors the lives of Robert Forbes, George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark, Tamir Rice, and countless others by once again reiterating: Black. Lives. Matter. 

Virginia Gonzalez-Franzen

As educators, we believe in teaching, not censoring, the history and present-day struggle for social, political, and economic equality of African Americans and other races and ethnicities. In a city and county that used to be run by members of the Ku Klux Klan less than 100 years ago (including our police chief and a county supervisor), we must not shy away from transforming our education. That starts with BCSD issuing a true apology and tackling this form of institutional racism head on. This entire situation is a strong indication as to why we need Ethnic Studies within our schools now more than ever. 

It’s time the district condemns racist rhetoric being disguised as free speech by speaking up and standing in solidarity with its African American students and teachers.

Kern County for Ethnic studies is a group of educators who believe Ethnic Studies is critical to the education of all students. We believe in the transformation of education, we seek to end the preschool to prison pipeline, and we support the establishment of Ethnic Studies in K-12 classrooms across Kern County.