A hate crime has occurred in our community, largely unnoticed. As we write this letter to make the community aware, we also call- in ourselves who identify as white and members of the white community to gain a better understanding of how we continue to utilize, intentionally and unintentionally, the system of structural racism and oppression for personal and professional advantage.
On Monday June 15, the Ithaca Public Education Initiative- herein IPEI – hosted an end of the year ZOOM dance party for children in the Ithaca City School District (ICSD).The live chat was open for attendees to request songs. A person – who remains unidentified – was granted access to the party who proceeded to crowd the chat – using repeat- with explicit racist, queer homophobic, and sexist words. The unidentified person was removed from the dance. The party continued as scheduled. Every child could see the hateful words when they opened the chat to request a song.
If not for the bravery of an elementary child yelling for their caregivers’ help, perhaps no one would have known of this crime and of the hurt this has left on our community. No one else came forth or suggested to end the party. No adults acted to keep kids safe by either responding to the hateful words or by ending the party.
Why? Possibly because the adults may not have been paying attention to the chat, or adults may not have thought the words were targeting their children.
May it be known these words were meant for all children: For the kids of color – black and brown and non-cisgender kids – to scare them and interrupt their fun. For white kids, to reinforce white supremacy and to reinforce the power and privilege associated with being not a Black, Indigineous, Person of Color (BIPOC) in the United States.
IPEI has publicly recognized the harmful impact of allowing the event to continue and has issued multiple apologies. IPEI has made a clear commitment to move forward as an anti racist organization, learning from this incident. ICSD administrators are finalizing anti-racist policy to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Now is the time. In this case silence is violence. While this was not an ICSD sponsored event, many students were invited and present. The ICSD has recently committed to adopting and teaching an Anti-racist curriculum. What does that mean? It means fighting against racism, through policy and practice. Also, it means using curricula designed for children to learn to speak out and be co-conspirators.
No white attendees spoke out, asking for it to be shut down. This silence was equally as damaging as the violent words that were used in the chat. A huge opportunity was missed by white families in our community who are desperately seeking ways of being anti racists. An anti-racist would have interrupted the party and would have spoken to the children and families informing them the dance would not continue because the adults were unable to guarantee safety, which, in our society, is the primary role of adults. Further, an anti-racist would have informed the families and children that the words posted in the chat were hateful, violent words that hurt anyone who hears and reads them.
All children were traumatized by this act, whether they read the words or not. We can not let this happen again, not in our community nor to our children.
If you are white, were aware of the chat and stayed silent, you have an opportunity to talk with your family now, telling them the story of what happened, explaining why you stayed silent and the harm that your inaction caused everyone. Open a conversation about your racism with your kids, from a place of personal learning. Without diving into these uncomfortable conversations, we will not move forward. This is a critical step for white members of our community.
If you have a child(ren) who was impacted by this incident, or you have any questions, please contact your child(ren)’s school principal.
If this letter leaves you curious about your relationship with race, consider exploring resources available on the National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture website: https://nmaahc.si.edu/, “Talking About Race.”
Signed, Christine Barley – Parent, Teacher South Hill ES, ICSD Equity Team Member Melissa Crawford- Teacher Northeast Elementary School, ICSD Equity Team Member Valerie Evans – Teacher Boynton Middle School, ICSD Equity Team member Ana Goldsmith – She/Her pronouns, ELIC Member, Art Teacher LACS, and Equity Team Member James Reynolds – Parent, Teacher Caroline ES, ICSD Equity Team Member Alex Scher – Parent, Social Worker Belle Sherman ES, ICSD Equity Team Member Simnia Singer-Sayada- Parent, ICSD Alum, LACS social worker, Equity Team Member Kellianne Smith – ESP Beverly J. Martin ES, Equity Team Member Theresa Souchet – Parent, Teacher Dewitt Middle School, ICSD Equity Team Member Teresa Vossen – Social Worker Fall Creek ES, ICSD Equity Team Member