Our work at The Expectations Project is closely knit to the broader work of civil rights in America. The conditions of public schools are intimately tied to racial equity and justice. In light of this, Zakiya Jackson, our Vice President of Training & Resources, offers her reflections on several pressing civil rights matters and how they are related to our specific education equity campaigns. We hope that you will consider her words and remember them as we welcome a new administration and challenge it to honorably and transformationally serve our students.
Jan 6, 2021
Black Americans watched our civil rights be made a mockery of as thousands of white people breached our nation’s capitol building while vandalizing and destroying property and putting hundreds of people in harm’s way. People like congressional aides, building staff and security and yes, senators and congresspeople. This was a breach of sorts – but in other ways it was an invitation, rendered by the current lame duck president and those who implicitly and explicitly support his tyrannical words, behaviors and actions. It was an invitation because some of the police took selfies and opened doors for those invading the capitol.
Indigenous Americans. Americans with disabilities. Muslim Americans. Other Americans in the margins of our society joined Black Americans in anger, in not being surprised, in shock to see it even though it wasn’t surprising. We know that we would never be invited to express our anger in such violent and destructive ways. We aren’t given space to express our anger in peaceful ways. We aren’t given space to have cell phones in our pockets, to disagree with how the police treat us, to demand better educational and economic opportunities. Our civil rights are often a joke in this country and on Jan 6 it was as if many took a hearty, collective and extremely loud laugh in our faces over it.
No Civil Rights for YOU. Not you who hail (recently or centuries ago) from ‘sh*thole countries,’ you who are ‘savages’ or ‘criminals’ or ‘terrorists’ or who are differently abled. For you, there is no invitation, no space to exist, no right to be here.
No Civil Rights for us.
In the midst of the piercing spectacle, quietly the Trump Administration is continuing its work to strip us of our rights before the new administration comes in. Enough is not enough, yet. As reported by the New York Times, the Justice Department has asked the White House to approve a different way of enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Title VI doesn’t allow recipients of federal funding to discriminate based on race, color, or national origin. The Justice Department seeks to only enforce instances of intentional discrimination and eliminate instances of discrimination that have a disparate impact.
To put it concisely, disparate impact is what we use to prove systemic discrimination. It’s how we prove discrimination regardless of intent. Intent is extremely difficult to prove. Disparate impact allows us to focus on outcomes that harm marginalized people. If a policy or practice continually hurts Black students or Muslim housing applicants or LatinX employees, they are suffering from a disparate impact of that policy. The policy doesn’t explicitly need to say “exclude Black children from age-appropriate consequences” or “deny Muslims housing” in order to be discriminatory.
Most of the work we do in education equity is in some way related to the disparate impact of policies and practices that schools, districts, and states deploy. Think about school discipline. Think about trauma-informed care in schools. Think about school funding formulas based on zip codes. Think about teacher diversity and retention.
Ending the ability to enforce discrimination that has a disparate impact also means one less way to hold police accountable for how they abuse and kill Black people. Whether that is students in school, protestors in the street or me walking through my neighborhood. Without disparate impact as proof of discrimination, maybe it doesn’t matter that people allowed the wreckage that occurred on Jan 6. Especially if we can’t find it documented somewhere that it is police policy to treat white people softly as they did with the invaders vs the violent treatment of BLM protestors last summer.
No Civil Rights. For Us.
The administration has a couple of weeks to seal this deal. And when they do, it will be hard for the Biden Administration to reverse it. We have our work cut out for us, as we always do when it comes to honoring the dignity of all God’s children. Please be prepared to fight for the importance of recognizing disparate impact in civil rights cases. We will need to act decisively, quickly, and steadily when it is time.