Opinion: Respectability Politics Fail to Address Urgent Challenges in Madison Schools

John B. Diamond, Kendra Alexander, Bianca J. Baldridge and Erika C. Bullock, via a kind reader:

In a recent OpEd published on Madison 365, Kaleem Caire chastised Madison youth of color and their adult allies for their demeanor and their “foul, abrasive, and derogatory language” as they raised legitimate concerns about the important issues they face in the Madison Metropolitan School District. As part of our Mobilizing Youth Voices Project, we have been working with young people from Freedom, Inc, the Lussier Community Education Center, and the UW-Madison/Madison Metropolitan School District TEEM Scholars Program. These groups fight against racial, gender, queer oppression, while also striving to become critical educators in Madison in order to disrupt the harm that youth of color experience within our city. We have learned how each group is fighting for racial justice in their own unique ways and we support their efforts to make their voices heard by those in power in whatever format they choose. In particular, we have witnessed young people from Freedom Inc. (the same young people to whom Caire’s remarks were directed) show up to school board meetings month after month for over a year armed with personal accounts and supportive research about the effects of police in schools only to be ignored, criticized, and criminalized.

As educators committed to supporting youth of color in Madison who fight for racial justice, we honor the work that these young people have done and see them as examples of passion and persistence in fighting for one’s dignity and for the dignity of their community. We also recognize that critiquing the strategies of those fighting oppression is a tool used by those in power to maintain that power. Rather than addressing legitimate demands for justice, they argue for a politics of respectability.