Submitted by T. Lyons.
A narrative that is going around that my calling for Paul Wagemann’s resignation is retaliation for losing the race against him. Let me make it very clear I am so grateful that I didn’t win the race. See, it sounds weird to hear someone say that, but it’s true. When I decided to run for the Clover Park school board, I didn’t know much about the board. Still, I knew change was explicitly needed for black and brown students in the district, and I thought if I was on the board, I could push for the much-needed changes, and ultimately all students would benefit.
At first, after I lost, I was devasted and because my faith in God is strong, and I believe that He knows what’s best. I was able to let go. (My steps are ordered) After campaigning, the phone calls kept coming from students, parents, guardians, and yes, even staff and teachers. I learned that I was the voice for people who felt they couldn’t use theirs for whatever reason.
I realized that if I had won, I would be governed by four other people on the board who would have a large part in what I could and could not address or discuss. My role would have been limited.
To ignore the fact that “crack the whip” has a historical duality to the term is irresponsible and unethical as a board member. To ignore the historical context of a word that is rooted in slavery is also telling. The derogatory term “cracker” was used for slave masters and originated from “cracking the whip.” The term used in the 1600s for horses was also used for black people and people of color during slavery. Paul used the words for people, not horses, and as the data shows, not just any people, black and brown children.
See the problem with many of Paul’s supporters who have been attacking me and trying to intimidate me on social media. When you look at their Facebook pages, many of them have the same white supremacy ideology that one of the teachers was trying to teach in the classroom. This opinion is based on the disgusting comments they have made about immigrants, poor people, and people of color in general and tells why there is so much push back on the district seeking to create anti-racist policies and a culturally aware and sensitive environment. The Clover Park school district has a long history of proven racism, which was acknowledged in the December 21st special meeting.
One who is culturally sensitive and has cultural humility will understand that words have multiple meanings and mean different things. When it was brought to Paul’s attention, his comments were offensive on December 14th and the December 21st school board meeting, he could have been humble and apologized for his offense. If anything, he is aware of what his words meant to others and how he hurt people with his words. He showed no remorse; in fact, he tripled down and refused to apologize after many given opportunities and an example of how to apologize by the board president. Is that not problematic for you?
Some people get all up in arms when one says anything about doing something for black and brown children, many of who face many data-proven disparities in the education system and society. Eliminating disparities a particular group faces ensures there is not just equity and racial equity for one group of children, but it helps all children thrive instead of surviving.
The culture of racism is a powerful root in the Clover Park School district. Where else can a teacher feel comfortable showing films from a far-right group on immigration and then show another movie by the same group after being told that those films were offensive and not ok by their students, parents, and their leadership unless there is a culture that allows one to feel comfortable in doing so.
Cultural imperialism and privilege have blinded many people who cannot see the damage Paul’s words caused because it doesn’t directly affect them. Many people are unwilling to understand what those words mean to black, indigenous, and people of color who have historically been marginalized, oppressed, and enslaved. They will never feel how it feels to hear a school board member, in a power position, use words to marginalize and oppress people regardless of what the subject is.
The school board has been going through sensitivity training for well over a year, and none of it seems to resonate with Paul. His supporters need to realize we are not in the 1600’s we are 2020, where we recognize words have power. When we offend someone, it takes nothing away from you to sincerely apologize and seek to understand so that you are more aware and hopefully not make the same mistake twice.
Paul did not apologize, nor did he try to fix the damage his words caused. Even after identifying how his words came across by another school board member who also happens to be white. Paul replied that he knows what it means, and he meant what he said.
Me deciding to call for Paul’s resignation was not done without careful consideration. Paul has said many offensive and racist things in school board meetings before December 14th that I have addressed during the campaign and after.
The issue remains that there is a culture of racism in the Clover Park School district. If a board member refuses to be culturally sensitive, how can the school district require teachers and staff to be? After all, the district’s culture is created from the top down.
It is imperative that the culture of microaggressions, bias, and cultural imperialism is eradicated from the Clover Park School district so that all children feel seen, safe, and heard. We have to do what it takes to ensure we are protecting all children. Students should not leave schools carrying trauma created by teachers, staff, and board members who are unwilling to self-assess to gain cultural humility and do the work to dismantle racism regardless of who it is. Since I started this petition, Formers teachers of the district and families who had students in the district are all signing this petition. The Clover Park School District Board of Directors had a special meeting concerning Paul’s statement. They acknowledged a long-rooted history of racism by stating there is a long road ahead to get the district to be culturally competent to include diversity equity and inclusion.
Paul Wagemann refused to make a public apology after his peers shared how his words were hurtful, and he needed to understand the impact of his words. Paul tripled down and said he knows what the words mean, and he meant what he said. Paul, after a year’s worth of intensive sensitivity training, could not define what equity meant. The board stated there would be a policy for diversity equity and inclusion the entire board must sign; this is not accountability. Paul needs to be held accountable for his actions. Require the board to take a stand and send a clear message to the whole district that they believe in dismantling racism in the district, and racism is not tolerated in the Clover Park School district. It must start from the top down.
In closing, seek to understand. If you are anti-racist, you will realize that those in positions of power must be careful with what they say, and when someone tells them they are offended by their words, be humble and accountable. People who care about all people will immediately apologize and recognize that they made a mistake. For those who proclaim to be Christians, it is the Christian way. I am calling for the resignation of Paul Wagemann.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.