White nationalist ideology is infiltrating our public education system

Attempting to ban Pride and BLM flags in classrooms, doxxing educators, running a school board race on an anti-CRT platform, having a school board member recall, and watching as a school book ban claws its way into our districts — it all seems like a sci-fi film, or like issues for ‘somewhere else’. Personally, when I think of these topics, I immediately assume that this is happening in some other city, with some other people.

But in my quiet moments, if I’m honest with myself, my mind goes back to 2020, and to the protests all around our three cities. It goes to armed militias protecting store fronts that no one was attacking, and to the way the air felt, standing on sidewalks in the city you grew up in — the city where you watched and celebrated the 4th of July in summers, went roller skating, had your first kiss — as people in a city that you call your own drove by and called you the N-word. I remember videos surfacing of high school-aged kids screaming racial slurs, and local business owners tearing people down on social media for daring to speak up. I think on these things, and I realize it's not happening in an elusive ‘somewhere else’. It's happening right here, in our home sweet home.

I’m not sure we all realize how close we are to danger — how the empty bookshelves in Florida schools flashing across our news channels could easily be a reality here. And I get it. As a mom of three littles and with my husband and I both working, the common thought tends to be: “When is somebody going to do something about this?” without realizing that we are always the somebody that we seek. There is, however, a big group of local teachers, parents, and community members attending board meetings, making a difference, waiting for us to stand up, show up, and make a change with them. I think it's about time that we joined them. The issues we are facing aren’t against some mysterious George Santos nonprofit. They aren’t against some false homophobic idea of a trans woman super villain, hiding in the shadows, who is out to get your children. The delusion behind that process of thought is poisoning our communities faster than fluoride. These are loud, emboldened, violent agendas aimed at OUR OWN community members.

These issues are happening right now in our Kennewick and Richland School Districts. There are so many dog whistles in school board meetings, it’s like a 1950s nightmare. One where white nationalism can walk freely through our institutions without hiding behind religious and ‘well-meaning’ smiles. One where our voices are silenced and our schools are unwelcome places to live and learn. In January of this year, a neo-Nazi group attempted to have an event at The Hapo Center before being caught and escorted out. I’m positive that it won’t be the last time if we continue at this pace. As I write this, the flag ban has thankfully been voted down, but Micah Valentine of the Kennewick School Board believes that BLM and Pride flags — symbols that make Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ youth feel safe in our districts — are “distracting” and “divisive” (as he told the Tri-City Herald in October of 2022).

After the debacle in February of last year, The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that Richland School Board members can indeed be recalled. The petition on SignUpGenius to recall board members Audra Byrd, Semi Bird, and Kari Williams brought in over 18,000 signatures from community members opposing their illegal activity.

The Kennewick School District has problems, as well; an anti-CRT policy has been put in place stating that students cannot be “indoctrinated into the belief that the U.S. is fundamentally or systemically racist,” and that students must learn “factual U.S. history.” The policy essentially states that “factual U.S. history” should be banned in classrooms if it paints white nationalism as a threat to democracy.

Despite the fact that systemic racism has  — and is — plaguing our nation, the policy questions whether or not the murders and torture of Indigenous people here in America will be completely glossed over. It questions whether the realities of the Atlantic slave trade and racial segregation will be taught, or if accurate histories will simply be blacked out to appease an agenda that hides the truth of our history. This policy robs our youth of the chance to choose a different path forward from the one that history has shown us.  

The question that this all leaves us with — and one that should activate us as parents and community members — is: What’s next? In what ways will these ideals that champion white nationalism seep into our communities? In what ways will the history of the Tri-Cities — from the sundown towns in Richland and and Kennewick, to the “No blacks allowed” sign that hung over the green bridge in 1950, to the realities of Black people having to be segregated and bused from Pasco to work at Hanford from 1943–1945 — be reactivated? Knowing the dark histories of racism and discrimination in these three cities makes all of the issues feel close, suffocating, and too real for some. When they choose one oppressed group to attack, they always circle back to the rest of us.

This fight belongs to the people. To the readers, I urge you to wake up, to decide for yourself what realities our children will face in these cities that we grew up in, where all of us (of every skin tone) swam in the Columbia, watched the boats fly by with our cousins and friends at the races, danced at Out and About with our arms up, smiling and free with our loved ones, and watched the fireworks ring out in the blackened night sky on the 4th. The cities that belong to ALL of us — the cities where the direction should be forward, and forward only, never backwards. Our home sweet home. We have a responsibility right here and right now, to control our own realities. There are two quotes that come to mind that sum all of this up beautifully.

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
— James Baldwin
“The Ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Where do you stand?

Poet, writer, social justice advocate, and choreographer Daishaundra Loving-Hearne is no stranger to the arts or the power they hold. She is the CEO of Urban Poets Society and Loving Hearne, LLC, both organizations in our community centering the youth, art, empowerment, and mental and emotional wellness through a social justice & DEI lens.