We are sorry to be writing in response to another hate-based, mass shooting. Friday’s heinous shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand is another tragedy that, along with Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the march in Charlottesville, has its foundation in hate.
We are heartbroken that we have to spend another day composing a letter to reassure Muslim members, and all members, of our schools that they are safe, respected, valued, and loved. We are fortunate to have such a rich culture and religious diversity in Massachusetts.
These words, however, do not take away the reality that supremacist, hate-based crimes are on the rise around the world. As a community of learners, we must acknowledge this hate and continue to work every day to combat it. We are speaking to ourselves as much as to all of you.
Our personal journey includes recognizing our privilege in this conversation. This idea of privilege is something we resisted for a long time. We connected the word “privilege” to wealth. We used to believe that our extended family wasn’t economically rich so how could we be considered privileged?
More recently we are coming to understand that privilege does not have its roots in economics, but rather in attention or choice. Our privilege is that we can choose to ignore the recent hate crimes. We can say that New Zealand is a world away and doesn’t involve us. We can choose to ignore comments on social media or from public figures that stoke the flames of hate and our daily lives and safety will not be directly impacted. Not all members of our community share that privilege, however, and we cannot pretend that what affects our community does not affect us.
We are sure there are many other areas of privilege that we are missing or have yet to recognize in ourselves, but we are committed to this journey of increased self-awareness. We encourage each of you to make this journey on your own. We are simply imploring you to choose empathy over apathy. Understand that many in our own community do not have the choice or privilege to ignore the expanding atmosphere of nationalist sentiment that sets the stage for the growing number of hate crimes we are all witnessing.
Massachusetts schools are places of acceptance. We must acknowledge that we all play a role in creating and maintaining these places. To fulfill that role, we must promote acceptance of differences and foster compassion and love. Please do not accept these mass killings as normal. Even if you have difficulty immediately identifying with those targeted, standing on the sidelines is an expression of privilege that is not worthy of our classrooms or our community.
In the coming weeks, please take a few minutes to introduce yourself to someone at you do not know. Ask them about their family and their favorite food. Show an interest in them and share something about yourself. We are certain that you will find something in common. It is these core commonalities that inoculate us against events intended to divide us.
The Staff of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S.)
*Thank you to Eric Conti, M.A.S.S. President for putting our feelings into words.