May Ann Hsu’s Words Lead to Understanding, Healing, and Growth
It’s time to grow up, for the sake of young people and our future
San Francisco voters will soon decide who fills three seats on our Board of Education vacated by a contentious recall election. Mayor London Breed has appointed three Commissioners to SFUSD who are running to retain their seats. I am a single parent of two students enrolled in SFUSD and an antiracism educator, mentor, activist, attorney, youth employment and college access specialist running to serve on the SF Board of Education.
On July 16, the San Francisco Parent Action Coalition held a candidate forum. When I came home, I read the candidates’ questionnaires we had submitted in advance. When I read Commissioner Ann Hsu’s answer to the question “How can SFUSD increase academic outcomes for the most marginalized students? How can SFUSD challenge and create learning opportunities for higher achieving students?” my heart hurt.
Since then, what can only be described as a Category 5 shitstorm has ensued.
Ann Hsu has apologized. A long and growing list of elected officials and organizations are demanding Ann Hsu resign. Two Commissioners also campaigning to retain their seats who previously campaigned with Ann Hsu as a slate have decided to part ways with her.
But she is committed to not resigning and Mayor London Breed is standing by her side. Today her colleagues on the SFUSD Board of Education will decide whether to admonish her and strip her of her committees, as Black organizations rally to demand her resignation.
What Ann Hsu wrote is harmful, inaccurate, and racist, and demonstrates that she is not ready to serve as a School Board member.
And my greatest hope is that all this leads not to canceling and vilifying Ann Hsu, but to an imperative conversation about who actually is responsible for Black and Brown students not achieving at the same level as their white and Asian peers.
Once we’re clear on that, then we can heal and build a multiracial coalition of stakeholders who see all SFUSD students as our children, all schools as our schools, and want the best for all of them.
Right now, communities in San Francisco are pitted against each other and it’s harming everyone, especially our young people.
Students deserve better from adults, especially as they struggle with their own mental health.
As a divorced parent, I listen to and respect my children’s thoughts and feelings. Speaking negatively about their other parent or fighting with them in front of our children harms everyone. As adults who both want our kids to succeed, we need to listen to each other, apologize and compromise.
Let’s be honest. Ann expressed widely held racist beliefs.
She said the quiet part out loud.
Growing up in an almost entirely white community that had been a Sundown Town, I heard the same ideas repeated many times: “we used to have terrible racism in our country, but then there was a Civil Rights movement, and now opportunities are distributed equally. Some families like ours choose to work really hard, and that’s why we have what we have, and others choose not to, and that’s why they are in the situation they are in.”
My family’s advantages because of our race, nor how our racism harms Black and Brown people, were never mentioned. Instead, I learned that if Black and Brown people would work as hard as we do, they would be just as successful.
My life’s work is to unlearn these racist beliefs and help others do the same. I am here for Ann Hsu and anyone else open to learning and transforming.
Facilitating conversations about racism daily, I witness how widely-held these ideas are, in San Francisco and throughout the United States, among people with a wide variety of life experiences. Organized white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan and the United Daughters of the Confederacy have long used public schools to teach children racist beliefs, a movement that continues today.
Let’s clear this up: It is harmful, inaccurate, and racist to claim Black and Brown families and students don’t love learning. All families and students love learning and want to develop a healthy positive identity. Black women are the most highly educated group of Americans.
Despite what government officials have led us to believe, Black and Brown families who struggle do so not because of poor personal choices but because of deliberate policy choices that advantage white families, including my own, beginning with slavery and land theft and genocide of Native Americans.
What leads a disproportionate number of Black and Brown students to not perform, graduate, or emerge college and career ready on par with their white and Asian counterparts is attending schools that School Boards intentionally under-resource and frequently experiencing racism. Nationally and locally, Black and Latinx students are concentrated in schools with a substantial majority of poor children, while white and Asian students typically attend middle-class schools,
Nationally, 79% of public school teachers are white, while students of color make up the majority of public school students. Studies show teachers disproportionately expel Black students, adultify Black girls, infantilize white girls, and punish Black students more severely than white students. Native, Black, and Latinx students report they feel less safe, less connected to school and less connected to a caring adult than their white peers. Students who have been suspended or expelled are twice as likely to drop out and are also more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system, the school-to-prison pipeline.
White teachers aren’t the only people discriminating against Black and Latinx students. White parents who hoard opportunities for our children, and refuse to hire, live next to, or send our kids to schools with Black and Brown students are also responsible for the challenges Black and Brown families and students face.
Most importantly, Ann Hsu’s observations are simply not true. As a white parent, I am a minority at my kids’ school events. Experiencing all the ways families and educators express pride in their students’ accomplishments brings tears to my eyes. I am beyond proud and grateful for all the students, educators, and families, who collectively make the culture at SFUSD welcoming for all.
While Ann Hsu blames Black and Brown parents, our schools are failing Black and Brown students. This is what we should be focused on:
Please San Francisco, let’s learn from this experience, grow up, turn towards each other, and work together for all students to have access to transformative education.
Our future and theirs depend on us.
Karen Fleshman Esq. she her hers is a candidate for SF School Board. Learn more at karenforsfschools.com