Letter to the editor: BIPOC folks put in tough spots

“It’s dirty work but someone has to do it.”

I can’t help remarking on the many movies and TV series, for instance, that depict Black people in the so-called “helping professions” — hospital staff, law enforcement, private service, hospitality — or other roles that call for sympathy and helpfulness toward the suffering or needy white character.

Why do we as white people look to Black or Brown people for comfort, protection, even wisdom? Because we cannot take responsibility for our own actions and attitudes but must have the target, the victim, point it out to us and — even more — help us “fix it?” Help US fix ourselves?

Ms. Esther Charlestin was hired to do and took on arguably the most unpopular position in any school, a charge she attempted to fill with grace and honesty. As the Dean of Climate & Culture at Middlebury Union Middle School, she writes in an Aug. 31 community forum in the Addison Independent, “My job consisted of overseeing discipline, putting out the day-to-day fires that would arise, communicating with teachers and parents, hosting in-school suspensions, detentions, and ensuring 504 plans were adhered to.” Easily the dirtiest job in a school, let alone a middle school, an age bracket that is notorious for discipline issues as they struggle with leaving childhood and with their own hormonal transformation.

School disciplinarians are never popular among students. The old-timey spinster schoolma’am who wielded the ruler in the one-room schoolhouse had no easier time of it. Having taught in middle school myself, I know that some students are bent on disruption no matter what and seek out opportunities to be outrageous. And the virus seems to be spreading.

Kids, also, are not immune to the political turmoil that rages around them. Now in Vermont, achievement is suffering in part because teachers and school boards and parents are at each other’s throats like feuding parents, and who can concentrate on their schoolwork in that atmosphere? As Gov. Scott (I think) said, the kids are listening. How they interpret and act upon what they hear is, ultimately, up to them. So to put a person like Ms. Charlestin, as professional, realistic, determined and experienced as she is, into such a highly charged situation, which quite possibly no one else wanted, is doing Ms. Charlestin an insult and a harm, personally and professionally.

“Within the first week of the new job, I reviewed the Code of Conduct and suspected many students would not respond well to its punitive nature,” she continues. No surprise there. Undoubtedly the hiring committee patted themselves on the back for modeling diversity and equity in hiring. But only a hiring body with a totally tin ear for implicit racism, or in denial, despite all the talk, could not foresee the outcome.

It is time for white “progressives” to look in the mirror. Stop looking to BIPOC individuals and groups to fix our wagon. With all we know historically, we should know better by now.

Julia Purdy


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