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VIEWPOINT: Botched lesson illustrates Delaware’s systemic racism problem

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A recent botched attempt in the Caesar Rodney School district to combine a Black history lesson with an instructional yoga video illustrates how far we have to go to eliminate systemic racism in Delaware.

In the pre-recorded video, an instructor combines yoga poses with her version of how Africans were enslaved and brought to America. In one example, the video encourages children to adopt the “boat pose” while learning how Africans “came to America on boats to become slaves,” as if the boat trip was a pleasure cruise and enslaved Africans had any choice in the matter. For the record, the Caesar Rodney School District says it is investigating and has denounced the lesson as “unacceptable.” That’s a start. Equipping teachers with culturally competent materials would be ideal.

Rick Deadwyler

It would be easy — too easy — to chalk this up to thoughtlessness. Here’s the cold truth: if in 2021 we can still find racist and culturally insensitive messages in a preschool yoga video, is it hard to believe that equally, if not more damaging racist messages can still be found in the halls of power, public and private, across Delaware?

Today’s racism doesn’t always wear a hooded robe. It comes dressed as a “harmless” joke in the workplace, an inability of a Black person to access capital, a hallway comment about a colleague’s braids, or a traffic stop that spirals into a prison sentence. It’s found in the written laws of governments and the unspoken codes of fraternal groups. It’s called “systemic” because it’s often buried in the cultural DNA of board rooms, governments, churches, and yes, even schools — so buried that some can’t, or won’t see it.

As leaders of the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative (DRJC), we do not write solely to call out a teaching lesson in the Caesar Rodney School District, nor any one individual. As telling as the yoga video incident is, it is but a tiny slice of the much larger problem of systemic racism that the DRJC is working to address. The collaborative is a diverse group of more than 140 community-based organizations and more than 200 community leaders from across the state — black, brown, and white — who share a single goal: eliminating systemic racism in Delaware, wherever it exists.

Why does this matter? Because we are all responsible for addressing the problem of systemic racism in our state. If we are going to overhaul the racist structures that keep Delaware, and every Delawarean, from realizing their true potential, then each of us must be an active participant in that work. The DRJC calls this effort, “One Delaware.: The name speaks to both our goal, and our strategy: to work as one to create one community where there is no place for systemic racism.

Michelle Taylor

Lofty? No doubt. Easily done? Hardly. Quick to achieve? Not likely. Worth the effort? Absolutely. The DRJC is thoughtfully creating a multi-year strategy to accomplish this. We are focused on addressing those policies and practices that enable the perpetuation of systemic racism. And we’re engaging people from across Delaware, especially the young people who will inherit tomorrow the One Delaware we shape today. Everyone is invited to learn more at www.uwde.org/drjc and to take a quick look at the One Delaware initiative here: https://youtu.be/DsrfGdcSE8A.

If this unfortunate episode in the Caesar Rodney School District puts a sharper focus on the urgent need for bold action to root out systemic racism in Delaware, then perhaps it will have served a useful purpose after all. 

Rick Deadwyler serves as U.S. Eastern region government and industry affairs leader for Corteva Agriscience. Michelle Taylor is president and CEO of United Way of Delaware. Both are members of the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative.

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