Cases in which police officers violate the civil rights of Black women are indeed worthy of study. But sitting through the slideshow, which asserts that to be Black and female is to be “the most unprotected person in America,” many students might come away with the impression that Black women are the demographic group most likely to be killed by police in America. That is false.
According to a 2019 paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the lifetime risk is highest for Black males: About 96 in 100,000 are killed by police. Latino men have an estimated lifetime risk of 53 per 100,000; white men, 39 per 100,000. For Black women, the authors find, the lifetime risk of being killed by police is 2.4 to 5.4 per 100,000. That’s higher than the comparable figure for Latina and white women (2 per 100,000), but much lower than the rate for men.
The Black Lives Matter movement is within its rights to focus exclusively on Black people killed by police—regardless of whether one believes, as I do, that Americans should also know names such as Daniel Shaver, a white man killed by police in 2016. Speeches by Black Lives Matter activists need not include the disclaimer that white men are far more likely to be killed by police than Black women are. But the public-school system should tell the whole truth to those in its care, even if it undermines a narrative that activists champion.
“I believe in the importance of every school district, including my own, moving away from a traditionally white-centric voice to a broader and more truthful view of history that acknowledges the wrongs of both past and present, recognizes white privilege and honors the black experience and the experience of other minority groups,” one Evanston parent told me in an email. “I think we’ve come to the point, however, where our children (all children) are being used as pawns … I feel we can and should work together for a more just, equitable world,” the parent continued, “but don’t believe that one political organization with its own idea of how to get there should be the arbiter of that progress.” This parent, too, requested anonymity, writing, “There is no room for that position right now in this town.”
I emailed all seven members of the District 65 school board for comment. One member, Joseph Hailpern, replied, emphasizing that he spoke only for himself. On the matter of parental unease, he wrote, in part,
As a white man I’d be lying if I said there were not parts that made me feel uneasy. It is hard to have your child come home and point out to you a privilege you have long held, but never noticed. I feel so good knowing that my children are learning the value of community, respect, and fairness in a way I was never discretely taught in school. Equity is a journey for some, a fight for others, and a distance hope for too many. If this makes the long term goals in our community more attainable, a bit of unease on my white part is acceptable and necessary to me.
To concerns that parts of the curriculum look like indoctrination by activists, he responded that teachers know how to “passionately bring about the next generation of great citizens” without imposing any viewpoints of their own. Some people understand a curriculum as a textbook or set of materials, he wrote, while for others, “it is the sequence of big ideas, enduring understandings, and essential questions” that guide learners. “This week is filled with huge questions for children and teachers about what kind of world we want to share together,” he continued. “It is current social studies rather than what parents are used to. In that it is very different, but highly relevant and necessary.”