Was an Instragram post by Wee The People the reason Westwood Public Schools cancelled anti-racism workshops it had scheduled by the social justice education group?
Francie Latour, co-founder and co-director of Wee The People, says the schools had scheduled the Boston group to present a series of five two-hour anti-racism training sessions for faculty, staff and parents/caregivers plus eight one-hour “What Is Racism?” workshops for fifth-grade students in May.
“We were told about the parent opposition around 1 p.m. on Friday, May 13. At that time, we were assured the workshops would continue. At 7 p.m. Friday, we were told the workshops were cancelled,” Latour writes. “Our understanding is that a parent objected to a 2021 Instagram post Wee The People re-shared in which we referenced the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol. Our post re-shared the hashtag #whitenessisadeathcult. Based on the hashtag, some white parents in Westwood said they feared for the safety and well being of their children in the workshop.”
The school district did not respond to multiple emails I sent to Superintendent Emily Parks, Thurston Middle School Principal Michael Redmon and via the district’s online contact form.
Wee The People was founded in 2015 to teach children about protest, racism, class, xenophobia, gentrification, gender and difference through visual and performing arts so “that kids can engage on their level.”
Wee The People has presented workshops and events at institutions across the region, and is scheduled to present “Wear Your Resistance: The Power of Protest Symbols” at the Reading Public Library on June 10, “First Comes Love, Then Comes Protest: Loving Day Cambridge 2022” at the Cambridge Public Library on June 12, “Juneteenth Unlimited” at the Thomas Crane Public Library in Quincy on June 18, and “Juneteenth Unlimited” at the Plymouth Family Resource Center on June 22.
Of the cancelled Westwood programs, Latour writes, “Our biggest concern, though, is for the safety and well being of the district’s METCO director, who first reached out to Wee The People in 2020 and has sought to build support for our programming since then. We are also concerned about the signal the cancellation surely sends to the BIPOC and LGBTQIA families in the school community.”
Latour adds, “By cancelling at the 11th hour, the administration gave away a great deal of its power as a civic institution. It has done so at a time when the safety and humanity of people who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, and queer are under real attack. These are vulnerable, equity-deserving populations whose lives and well being need to be placed at the center of institutional decision-making. We stand in solidarity with them.”
“The devastating toll of whiteness as a construct and a set of practices has been written about extensively and for a very long time—by W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Toni Morrison, among others. It has also been the subject of recent best-sellers like ‘The Sum of Us,’ ‘Stamped From the Beginning,’ ‘Dying of Whiteness,’ ‘White Fragility,’ and ‘Caste,’” Latour writes. “What these works share is a core premise of antiracism: whiteness as a category requires the domination/oppression of Black people in order to have meaning. Whiteness has no other meaning.”
Latour writes, “White individuals today are not responsible for the origins of this constructed identity. But every white individual has the power and responsibility to learn what whiteness means; tell the truth about it; understand how it benefits them materially (and diminishes them spiritually); and take action. Unlike the brutal lessons that Black children in Buffalo, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Chicago, Oakland, Louisville, and elsewhere inevitably learn through racial trauma, Wee The People programming supports children and adults in engaging with the uncomfortable truths of race and racism in an affirming, age-appropriate manner.”
Pictured at top: Wee The People’s Francie Latour presents “The ABCs of Racism” at Boston’s Old South Church, 2019. (Courtesy of Wee The People)
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