Have you been following the Facebook flap concerning posts made by Minneapolis School Board candidate Sharon Dumas El-Amin? Myself, I’m having a hard time looking away.
To me the dustup is important for two reasons. First, we have a candidate in Minneapolis in 2018 running to be a champion for children who has a hard time understanding why some of her statements strike many as homophobic and transphobic.
Second – and likely more impactful for the long term — are we okay electing people with this level of scrutiny? Personally, I think the model in which a tiny slice of the populace that is laser-focused on a hyper-narrow set of interests elects a school board has to go.
For a host of reasons. To which we can add this.
A longtime community activist and head of the North High School parent organization, El-Amin sought and did not receive the DFL endorsement last spring. No surprise there; see the “hyper-narrow” reference above. Lots of people were impressed with her remarks and yet with a political process as broken as the Minneapolis DFL’s she was not a contender for the party nod. The endorsement is about a single litmus test.
El-Amin stayed in the race anyhow, which is terrific from the standpoint of refusing to let one meeting attended only by usual suspects control things.
But then last week a 2016 post from El-Amin’s Facebook was re-posted to the Contract for Student Achievement page, a place where people interested in K-12 education hereabouts congregate. I was the first commenter out of the gate and my reaction could best be summed up as “holy shit.”
The post in question:
Some of us asked El-Amin, digitally, to explain. Which she did:
“Sharon El-Amin is for everybody! I am not anti LGBTQ, absolutely not!
I support and respect a persons right to be who they want to be and be who they are. It is not my position to judge people. We are all part of this community.
“Facebook posts I made in 2016 are being taken completely out of context. The point of the posts was that as an African American woman I am constantly worrying about my African American male family members safety. Especially my sons and husband. They cannot leave the house with certainty of not facing violence whether it be random or the police. I love my family to no end.
I was simply pointing out the fact that as African Americans our rights are continuously infringed upon.”
Saturday, El-Amin posted a fuller, but still not full-throated statement again insisting she will “fight for the safety and inclusion of all students,” including LGBTQ ones. And also re-iterating her conviction that those of us who found the original post to be inflammatory and offensive had taken it out of context.
But there’s no detail about what she does believe, how she came to those beliefs and how upholding the dignity of gays, lesbians and “transgenders” relates to continued violence against African American men and boys.
El-Amin suggested we check her history. Unfortunately, it contains more posts that I’m hard-pressed to see as anything but homophobic and transphobic. But you decide for yourself:
Some of these have since been taken down. Some are still up.
Personally, I think that if we are to survive and to end all kinds of systemic oppression and marginalization we have to leave room for people to re-examine and move away from views they come to understand as biased. Many white people – myself included – are grateful for the conversations that brought us to awareness of our white privilege.
Asking opponents of same-sex marriage to consider the roles that love, marriage and family play in their own lives moved the electorate in Minnesota five years ago to extend marriage equality to all of us.
Barack Obama was magnificent and eloquent when he explained that his own views on the rights of LGBTQ Americans had “evolved” — in no small part because he and Michelle got to know same-sex couples raising their daughters’ classmates.
El-Amin’s statements lack this authenticity. Insisting that people who feel harmed and threatened by your speech have simply misinterpreted you is not the same as truly seeing those people and understanding their realities. We have yet to hear her explanation why she was moved to equate same-sex marriage with polygamy, why mocking transgender women is acceptable, and most important if she is in fact an ally of LGBTQ children and families, how she would act on that commitment on the school board.
Which brings us full circle to my second point. If Ms. El-Amin harbors bias toward gays and transgender people and is elected, she’d likely be a lonely presence on the school board, and many of our kids are insulated by other adults in the system who have created affirming spaces. (Though one rogue board member walking a school’s halls demanding to know who pees where could upend that apple cart.)
The fact that we’re having this debate on Facebook rather than in multiple, meaningful vetting processes is a problem. I daresay if you’ve watched a school board meeting in the last year or so you must agree.
We have board members who either don’t grasp the basic financial and operational concepts they are supposed to be responsible for or willfully making up their own so as to justify reprehensible decisions.
We have one board member who cheerfully admits he doesn’t open emails from district staff and instead calls his friends for help understanding policy.
We have one who, confronted telling mistruths in a candidate forum, took off her mic and walked away.
We have another who is so prone to rambling digressions in which she contradicts her own statements and decries her own votes that other board members have considered putting time limits on how long each may talk.
I could go on, but the bottom line is this: We have the board we elected. It’s made up of people we settled for. (And not for nothing a couple who have become pretty strong voices during their tenure.)
I will reiterate: I think this particular governance model is irretrievably broken and I’d sure like us to be having a rational discussion about what could work better instead of surrendering that conversation to folks who would like to starve the beast. But if we don’t have that kind of spine, let’s at least insist on a better process for getting to know our candidates.