ESPN Sportscenter evening anchor, and frequent Twitter tweeter, Jemele Hill was recently reprimanded for calling Donald Trump a White supremacist on Twitter; to which they offered a public apology. ESPN said in its statement that “the comments from Jemele Hill do not represent the position of ESPN.” What is troubling about ESPN’s position is the ambiguity about what their position on Donald Trump is. What isn’t up for debate is that Donald Trump has used White supremacy and racism to ascend to the nation’s highest office. His candidacy started with calling then President Barack Obama illegitimate; demanding that he both prove his birth in Hawaii and to prove his intelligence while in college. He labeled Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists, made a White supremacist his chief strategist, excluded White supremacist from absolute blame for the violence in Charlottesville, pardoned a convicted criminal who ignored the law requiring him not to racially profile Hispanic/Latinos in his state and did away with DACA. That Donald Trump is a White supremacist, if not true is absolutely plausible.
It is often said that parents must be held accountable for the poor decisions and failures of their children; that parental priorities are misplaced and it accounts heavily for the struggles for their children. These calls come from policymakers and educators alike. But when will policymakers and educators hold the business community responsible for their words and actions that send children the wrong messages, on a daily basis? ESPN’s status as the worldwide leader in sports entertainment isn’t exaggerated. By dominating televised sport, ESPN generates some $4 billion in cash for its parent, Disney, each year; over two-fifths of Disney’s profits. The influence of the “Worldwide Leader” is extensive and while ESPN is engaged in numerous corporate citizenship activities, they must also be aware that statements such as the one released yesterday are equally important. Although businesses are in operation to make a profit, they have a responsibility to not mislead the public in the name of making said profits. That is exactly what ESPN did yesterday. By condemning Hill’s comments, they also refuted them when the evidence is clear; Donald Trump is a White supremacist. Equally as unfortunate is the education community’s collective failure to require that corporations do not attempt to silence the truth in the name of profits. We are quick to judge parents who spend their money on material items at the expense of resources for their children, yet we fail to call out the corporate community for compromising truth in the name making money on parents and their children. Shame on us.
John F. Kennedy once said that the goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth. It is therefore incumbent on educators to tell the truth to students when teaching and disciplining them. We must also be honest with ourselves as educators and call things for what they are when harmful to our students. Because of the vastly expansive world of social media, our children have access to more information at their ages than we ever had. They see truth and they see hypocrisy. They see the truth behind Donald Trump’s actions and the hypocrisy of his words. They see the videos of Black men and women unlawfully killed at the hands of biased police officers emboldened by racism within the criminal justice system. They see that Colin Kaepernick is not on an NFL roster due to the nature of his protest. They see that hundreds of thousands of children will no longer be protected to live in the only country they’ve ever known. They see that children in Flint, Michigan still are without clean water to drink. We preach to our students to stand up for what is right and not to be afraid to do and say what is right on behalf of those who cannot. Our preaching falls on deaf ears when children witness what happened to Jemele Hill; repudiated for speaking the truth. She did nothing wrong, however the lesson to children of color is not to speak up for fear of losing your job. The message to White students is the truth can be ignored if uncomfortable and you have the power to do ignore it. While the concepts of integrity and courage are introduced in the home, they are developed and cultivated in the classroom. The call for educators today is not only need to strengthen those principals, but to hold corporations accountable for being individuals of integrity and courage.
When Donald Trump initially blamed both White Supremacist and protesters against White supremacy for the violence in Charlottesville, there was a public outcry against it. His next response was to call racism evil, however the second response was too late for Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who resigned from the American Manufacturing Council. In response, Donald Trump offered criticism of the resignation and not his own remarks. Others followed Frazier and resigned from the council. After Donald Trump’s double down press conference, the remaining CEO members on the council held a conference call and the result was to disband the all business related councils. These CEOs showed both integrity and courage in the face of bigotry; telling the public that they and their respective companies are not in agreement with White supremacy. It is important that students know that the products they and their families purchase and use aren’t from companies that are harbors of White supremacy. It is equally important for students to know that companies that profit off of the bodies of Black athletes, like ESPN, value their lives in addition to their labor of Black people. When companies fail to account for what is right and wrong, the education community must advocate that they do. Our students are watching and they are watching us, especially the victims of White supremacy. We must work to protect those who cannot protect themselves and inform the ignorant among us. We must call on corporations in the wrong like ESPN to display the same level of courage and integrity shown by those who walked away from Donald Trump’s council. We must hold truth at the forefront of our mission… no excuses.