Neutrality is Dangerous
By: Ferial Pearson
This week, I've spoken on a panel at the ADL about Islamophobia, talked with the mayor about the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community, and presented to over 40 school librarians about Culturally Responsive Teaching, and there was one thing that came up all three times.
Neutrality is dangerous, irresponsible, and just plain bad. There is no "other side" to justice and equity that deserves representation.
Yes, everyone has a right to their opinions and beliefs. Absolutely. But when those beliefs and actions manifest themselves into words and actions that are psychologically, emotionally, and even physically damaging, then the people spouting those opinions through those words and actions should be ready and willing to suffer the repercussions and consequences of those actions.
There are protests whose purposes are to highlight injustice, pain, danger, and bigotry, to mourn and grieve together, and to show solidarity to those who are hurting. And then there are protests that espouse injustice, pain, danger and bigotry. One of those should be given airtime and space. The other should be shut down.
For example, there have been students even here in our city who have been protesting against the president elect. Students who are in pain, who are scared, who have experienced oppression and discrimination. They are being brave. And then there are students who protest these protestors with chants of "build the wall" and other such rhetoric that is designed to be painful and bigoted. I hope you can see how administration and teachers should NOT be neutral, because one of these sides is causing psychological damage to the other, and the other one is not. It's not about politics; it's about safety, acceptance, respect, and modeling what equity looks like.
We who belong to marginalized groups and identities do not appreciate the neutrality of those in power when our very existence is being challenged. Now, more than ever, but to be sure it's been this way forever.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Desmond Tutu
About Ferial Pearson
Ferial Pearson was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. She is the oldest of four girls and the first in her immediate family to go to college. After graduating from Peponi School in 1997, she left Africa to attend Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota, where she earned her Bachelor's degree in 2001 in Communication Arts Literature Teaching, and where she met her husband, Daniel. She was offered the opportunity to teach in Omaha at Omaha South High School, where she taught English and Reading for ten years. During her time there, she also served as the Gay Straight Alliance and Unity Club sponsor, and received national awards for her work with students and in the community. These included the National Education Association's Virginia Uribe Award for Creative Leadership in Human Rights in 2012, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network's Educator of the Year Respect Award in 2011, and she was the Nebraska representative and finalist for the National Council of Teachers of English Academic Freedom Award in 2012. Locally, she has been awarded the 2011 Omaha Education Association's Human Relations Award, the 2012 Promising Professional Award from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and RESPECT's 2011 Anti-Bullying Award. Most recently, she was awarded a TOYO (Ten Outstanding Young Omahans) Award in 2014. She also earned her Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a Graduate Certificate in Urban Instruction from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Ferial left Omaha South High School to work as a Talent Advisor for the Avenue Scholars Foundation and taught for them at Ralston High School for two years until 2013, during which time she created the Secret Kindness Agents project, which became the subject of a book, a TEDx Talk, and now the focus of her dissertation. She currently is an Instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the Teacher Education Department, and is working on her doctorate in Educational Leadership. This year, she was the recipient the Kennedy Center’s Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher award. She lives in Ralston, Nebraska with her husband Daniel, son Ilahi, and daughter Iman. Badass Teachers Association: