Dr. Bettina Love began her talk by telling the story of a 12-year-old Black boy in Colorado who was suspended this fall for playing with a recognizable toy gun during his Zoom class after the school called the police.

She then presented an image of the rioters storming the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6.

“But this was okay?” Love said. “They were not seen as criminals.”

Love, a professor at the University of Georgia, spoke about abolitionist teaching and breaking down racist systems in America in a webinar Wednesday night hosted by the School of Education and Social Policy.

After publishing her book, “We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom,” in 2019, Love founded the Abolitionist Teaching Network to bring the ideas from her book into reality. Her dream for abolitionist teaching is not just to tweak the current curriculum but to tear down the education system and eliminate oppression at its root.

“The problem is the structure,” she said. “We can close low-performing schools – that’s not the problem. Those students are not low-performing, the system is low-performing.”

In response to the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred over the summer and various institutions’ responses to them, Love said the “bargain-rate reforms” are not enough and statements do not show real change.

“You had some of the biggest organizations come out with ‘Black Lives Matter’ statements but can’t pay their workers a living wage,” Love said.

One anonymous commenter on the webinar called out Northwestern University for this performative activism. During the Q&A at the end of the presentation, Kavita Matsko, Associate Dean for Teacher Education, asked Love what actions Northwestern can take to address inequity and injustice.

“The space has to be co-created with the community. What do the people surrounding that place say? What does the staff say?” Love responded. “Look at policies and procedures. Think to yourself: how are the policies currently denying access to students of color and what are we going to replace them with?”

Love also addressed the difference between racism and anti-Blackness. She said racism is the systemic denial of rights while anti-Blackness is complete disdain for Black people.

“They work together seamlessly,” she said. “Anti-Blackness is ‘Let me put my knee on your neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds because I don’t believe you’re human,’ and racism is going to allow me the structure and system to get away with it.”

Witnessing and experiencing all of this systemic violence directed toward Black people murders the spirits of Black people, Love said.

“It makes you less human,” she added. “It makes you shrink.”

Love said her spirit was nurtured growing up in an all Black community in upstate New York, and she attributed much of who she is today to how she was raised by her mother.

“She’s just a beacon of the strength of Black women,” she added.

During Christmas time, Love’s mother didn’t lie about the “white man coming down the chimney.” She told her children to ask her for presents because she works every day to provide for them.

“If all you know about Black folks is our pain and our trauma, you don’t know us,” Love said. “Our history does not start with this pain. We do not fight because of that pain and trauma. It comes from joy.”

*Article Thumbnail courtesy of Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy