The same day the Quaker Oats Co. “retired” its Aunt Jemima brand, the Chicago Teachers Union dispatched a tweet bearing a demeaning portrayal of Chicago’s first Black female and LGBTQ mayor.
Even in this era of racial awakening, some would trade one hateful symbol of degradation for another.
The CTU trotted out the tweet last Wednesday, aimed at its Enemy No. 1.
Mimicking a Scooby Doo cartoon, the image depicted Mayor Lori Lightfoot, tied up and dressed in a police uniform, unmasked as a white cop in disguise. Other white characters hover above her with scornful looks. It includes the phrase, “Y’all too much sometimes” and hashtags that call for defunding police and removing the police from schools.
The criticism rolled in from a union leader, the Anti-Defamation League and even Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County board president and a staunch CTU ally.
On Thursday morning, I asked Lightfoot for her reaction at an unrelated press conference .
It is “clearly racist,” she said, though she acknowledged she had not seen the actual tweet, but had heard a description.
“It’s certainly disappointing when a group that professes to be educators, people who are in our classrooms, teaching our young people, would engage in these kinds of really deeply offensive and disappointing tactics,” she added.
CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates tweeted that the criticism avoids the “real issue,” and that the focus should be on “real outrage [about] real racism & injustice.”
In a follow-up statement, CTU spokeswoman Chris Geovanis said, “Our intent was, as it always has been, to stir the powerful from their slumber and stand steadfast behind those Black people — and especially young Black leaders — in their struggle for a new Chicago built on real justice, not broken promises and failed policies.”
She added, “To every demand this mayor and this administration has offered a resounding ‘no.’ ”
By Thursday night, the original tweet had been deleted.
The CTU backed Preckwinkle over Lightfoot in the heated 2019 mayoral runoff. Preckwinkle was trounced. Then the union and Lightfoot fought through a vicious 11-day teachers strike, a debilitating battle that nobody won.
Lightfoot is not an enemy of Black folk. Like Davis-Gates, she has lived the oppression of being Black in America. Lightfoot ran on a racial equity platform. She entered the race for mayor and took on the racially tone-deaf Rahm Emanuel when few others would.
Certainly, she has not moved quickly enough to push forward the crucial consent decree on policing reform. And Lightfoot made inexplicable errors in the handling of protests and looting in Chicago, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
But she has been unequivocal in her commitment to changing police culture and ending bad policing.
In the last decade, the CTU has earned national recognition for its advocacy of social justice. Under the leadership of Karen Lewis, the union strived to move beyond the traditional money demands of organized labor.
It became a force for educational changes that would benefit low-income children and children of color: smaller class sizes; boosting the arts, language, and physical education, and ensuring library, nursing, and social services in the schools.
The CTU has lost some battles; now, it can’t seem to get past them. If you differ with the mayor on policy, so be it. But be big enough and adult enough to engage in civil debate.
That ugly tweet demeaned and undermined the union and all its causes.
As I write this on Juneteenth, commemorating June 19, 1865 when slavery in the United States completely ended, know that Black people can never succumb to the tactics of their oppressors.
Laura Washington is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a political analyst for ABC 7-Chicago.
Follow Laura Washington on Twitter @mediadervish
Published at Sat, 20 Jun 2020 10:00:00 +0000