What Is the Anti-Defamation League Doing in My School?

Anti-bias is not anti-racism.

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Chappaqua, a wealthy, liberal suburb of New York City, fights hard to maintain its wholesome appeal — but not without outside help.

A number of anti-Black incidents continually horrify this overwhelmingly white community. Many were sympathetic to the recent movement for social justice by posting lawn signs for the cause, but racist graffiti in the school and town occur consistently. This past summer, a large Black Lives Matter sign was repeatedly vandalized and then burned, and a noose was spray-painted in a pro-police “blue line” on the road just outside one of the few Black families’ houses. Most notably, a Tik Tok video emerged featuring Chappaqua’s own Horace Greeley High School students saying the n-word in the school cafeteria.

The Tik Tok, in particular, incited massive outrage and division in local Facebook groups. Because it emerged at the peak of the BLM protests, it emphasized the white-privileged nature of the town and it went viral, even reaching Perez Hilton’s social media.

Now that the incident became public, more was being exposed. Students and alumni began to share their personal encounters with racism and harassment at the school through the Hatred At Greeley Instagram page. It was clear that the video was not an anomaly, but rather indicative of a long-standing hostile environment. Chappaqua Central School District (CCSD) held a special school board meeting over Zoom to discuss this issue:

“This is exactly what Chappaqua does best. They cover things up because all they care about is their reputation[…]You do not care about changing the culture, all you care about is hiding it.” — A class of 2017 Greeley alum at the special Board of Education meeting on June 8, 2020

CCSD can be remarkably efficient and swift to act when suppressing public awareness of unseemly incidents. In one past instance, when a teacher was arrested after years of sexual abuse of students, the school board immediately engaged an expensive public relations firm long before it offered psychological counseling to the abuser’s victims. The district’s reputation has been its main draw for new families and keeps its property values high.

CCSD has shown more concern with restoring its image rather than with serious introspection. Thus, the high school had been planning to bring in the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) even before the Tik Tok was recorded. Greeley fits the criteria perfectly: a white, affluent area with recent offensive scandals which left the school district vulnerable to scrutiny. All the ADL has to do under these conditions is swoop in and rid the school of its racism problem. Except, it won’t.

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The ADL purports to be a leading civil rights organization originally founded to fight antisemitism. No Place For Hate® is one of the ADL’s educational programs that focuses on “stopping the escalation of hate” in school climates by bestowing schools with the No Place For Hate® seal of approval. Its anti-bias educational material (the ADL is deliberate in describing their work as “anti-bias” as opposed to “anti-racist”) seeks to address all forms of inequality — even when faced with opposition from actual communities of color. There is no evidence that “anti-bias” exercises actually eliminate injustice, and the ADL’s rhetoric is not a sufficient analysis of racism in the slightest. What remains are empty gestures which are often used to clean up racism scandals while constraining anti-racist action.

In August 2020, the #DropTheADL campaign further exposed the ADL’s extensive history of anti-Black and anti-Muslim racism through surveillance, targeting, and repression. This included a letter currently signed by over 180 social justice organizations calling on institutions to rethink their ties with the ADL. A large part of this campaign highlighted the ADL’s status as the top non-governmental police trainer in the country and a major facilitator of the militarization of police in the US and Israel, all in the name of its commitment to fighting against “extremism.” The heightened grassroots demands of this past summer to end police violence puts the ADL in an unflattering position within progressive circles.

As #DropTheADL points out, the ADL uses its anti-bias work to maintain its claim as a civil rights organization. Many are eager to use its convenient resources without a full understanding of its history. Yet, what it presents as inclusive learning material manifests as stifling real anti-racist movements that threaten structures of power. This cycle is how the ADL achieves such close proximity to progressive movements, or worse, claims itself to be a mentor on “hate” and “bias.”

The ADL’s close involvement within public schools has not gone uncontested. However, its monopoly over anti-bias curricula across the country makes it difficult for schools to find an alternative. Greeley’s single-minded pursuit of a No Place For Hate® banner — which will no doubt be prominently displayed on its website — confirms its willful ignorance of the many warning signs coming from POC who have been harmed by the ADL. The ADL does not belong in our schools.

[More information and messages of support can be found on this Instagram page.]

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