Sunday, May 24, 2009

Segregated proms in a "post-racial" USA

When Obama ran to be the democratic nominee for the US Presidency, many asked if it was the end of black racial politics. When he was nominated as the Democratic candidate, won the election in 2008, some people (like conservative Dinesh D'Souza) claimed that racism in the USA was over, and that the United States had entered a new post-racial era. Still, others note that one election won (no matter how historic), does not change the fact that the US has yet to deal with a major paradox of injustice in its national psyche: the belief in freedom and that all people are created equal and the long standing historical de-jure and de-facto discrimination against particular members of its citizenry.

As a teacher, I point out to my students that just because something has happened once, does not mean that it signals a permanent change, a new reality, or a confirmation of a belief. It's a blip, an anecdote. Until there is an existing pattern supported with evidence in the form of data, it unfortunately can't tell us much. This is not to say that one cannot find hope in that unique instance. One must weigh it against the data from the current reality.

So, imagine my classroom last week when I pointed out to a group of students studying urban education that segregated proms still exist. Some were shocked, and wondered how that could be so. My students are bright and from very diverse backgrounds and life-experiences. It doesn't change the fact that they have more or less been raised in an era in which social studies education teaches them that "we had the Civil Rights movement. Segregation is over." Imagine my reaction this morning when I read the NYT magazine article about segregated proms in Georgia.

The article tells me nothing new but I am sure it will be a surprise to some of my students. What really disturbs me about the article is the Times's failure to really dig deeper than they did. The piece basically focuses on the hurt feelings of the black students. It talks about failed efforts to integrate the proms, and the fact that white students are welcome at black proms (but black students can only stand outside white proms and take pictures of their white friends). I don't want to minimize the grave insult here, or the emotions of the students who were excluded. By focusing on the emotions of students, however, the Times reduces this act of segregation and discrimination to something that is committed against one or a few individuals, when in fact, it is institutionally and community-sanctioned against an entire group of the community itself.

But, some would say, the proms are paid for by the parents. But, other would say, it's the white parents who want to keep black students away from their prom and their children. If that were the case, why didn't the white students protest? Or, as one young black woman mentioned in passing, why did none of the white students text their black friends during prom, or choose not to go? This, in my mind is the crux of the matter: white students, while they may have black friends, girlfriends, or boyfriends, still observe the de facto reality of the community. It's OK to be friends or maybe date outside your race (as long as your parents don't know), but officially, you stick to your own.

The fact that the school does not pay for the segregated proms does not absolve the school administration from its role in this story. The reality that this is the way it has been done since schools were integrated in the 70's does not make the "tradition" (used in the article) does not make it right. This story does serve, however, as data point in a growing list of them that a "post-racial" USA is still a long way off.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"I can't make a living on 500K"-- a message to the whiners

I have been stewing about this all day. In fact, I have been getting angrier and angrier, and I figure it is better to write about this than to yell at some unsuspecting undergraduate. Be forewarned: This is not a diary about education, though I suppose it the ultimate outcome about all of this is that education will be affected.

Long story short: If I have to read about one more Wall Street whiner who is pissed because he or she didn't get the usual annual bonus, I am going to scream. I will probably blow a vessel if one more complains about $500K salary caps.

Last fall, the Bush Administration gave the banks billions of dollars with few or no strings attached. The bank, instead of starting to loan that money out, hoarded it, used it for conferences, and paid execs bonuses. That's right, our taxpayer money went to reward the yahoos who helped to get us in this mess.

So yesterday, the New York Times had an article about how some folks on Wall Street thought it was unfair that President Obama was placing a $500K salary cap and bonus cap. Today, Obama called for "common sense." Sorry, it's not common sense. It's FAIR.

The folks on Wall Street claim they deserve the bonus because they work harder than other people. Ehm, tell that to police and firefighters who risk their lives everyday. Tell that to hospital workers. Tell that to teachers who work in less-than-ideal conditions. If we follow through on their logic, there are a lot of people who are due some pretty amazing bonuses.

The bigger issue for me is the hypocrisy that is operating here. Yesterday there was an article about Tom Suozzi threatening layoffs if the unions didn't take a 7% pay cut. Question: is he taking a pay cut? Are the managers taking a paycut? How about the judges and other non-union workers?

I understand that we are living in tough times, but let's be real here. The people who are telling us we need to tighten our belts have no intention of tightening theirs. I just found out that they have put an 18 month salary freeze in place for folks here. I wonder if the state legislature is freezing their salaries as well.

Just sayin'

Monday, February 2, 2009

I miss Joe

Tonight I went to a celebration of the life of Joe Kincheloe. I dragged Mr. Edubabbler with me because I wanted to introduce him to more of my world. It was a rough night.

I have to admit, I am not one for public mourning. I prefer to do it in private, being alone with my thoughts and feelings. My mother hates that about me. After my sister died, all my mom wanted was to talk about it. I wanted to simply think and be. It was the same tonight. There were all of these people there, sharing stories about Joe. There was a presentation about Joe, his life, and his work. All I could think about was the fact that we were having this celebration of his life because he is no longer with us.

But, I got to hug Shirley, the love of his life. And I got to hear stories about Joe I'd never heard before. Most important, I got to see video of him, and I heard his voice again. I do not want to lose the sound of his voice in my mind. I need to hear his gentle prodding and love as I continue my work to make his (all our) vision of possibility a reality.

Peace, Joe.