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Which?

24 Oct

I read “How one teacher’s Black Lives Matter lesson divided a small Wisconsin town” this morning, and want to know which.

As in:

A parent had posted photos of the worksheet [4th grade teachers Melissa] Statz used and slammed it as an attempt to “indoctrinate our kids.” Like-minded community members were outraged and demanded that the school district discipline Statz.

The arguments on social media spilled into a heated school board meeting in September, racial slurs were graffitied on Burlington’s school campuses and a deluge of harassing messages were directed at Statz accusing her of sowing division in the small town.

Which parents and community members? Names would be nice. If you’re going to participate in discourse as a community (and here, I don’t mean voting, but discussion), I think it’s reasonable to ask, unless your safety is at risk, that we practice owning our perspectives, including our racist slurs.

But I’m less interested in individual names than the demographics of this group that’s going after a teacher whose 4th grade students asked her “if she knew what was going on in Kenosha, which is a half-hour drive from Burlington.” That’s right: she taught them because they wanted to learn.

The article does note that the school is located in “a town of 11,000 that is 89 percent white.” So we can surmise who the parents are who are concerned about “indoctrination,” but that would require stereotyping. I would rather not.

I’d like to know whether the folks who are hurling accusations are demographically representative: that is, if about 89% of the dissenters are white, and people of color comprise the remaining 11%.

Why?

Because it matters if the community skews in its disagreements. It matters who is represented in all sides of a situation. For instance, how would it change my or your understanding of this controversy if we found out that the people who are angry about teaching about BLM in the elementary school were all or predominantly black?

And if the folks slinging slurs while accusing the teacher of “sowing division” are predominantly or all white, we need to name that. We cannot continue to say “people” when we mean white people, or heterosexual people, or middle class people, or cisgender people. “People” should by default include all people. And when it doesn’t, let’s be clear about which people.

Because children’s and adults’ well-being and lives are on the line.

Tyler Kingkade, who wrote this article, notes that Darnisha Garbade “a Black mother [in the school district] was frustrated with her own family’s experience at school.” Kingkade then writes:

Garbade, 40, said children repeatedly made derogatory remarks about Black people to her daughters, particularly her youngest, who is 12. Over the past two years, Garbade said, white children spit at her daughter, punched her and pushed her down the stairs at school. One boy threatened to kill her, according to school documents.

Garbade repeatedly chastised administrators in emails, reviewed by NBC News, for not doing more to protect her daughter. She believes the harassment was changing how her daughter behaved.

“I could see the hurt in her eyes, and I told her I didn’t want her to allow them to determine her character,” Garbade said.

An attorney hired by the district to review Garbade’s concerns concluded that the harassment and school responses had nothing to do with race, and that school officials acted reasonably. The state Department of Public Instruction is reviewing a complaint from Garbade to look into any potential racial bias.

“When situations like this arise, we take it seriously as we want all students to feel safe and free from harassment in school,” Julie Thomas, the district’s communication coordinator, said in a statement.

Which students were physically attacking Garbade’s children? Which administrators and attorneys are concluding that that violence “has nothing to do with race”?

It matters if the harassing children and leadership are predominantly or all white. We should not stereotype, and we need to know. Because if anything is going to change, you need to understand the problem, and this article replicates the problem that Statz and the Garbade family are facing: whiteness gets to act violently, unrelentingly and consequentially without ever being named, which is just the first step of accountability.

Quote of the day

23 Oct

“Justice requires listening to people who are hurt.”

– Maura Healey, Attorney General of Massachusetts

Healey wrote this in the context of her Washington Post opinion piece: “The Justice Department failed to do its job in settling with the Sackler family.”

Is it “folx” (now) instead of “folks”?

23 Oct

A colleagues recently asked me about the word “folx,” and whether “folks” is now incorrect.

Here’s my response:

I too discovered folx, recently! In my understanding, yes the x is indeed like that in Latinx. (I’m linking an article from the site x. for folx sake here.) While folx is intended to be more gender inclusive, the argument doesn’t seem to be that folks is specifically or particularly gender-exclusive (like, for instance, “guys”), but that our dominant culture is. So, to be inclusive of the gender spectrum requires additional intention in our everyday systems, practices and language, and “folx” is (in my opinion) a high-usage, phonic opportunity.

Myself, I’m adding folx to my vocab, but have not replaced “folks” (as wrong) with “folx” (as right). I typically still write “folks,” although now more consciously (not as in: to make a point, but as in: with an opportunity to reflect).

Assuredly, you will find folx and folks who have other opinions.

And this goes beyond your question, but in the realm of ever-evolving lexicon, and my discernment of what’s “right”/”wrong” versus how else I may say something in my ongoing growth:

* I have consciously committed to not using “crazy” and other formerly mental health-describing words in contexts like: that meeting was crazy

* I took longer to digest the critique that “blind spot” is able-ist language. After many conversations, in one of which I posed myself the question: could I communicate “blind spot” in other words just as clearly, without invoking able-ism? I’m piloting “invisible spot” now.

* “Cultural competency” has been critiqued and replaced with other frameworks (including cultural humility, equity literacy…) and I ultimately developed my concept of DEI fluency, which is a hybrid of definitions of cultural competency, cultural humility and equity literacy. But in the evolution of all these words (which share some elements, even as they also signify differences with each other), I have continued to use “cultural competency” to help folks bridge to the concept of DEI fluency that I anchor my work in. .

If I may ask: What are you deciding (for now)?

Update on that email:

  • In my initial response, I elided over an additional dimension of “folx” shared in that article:

The reason we need “folx” in addition to the gender-neutral “folks” is to indicate inclusion of other marginalized groups including people of color (POCs) and trans people [underline added].

This was news to me, and it’s not universally “confirmed” that folx was originated or intended, or is experienced as inclusive of POC. Even in this post, “the origin of folx and why we should all use it.”

The point being, folx is a great example of something you may want to get “right.” And there’s no clear, one “right” meaning for it (as with BIPOC, and even “indigenous people.”) I’m all for speaking from a reasonably informed basis, so let’s keep learning about language. But this isn’t a research project. It’s real-life inclusion and equity. And people’s lives depend on it.

Let’s reserve “right” and “wrong” thinking for language that is clearly, exclusively or primarily hateful, demeaning and dehumanizing.

For other language (ex. “folks,” for which there does seem to consensus that the word isn’t itself any more gender-exclusive than the culture in which it’s used) let’s recognize when we have options and opportunities and practice.

Let’s be prepared to learn and acknowledge when our words aid and abet oppression that we oppose.

Let’s allow time to discern and grow. Keeping up with what other people say you “should” say is exhausting, disempowering and ultimately not helpful. We’ve got to own the words we use and what they mean.

Science may be “inherently rational and self-correcting,” but scientists are human

22 Oct

In Scientific American this month, Naomi Oreskes refutes “scientists [who refuse] to acknowledge that a problem [with racism and sexism in STEM] could even exist. Science, they argue, is inherently rational and self-correcting,” pointing out:

The history of science is rife with well-documented cases of misogyny, prejudice and bias. For centuries biologists promoted false theories of female inferiority, and scientific institutions typically barred women’s participation… Racial bias has been at least as pernicious as gender bias; it was scientists, after all, who codified the concept of race as a biological category that was not simply descriptive but also hierarchical.

Oreskes’ argument relies on the basic and critical distinction that science (a methodology) is different from scientists (the people who apply the method). The same argument holds for other things people claim “aren’t -ist…” like the pandemic: covid-19 isn’t racist, ageist or classist itself, but it is realizing racist, ageist and classist impacts because it’s filtered through human systems and constructs. So, no, we are not all at equal risk for contracting and dying from the coronavirus.

Then Oreskes makes the case that STEM needs to own the exclusions and inequities in its fields, in order for science’s “inherent rationality and self-correction” to be realized:

Fortunately, the objectivity of scientific knowledge does not depend on the objectivity of individual scientists. Rather it depends on strategies for identifying, acknowledging and correcting bias and error. As I point out in my 2019 book, Why Trust Science, scientific knowledge begins as claims advanced by individual scientists, teams or laboratories that are then closely scrutinized by others, who may bring forward additional proof to sustain them—or to modify or reject them. What emerges as a scientific fact or established theory is rarely if ever the same as the starting claim; it has been adjusted in light of evidence and argumentation. Science is a collective effort, and it works best when scientific communities are diverse. The reason is simple: heterogeneous communities are more likely than homogeneous ones to be able to identify blind spots and correct them. Science does not correct itself; scientists correct one another through critical interrogation. And that means being willing to interrogate not just claims about the external world but claims about our own practices and processes as well [emphasis added].

* Thanks to AIP for the article.

“Why there’s no such thing as white pride”

21 Oct

This is writer/director Michael McWhorter explaining “why there’s no such thing as white pride.”

[Watch from 0:25 to 1:25 for the actual post; the rest is commentary about it. You can also watch the post here.]

Yes.

And, McWhorter uses the term “culture” pretty elastically to suggest that all Asian people have a common culture and that all Latina/o/x people have a common culture. This is not true. There is actually an element of truth in common for Black US Americans and these groups, in that Asian-Americans have a similar US American experience, as do Latinas/os/x, based on race (see, for example, how xenophobic discrimination against Asians and the US’ hyper-selective criteria for immigrants under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 creates a perception of Asians being racially privileged in the US, which furthers anti-Asian sentiment).

That over-dichotomization notwthstanding, yes to McWhorter’s refusal to answer rhetorically posed questions or to make false equivalents. And gratitude.

“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

21 Oct

After years of having to say I didn’t know the source for this quote, a colleague helped me out! It’s Leonard Franklin.

* Thank you, EB. And MDE.

Got 2 mins?

17 Oct

This is the best explanation I’ve seen/heard in a while about why racism is bad for everyone (not just POC).

Shout out and gratitude to the Mosaic Project.

“Lowell isn’t going to adapt to you. You adapt to Lowell, and if you can’t handle it, that’s on you.” – Student

16 Oct

In the process of determining how Lowell HS in San Francisco (an “elite” public school that traditionally operates outside of the district’s lottery system) will conduct admissions for 2021-22, this really struck me:

The announcement [of the board’s proposal to put Lowell into the lottery system next year] was also met with some push-back by the current student body. One junior, quoted anonymously in the Lowell High student paper, said “not everyone is capable of handling the stress” of the school. “Lowell isn’t going to adapt to you,” the student said. “You adapt to Lowell, and if you can’t handle it, that’s on you.”

It’s not the student’s opinion on this issue that gets me: it’s the conviction that if you struggle or fail, that’s “on you” (implied) alone. As if the work of education isn’t fundamentally about serving kids. As if learning isn’t a collaborative process, in which yes, the student is a critical, active partner (not just a passive recipient of knowledge), as are: the educator, pedagogy, skills (consider the difference between teaching study skills and leaving students to do whatever they can figure out for themselves) access and opportunity. As if academic “excellence” and “success” are solely the achievement of the individual with no external facilitation, support or help from anyone else.

This seems like an obvious “both and” to me. You know, “it takes a village.”

So as I read this, I had to wonder: what are we teaching students?

“I think the American people are going to vote for America restoring itself to a more rightful place” (eek)

16 Oct

I appreciated the opening of this Rolling Stone interview “John Kerry is mad as hell.” I enjoyed Kerry’s “uncoiffed ruffledness” regarding the current President and White House administration. And I agreed with some of his concerns – like: we can’t delay more on the climate crisis.

Which is probably why I missed the warning signs:

  • In the subheader: The former senator, presidential nominee, and Secretary of State on the “nincompoop” in the White House, the decimation of America’s reputation abroad, and what needs to be done to restore it [emphasis added]
  • In the journalist’s statements: “But on the flip side of Kerry’s frustration is a sincere belief that Joe Biden will be able to return the United States to its rightful place as the chief influencer of the global order” [emphasis added].
  • Which are based on Kerry’s own words: “I think they’re going to vote for America restoring itself to a more rightful place” [emphasis added].
  • Which have a clear theme: “But can you get back to a place where you’re able to exert America’s influence and leadership at the U.N. and at the G20 and with NATO? Yes” [emphasis added].

Sure, Kerry may be referring specifically to restoring: “America’s role as the leader of the free world, which includes a responsibility to put forth a dependable image to the international community” and “the restoration of America’s diplomatic capacity,” but what else does that restoration also bring back or further entrench?

I couldn’t help hearing echoes of entitlement in Kerry’s interview. As if the US deserves to lead, to influence and to be at the front/top of the world order.

There are echoes of this sense of entitlement in cisgender exasperation with “so many new pronouns” because folks don’t always identify within the “order” of the gender binary; in the current white supremacist movement in which militias are intending to exert their perceived “rightful place” to “get to back to a place where [they]’re able to exert [their] influence and leadership” on local, state and national politics; in the calls to deny and ban transgender rights; in the incel, anti-feminist “men’s rights” movement; in the utterance that “White Lives Matter.”

I’m not calling Kerry a white supremacist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobe. But let’s be clear: Democrats aren’t above, unaligned or unaffiliated with the systems of racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and classism. Hillary Clinton referred to black youth as “superpredators” 20 years before she ever referred to the president’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables.”

And Kerry’s vision – any vision that restores, returns, revives, reinstates… without reimagining and committing anew to what must be different, not the same as before, sounds familiarly unjust to me.

“It has nothing to do with racism.”

15 Oct

Korean-Americans dominate the sale of Black women’s hair products in the US.

“It has nothing to do with racism,” Mr. Na [a Korean-American immigrant store owner in Chicago] said. He acknowledged that if Black women gained a larger footing in the beauty supply industry they could seriously challenge Korean businesses.

Nothing to do with racism? That’s not true. Just consider why Black women haven’t “gained a larger footing” in the Black beauty supply industry.

… the struggles of Black women in the beauty supply industry show that some barriers to success are more complicated.

In interviews this summer, Black women who own beauty shops in Dallas, Buffalo and Sacramento said they were consistently denied accounts with major Korean-owned suppliers. 

Even Mr. Na names how racism shaped his trajectory in the US, describing how we was able to purchase his first business: “This man was upset that the Black people were moving into the neighborhood. Koreans didn’t care. This was an area that they could afford.”

“Didn’t care” isn’t the same as not racist, and certainly doesn’t void the racism that created his opportunity.

Mr. Na’s, Ms Holmes’ and the beauty supply industry’s stories have everything to do with racism, including how The New York Times frames its protagonists: Mr. Na is Korean, not a US American, in this headline.

As Tiffany Gill, history professor at Rutgers University says, “These are two historically marginalized groups fighting over the same small slice of pie when there is so much more of the pie that neither has access to.”

And not equally. As marginalized and minoritized groups figure out how to work together for more of that pie, across the disparities and inequities among us, what about the folks who get to make the pie?

This all reminds me of a conversation I had this week about not waiting to take action on things you don’t need more proof for. A colleague said, but people don’t have the cultural competency to even do that work.

True. We are building this plane while it’s in the air. We need to become culturally competent and design for future generations not to start where we are all over again and advance justice (with the cultural competence that we can only learn by doing).

We are building this plane while it’s in the air, and we are the chicken, and the plane is the egg.