Author: Deanna Hill

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Thank you, Deborah Meier, for being able and willing to reveal your own racism! As Meier tells Diane Ravitch in the blog they write to each other and willingly share with the world:

I think I have fallen into the trap, too, when pointing out that the white poor face many of the same obstacles that the black and Hispanic poor do. I, too, have been urging a more colorblind attack on our school system’s miseducational policies. Tactically, it might have seemed wise, but factually, it’s nonsense. Continue reading “The New Jim Crow”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: A Story Worth Telling and a Model for Storytelling

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: A Story Worth Telling and a Model for Storytelling

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I just read the New York Times best-seller “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Henrietta Lacks was a black woman treated for cervical cancer at John Hopkins in the early 1950s. It was during this treatment that her cancer cells were taken without her knowledge, grown in a laboratory, and sold to scientists around the globe. Henrietta died in 1951 at the age of 31, but her cells, known to scientists as HeLa, live on in laboratories and medical schools around the globe. HeLa was vital to the development of the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and much more. In 1996, Roland H. Pattillo, M.D., a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Morehouse School of Medicine, began the annual HeLa Women’s Health Conference, and the BBC filmed  part of its documentary “The Way of All Flesh” at the event. Yet, before this book, her family was virtually unknown to the general public and could not afford health care that would give them access to the medical advances their own mother made possible.

While the book could have easily been couched as a “historical” account, white, female author Rebecca Skloot carefully demonstrated the very real, very contemporary significance of the story. As noted on the author’s website: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. It’s a story inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of.” In fact, the last chapter of the book describes the yet unsettled legal context in which these debates continue.  I hope we can expect the same treatment by the Oprah Winfrey/Alan Ball HBO movie being made.

I was especially impressed with the author’s continuing commitment to Henrietta Lacks’ family and to others like them. The author founded the Henrietta Lacks Foundation. According to the foundation website: “The Henrietta Lacks Foundation strives to provide financial assistance to needy individuals who have made important contributions to scientific research without personally benefiting from those contributions, particularly those used in research without their knowledge or consent. The Foundation gives those who have benefited from those contributions — including scientists, universities, corporations, and the general public — a way to show their appreciation to such research subjects and their families. The Foundation has already awarded 19 grants, including grants covering tuition and book expenses, health care expenses and emergency needs of multiple members of her immediate family. The Foundation’s goal is to continue to help the Lacks family as well as others with similar needs who may qualify, such as descendants of research subjects used in the famous Tuskegee Syphilis Studies, those injected with sexually transmitted diseases without their knowledge by the US Government, and others. To be eligible for a grant, an applicant must prove financial need and have made, or be the descendant of someone who has made, a significant contribution to scientific research as a research subject, including those who have unwillingly or unknowingly been used in research or contributed biological materials for research.”

This book will change how you think about race, medicine, science, and your own control of your body.  Not only it is a must read, but I believe it is an example of responsible and ethical storytelling with and for the people whose stories are being told.

Portland School Board Adopts Racial Equity Policy

Portland School Board Adopts Racial Equity Policy

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Board of Education

On June 13, the Portland (Oregon) School Board voted unanimously to adopt a Racial Equity Policy for the district.  The Racial Equity Policy was supported by community and school leaders and, according to a district announcement, was met with applause during its first reading before the board on May 9.

The Racial Equity Policy acknowledges that Portland’s data is not unique (data from districts across the nation reveal similar racial disparities) and that complex societal and historical factors contribute to the inequities its students face.  However, the Racial Equity Policy states:

Nonetheless, rather than perpetuating disparities, Portland Public Schools must address and overcome this inequity and institutional racism, providing all students with the support and opportunity to succeed. Portland Public Schools will significantly change its practices in order to achieve and maintain racial equity in education.

The Racial Equity Policy represents the progress of a district that has been telling what Superintendent Carole Smith called in her Guest Column in the Oregonian “the ‘brutual truth’ about factors that limit educational opportunities for our students, such as: inequity among our schools, classes that fail to meet the needs of all students and outdated ways of supporting better teaching.”  Smith acknowledged that the district opened itself up for criticism when it began collaboratively analyzing data and asking difficult questions about race.  However, she noted that the district gained something more important: “a better understanding of how to engage students at all grades and prepare them for a successful future.”

Congratulations to Portland Public Schools for telling the truth and to the Portland School Board for adopting a Racial Equity Policy that acknowledges and seeks to rectify that truth – not by scapegoating children of color, their families, and their communities but by accepting the responsibility to educate all of its students.  We hope Portland will serve as a role model for other districts in addressing institutional racism and inequity, and we look forward to seeing how Portland’s Racial Equity Policy unfolds.

Image source: Portland Public Schools

Bills Designed to Stop Bullying and Harassment in Schools

Bills Designed to Stop Bullying and Harassment in Schools

Reading Time: 2 minutes

On August 5, 2010, the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) was introduced in the Senate by Bob Casey (D-PA). SSIA would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act—which is part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act—to include bullying and harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, national original, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion in its definition of violence. As such, it represents the first time protections would extend to persons on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Districts would have to notify parents annually of their anti-bullying and harassment policies, as well as set up a grievance process for students and parents to report incidences. Additionally, states would have collect and report to the U.S. Department of Education data on incidences.

SSIA attempts to respond to staggering levels of bullying and harassment in schools. According to a 2005 report, 65% of the 3000 middle and high school students surveyed reported being bullied in school in the past year. According to a 2007 report, 84% of the 6,000 gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered students surveyed reported being harassed in school and 61% said they felt unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation. Both studies found anti-bullying policies like those required by SSIA significantly reduced bullying and harassment in schools.

The idea behind SSIA has been around for some time. The current iteration was introduced in the House by Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) in January 2009, but its introduction by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) represents the first time it has made it to the Senate.  SSIA follows the introduction of the Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA), introduced in the House in January 2010 by Jared Polis (D-CO) and in the Senate by Al Franken (D-MN) in May 2010. SNDA is patterned after title IX and would prohibit discrimination (including harassment) on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in any program or activity receiving federal funds.

Both SSIA and SNDA have broad support from civil rights and education organizations. It seems their only vocal opposition is from groups like Focus on the Family, which has launched a campaign against SSIA by claiming it promotes homosexuality and pro-gay curricula. Senator Casey has responded to Focus on the Family’s campaign against the legislation in a blog post, arguing that “by mischaracterizing the purpose of anti-bullying legislation, Focus on the Family is intentionally ignoring the prevalence of bullying in schools around the country.” And, we would contend, it is perpetuating the consequences of such bullying–from higher incidences of drop outs all the way to bullying- and harassment-related tragedies. It is about time we took action to make our schools safe places for all students. The proposed legislation represents a firm step in that direction.

Learn more about SSIA here.
Learn more about SNDA here.

Act 250 Helping Rid Wisconsin of Offensive Native American Mascots and Logos

Act 250 Helping Rid Wisconsin of Offensive Native American Mascots and Logos

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Wisconsin’s new law–Act 250–allows persons to file a complaint against a school board for its “use of race-based nicknames, logos, mascots and team names.”  What is particularly exciting about the new law is that, during the resulting hearing before the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the school board and not the complainant “has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the use of the nickname or team name in connection with the logo or mascot does not promote discrimination, pupil harassment, or stereotyping as defined by the state superintendent by rule.”

According to the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force, that burden is going to be pretty hard to meet.  The Task Force cites research by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg showing white students receive an artificial boost to their self-esteem and self-efficacy while American Indian students experience a decrease in both;  the harm is the same whether the images are intended to be “noble” or cartoonish.  Moreover, the effects on American Indian students are worse when the use is “approved.”  (The Task Force cites other studies as well, including a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology titled “Effect of Exposure to an American Indian Mascot on the Tendency to Stereotype a Different Minority Group,” by Chu Kim-Preito, Sumie Okazaki, Lizabeth Goldstein and Blake Kirschner).

Despite overwhelming evidence of harm, the Task Force reports that, as of May 13, 2010, 35 schools in Wisconsin were still using Native American mascots or logos.  That number will certainly go down.  For example, Kewaunee School District–one of the first districts to be challenged–has agreed to change its logo.

The most recent challenge was filed by Rain Koepke regarding the Mukwonago High School mascot, and a hearing is scheduled for August 27.  In the local paper, a high school student said he, too, wanted to file a complaint and offered his own rebuttal to claims that such mascots and logos are benign and intended to honor American Indians.  The student chose to remain anonymous for fear he would be ridiculed for his Native American heritage, which is not apparent by his appearance.  The student wrote a four-page essay on the issue, an exerpt of which was published in the local paper.  Sadly, in an update in the same paper, MHS Principal Shawn McNulty was quoted as saying “We will present the facts and provide a vigorous defense in support of the Mukwonago School District and our Mukwonago High School logo.”

The new law provides a powerful legal tool to fight racial discrimination, and it opens up an avenue for continued dialogue about race.  In particular, it invites conversation about why it is that when people of color say they have been harmed, the response is often disbelief (it’s the  “show me your wound and I’ll tell you if it hurts” phenomenon).  The fact that a student feels he has to hide his Native American heritage–and the district continues to fight for its mascot–suggests there is much more going on at MHS than can be solved by doing away with the mascot.

The Meaning of Memorial Day

The Meaning of Memorial Day

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“What is Memorial Day for, Mom?”  This was the question from my 9-year-old son as we sat at the dinner table on the night before the holiday  His 6-year-old brother cocked his head at me, eyes wide, waiting for “the answer.”  As I related to him what I had always been told (i.e., that it’s a day to remember the soldiers who died for our country), I realized that I didn’t know anything about the origin of the holiday or even which war prompted it.  Unsatisfied with my own knowledge, I did some quick research and uncovered something interesting but not surprising–a counterstory.

The majoritarian story credits General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (the Union Army’s veterans organization), for his 1868 call for all veterans and their communities to hold ceremonies and decorate the graves of soliders who had died in the Civil War.   This practice spread across the nation.  Thereafter, cities in both the north and south claimed the first Memorial Day, but none date back as far as what Yale historian David Blight discovered in his research.

According to Blight, Memorial Day was created by blacks, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, in Charleston, South Carolina.  As Blight tells us:

“Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters’ horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders’ race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy’s horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

At 9 am on May 1, the procession stepped off led by three thousand black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathering in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens’ choir sang “We’ll Rally around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture. No record survives of which biblical passages rung out in the warm spring air, but the spirit of Leviticus 25 was surely present at those burial rites: “for it is the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you… in the year of this jubilee he shall return every man unto his own possession.”

Following the solemn dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: they enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantry participating was the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite. The war was over, and Decoration Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been all about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic, and not about state rights, defense of home, nor merely soldiers’ valor and sacrifice.”

[Blight also reminds us that states in the south celebrate(d) Confederate Memorial Day: April 26 (the day General Joseph Johnston surrendered to General William T. Sherman) in many deep South states; May 10 (Stonewall Jackson’s birthday) in the Carolinas; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis’s birthday) in Virginia.]

I now have a counterstory to tell my sons–one that places people of color in the center.  And, I was reminded of a lesson I have learned and, for some reason, must keep relearning.  “All such stories … are but prelude to future reckonings. All memory is prelude.”  Thank you, David Blight.

Read the full David Blight article here.

Read an interesting blog article on the topic here.

Imagine

Imagine

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Tim Wise’s latest blog post titled “Imagine: Protest, Insurgency and the Workings of White Privilege” asks readers to play a game in which they imagine the public reaction to current events if the main actors were not white but black folks or other people of color.  At first glance, the set up felt a little hokey to me.  It reminded me a bit of Matthew McConaughey’s character’s strategy in the movie “A Time to Kill”–to get the white jury to imagine the young black girl’s suffering…and then to imagine she was white.  However, I have to admit that the game–like the jury argument–was pretty powerful.

For example, Wise invites us to (and I quote):

  • “Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters–the black protesters–spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government. Would these protesters–these black protesters with guns–be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.
  • Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry, screaming, black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.
  • Imagine that a popular black liberal website posted comments about the daughter of a white president, calling her “typical redneck trash,” or a “whore” whose mother entertains her by “making monkey sounds.” After all that’s comparable to what conservatives posted about Malia Obama on freerepublic.com last year, when they referred to her as “ghetto trash.”

Wise concludes that “Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it.”  He goes on to say that is what white privilege is all about:  “The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.”

Wise ends his post with “Game over.”  Yet, the game was on for one commenter who chose to challenge Wise point-by-point.  In the commenter’s mind:

  • The group of gun-toting protesters was representative of the country’s demographics (predominantly white), the protest was not “restrictively” white, and there must have been some black participants, thus…not white privilege.
  • The video Tim posted did not show anyone spitting on members of Congress (no “hard” evidence) and the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a Tea Partier, thus…not white privilege.
  • People criticized George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Sarah Palin’s daughter, thus…not white privilege.

This, I suggest, is also what white privilege is all about.  It’s the ability to deny the significance of race, to narrowly define racism so as to exclude all but the most extreme (think KKK), to point to black participation as legitimizing/de-racializing, and to disregard this nation’s racist past as irrelevant to its present.

Perhaps we should play Wise’s game for real (but in our own context on issues that we care about) and see how the public responds.  I’d be willing to bet the prototypical (white) American won’t be thinking about black folks’ constitutional rights…and no one will be calling us patriotic.  Rather than game over, I say game on.  Imagine that!

You can find Wise’s post at www.timwise.org, but you will have to click on Blog (At Red Room) to find it.

Race Neutrality in the Obama Era

Race Neutrality in the Obama Era

Reading Time: < 1 minute

A recent story in the L.A. Times titled “Despite pressure from black activists, black support for Obama’s race-neutral stance is high” suggests that “average black folks” buy into Obama’s stance/strategy that a rising tide will lift African American boats.  Without taking issue with Washington on whether the black folks he interviewed in Charlotte, NC are “average,” I find  it hard to believe that whether black folks buy into a revised version of trickle-down economics is really the issue.  We have long been told (and politicians like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have proven) that a black politician with an overtly black agenda is not acceptable to white America.  Thus, we understand that a race-conscious stance/strategy would be political suicide for Obama.  That said, I do not believe Obama’s stance is entirely race-neutral.  Rather, Obama is focusing on issues that are critical to eliminating racial disparities–issues like universal health care and quality education.  Further, he is doing so with the express intent to benefit all. Perhaps if we recognized that eliminating racial disparities is in the best interest of all of our citizens–and in the best interest of our democracy–our first African American president could be more explicit.  Until then, we may have to settle for a black president who has to couch his strategies in terms of interests the white power structure believes are theirs alone.  And, in doing so, we might actually see some change we can all believe in.

Problematizing the Racial Achievement Gap-A Systems Perspective

Problematizing the Racial Achievement Gap-A Systems Perspective

Reading Time: < 1 minute

At West Wind, we believe the system was perfectly designed to get the results it is getting. Thus, we seek to problematize the racial achievement gap by reframing the problem from one of failing students to one of a failing system. While this most certainly includes inequitable resources and inequitable distribution of highly qualified teachers and principals, we believe these are just symptoms of the larger systemic problem—an enduring belief in the inferiority of students of color, their families, and their communities. A new study by Marvin Lynn et al (2010) illustrates this point.

Lynn et al. examined how teachers’ and administrators’ understood the problem of African American male underachievement in an all-black, low-performing high school, and how those understandings impacted their ability to work successfully with such students. They found that school personnel overwhelmingly blamed students of color, their families, and their communities. Further, Marvin et al. tell us that “the school was pervaded by a culture of defeat and hopelessness” and that “ongoing conversations with a smaller group of teachers committed to the success of African American male students revealed that the school was not a safe space for caring teachers who wanted to make a difference in the lives of their students.”

The full article is available through the Teacher College Record here.

Stereotype Threat

Stereotype Threat

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In July 2009, REL Southeast at SERVE Center, UNC, Greensboro,  published the Issues and Answers brief for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) titled Reducing stereotype threat in the classroom: A Review of social-psychological intervention studies on improving the achievement of Black students.  The authors tell us that “stereotype threat arises from a fear among members of a group of reinforcing negative stereotypes about the intellectual ability of the group” (p.i).  Without intervention, stereotype threat has a negative effect on student performance for members of such groups.

The brief considers only “rigorous research” and finds support for the following three classroom social-psychological strategies for reducing stereotype threat: (1) reinforce for students the idea that intelligence is expandable and, like a muscle, grows stronger when worked; (2) teach students that their difficulties in school are often part of a normal “learning curve” or adjustment process, rather than something unique to them or their racial group; and (3) help students reflect on other values in their lives beyond school that are sources of self-worth for them.  The report also notes several limitations of the study that are of great importance.  First, the report notes that the underlying search was very focused and included only those interventions that have been tried in real school settings.  This means that there may be other equally or even more effective interventions out there.  Second, the studies were small in scope and their replicability is unknown.   Thus, the authors urge readers to share ideas for reducing stereotype threat even if they are in the developmental stages.

The authors also make some important concluding points.  First, they suggests educators will need to adapt the strategies for their own contexts so as not to lose the spirit of the interventions.  Second, they suggest the timing of the intervention might be critical (one study focused on 7th grade students) as there may be “windows of opportunity for influencing student attitudes and beliefs” (p.13) and interventions might be more effective at particular times during the school year.  Perhaps the most telling point, however, is the last one.  The authors tell us that no social-psychological intervention can make up for lack of learning, motivate unmotivated students, or turn a low-performing and underfunded school into a model school.  They go on to say:

“More generally, the interventions would not work if there were not broader positive forces in the school environment (committed staff, quality curriculum) operating to facilitate student learning and performance. Without these broader positive forces, social-psychological interventions, while potentially reducing psychological threat levels for some students, would be unlikely to boost student learning and achievement. However, when these broader positive forces are in place, social-psychological interventions such as those reported on here may help Black and other minority students to overcome stereotype threat and improve their performance in school” (p.14)

Congratulations to REL Southwest for getting such an important Issues and Answers brief published.  However, let us not lose sight that these interventions do not directly challenge the system that perpetuates negative stereotypes about the intellectual ability of these groups in the first place.  Rather, they place the burden on students of color and the educators who care about their achievement rather than on the system that makes such interventions necessary in the first place.  Thus, stereotype threat interventions are a short-term strategy that may be part of a longer-term strategy to disrupt systemic racism and other social forces that serve current power structures.  They are not in and of themselves sufficient to transform education.

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