Selective memories are easier to edit.
Lea and Laura send us all the voicemails and emails people leave for the Strangers podcast. Perhaps not all– we don't get any really angry ones, and my guess is that those exist. I haven't asked.
The messages that people leave usually tell a part of their own story and how ours relates to or resonates with them. I am humbled and moved by all of them, but especially by the ones that talk about the kids and the way that they are interpreting the world. A man who spent his childhood in foster care after his siblings had been adopted and learned how to code switch between lifestyles, talked about listening to the oldest boys and feeling old anxieties creep back in. A woman wrote about growing up as the only biological child of a family that ebbed and flowed in numbers and existed amidst a lot of chaos. And so, hearing Sam's small voice, she could not believe she was his age when she faced so much confusion. The best part of these stories is that no one takes a congratulatory tone about either Paul or I or J because, I think, they know that this situation is fraught. And that none of us know the ending to this story.
We just want it to be okay. Not perfect. Not magical. Just okay.
I know that I keep writing about this. I don't think I can speak it into the record enough.
I have been reading the "Mis-Education of the Negro" by Carter Godwin Woodson. I think this should be required reading for every educator, every NGO and Non-Profit or Direct Service Provider, every Sunday School teacher, every preschool teacher… Everyone. It was published in 1933 which put me off, because I am lazy and a snob and I wondered if reading something so old would be at all relevant. I am, of course, foolish and I have spent good chunks of the last few days yelling quotes at Paul and rolling off the couch screaming at its accuracy. He could have written it about my kids' school. It could have been written about the Women's March.
As a matter of fact, however, such Negroes are the real workers in carrying out a program of interracial effort. Cooperation implies equality of the participants in the particular task at hand. On the contrary, however, the usual way now is for the Whites to work out their plans behind closed doors, have them approved by a few Negroes serving nominally on a board, and then employ a White or mixed staff to carry out their program. This is not interracial cooperation. It is merely the ancient idea of calling upon the "inferior" to carry out the orders of the "superior….
….This unsound attitude of the "friends" of the Negro is due to the persistence of the mediaeval (sic) idea of controlling underprivileged classes. Behind closed doors these "friends" say that you need to be careful in advancing Negroes… You can never tell when some Negroes will break out and embarrass their "friends". After being advanced to position of influence some of them have been known to run amuck and advocate social equality or demand for the race the privileges of democracy…
Oh, democracy. And the right to assemble. Imagine if 500,000 people of colour had assembled on the Mall? Would the white voice be so complimentary? The right to vote and The Voter Rights Act being challenged in states across this nation. Our very electoral college meant to keep every vote from registering.
He also details the educational systems set up for Black children after the end of the civil war. Slaves had been emancipated "out of a sectional conflict out of which their former owners had emerged as victims". So the freed men could not expect any help or cooperation from their neighbors and had to rely on philanthropic northerners to come in and set up schools. While arguments over what kind of educational systems needed to be set up (vocational or classical) erupted, the generations of teachers to follow (while sincere in their mission) had no idea of the culture of their students or the trauma they had come from. And so, neither educational model served them well, as their teachers from the north were either uncredentialed or inexperienced to train them classically, and their vocational schools were set up with such inferior equipment to those programs in White schools, Black students were trained in methods already obsolete.
If you have any understanding of urban public school districts who serve poor or Black or Brown children, as an employee, parent, community member or student, you will probably be able to draw up half a dozen of your own parallels.
You see why I'm screaming over this.
As I was reading it out loud to Paul, my white brain cringed every time I had to say the word Negro out loud. I changed it to "Black Student" for the benefit of my kids that kept walking through the room. But, let's be really honest, it was mostly to abate my own discomfort saying it over and over again. If you listened to the Eula Biss podcast, you will remember her saying this:
We can’t — I think if you can’t talk about something, you can’t think about something. And I think — I’ve worked with students who could barely, barely let themselves think, they were so scared of thinking the wrong thing.
And so, I don’t want to be misunderstood as making an argument for offensive language. But I guess the argument that I’m making is that I think that we need a cultural atmosphere where we understand where the crimes are happening, and that many of the crimes are not in the arena of language, but that we need to be able to stumble through imperfect language and imperfect sentences in order to find our way to where the crimes are happening.
So, I'm asking us collectively, to give ourselves the permission to think all of the things. It is vital to entertain multiple perspectives at once and look at the lines you've drawn in the sand, and ask yourself who that line benefits most clearly. If you believe that we are living in a post-racial society and that I am making something out of nothing, do you see the crimes, the oppressed, the forgotten? If you believe that you are a good citizen who places yourself in solidarity with the other, can you show me where the crimes are happening even there? Let these thoughts shake down to your bones and take up residency in your marrow.
Black Students Don't Even Get an Equal Education in Diverse Schools— “If you go to the schools in our district, it looks like utopia. And if you’re a white student, it is utopia.” A parent at a birthday party was commending our decision to send our children to our neighborhood school– not because it was the right thing to do, but because she's heard "it's a good school". My question to that is always, "good for whom?" This is so prevalent in even the most progressive communities.
Obama's Racial Legacy "If Obama's blackness mussed up white folks' notions of the presidency and their relationship to it, his blackness also complicated the ways black folks critiqued the White House."