Reading “Inequality In The Promised Land”

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R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy writes about how Black and White children and families experience school and the attendant opportunities in a Midwest suburban district. The title of his book, Inequality In The Promised Land (2014), describes the unfulfilled dreams of Black families who sought better education outcomes for their children enrolled in a suburban school district and the actions of white families that inadvertently or otherwise frustrate Blacks and other minorities in securing the same level of resources, opportunities and influence. Lewis-McCoy spent 4 years conducting one hundred in depth interviews with families, school officials, and teachers along with studying the local demographic and political history of the district referred to as Rolling Acres Public Schools.

It is an academic book and I am all in my feelings. Lewis-McCoy talks about “concerted cultivation” of children that commonly happens in White middle class families. He describes the ways in which those same families throw their political weight around by being particularly vocal in making demands on school officials to insure the best resources and opportunities for their own children by resisting efforts that specifically seek to address racial disparities in both opportunities and outcomes. As I was reading about policy initiatives aimed at ‘closing the achievement gap’ and hearing white residents espouse how much they value the diversity in the community while also locating the reasons for achievement gap disparities firmly within Black families and not in the systems of school, I felt so weary.

My mother was fighting these battles when we were young. She pursued concerted cultivation with a vengeance and perhaps because my brother and I arrived at a time in her life when she was more at liberty to take advantage of certain opportunities, we were able to engage in all manner of extra curricular activities. My older brother certainly had his share of scouting then school sports that filled his schedule. Our home was filled with books, we were used to traveling all over the city, shopping at suburban malls as if we lived there. We knew lots about life beyond our neighborhood. And now as adults, my brother and I are firmly anchored in the middle class.

With my own children I have had the means to similarly pursue “concerted cultivation.” Supporting their varied interests in everything from electronics to club sports, summer camps and theater pursuits. They have gotten the message: “try everything.” Because they may. They enjoy the benefit of an “abstract approach” to their further education, rather than an “utitlity-focused” approach which would suggest seeking a field of study or training likely to yield the best return on investment.

My parents, who grew up during the depression, came of age during the second World War and became race barrier-crossing homeowners in the late 50’s, seemed to be fixated on the inherent value of education. As kids we understood that college was a non-negotiable. My mother completed her BA and my father finished an associate degree. My older sister who was an adult when I was born was the first child of theirs to finish college. The path was set, we only needed to travel it. And we all did.

I see now how painfully aware they were of the fact that our education was not only about the schools we visited but everything else we did as well. We were involved in our conservative Lutheran church, we participated in boy and girls scouts, respectively. We grew up familiar with museums, libraries, theaters, concerts and events in far-flung corners of our Northern section of the state. My parents understood the value of acquiring these middle class understandings. And to some of their Black friends and family members, these efforts seemed misplaced or unnecessary or simply beyond my parents’ means. My mother mentioned this kind of commentary fairly often and used it to reiterate her fundamental aim of “exposure, exposure, exposure.”

I grew up being exposed and now that’s a large part of what I do online. Expose myself to new knowledge, old knowledge, relevant knowledge, recycled knowledge. I share widely and aim to expose others to what I’ve found and am trying to grasp. As I’m working through Lewis-McCoy’s careful study, I am exposing myself (again) to hard realities about White American forms of racism denial that hold us all captive. I have to wrestle with the capacity of schools as systems to perpetuate deficit thinking steeped in classism and racism. At the same time I have to expose myself to my own complicity in school systems that privilege white middle class values over more inclusive, anti-racist curricula and instruction.

That may be why this read has got me more in my feelings than I anticipated.

 

 

 

Welcome to #NAISPoCC 2016

 I’m in Atlanta, Georgia attending the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference this week. And today I am participating in a panel discussion on blogging and social media. That means I have a presenter sticker on my name tag and am traveling with all the electronic devices that I have at my disposal: my smartphone, an iPad, a laptop – all the markers of tech immersion. And yet because of how I happened to arrive and secure WiFi code for one device in one location and a different code for my devices in another location coupled with a charger handicap for my laptop, I am sitting here trying to write a blog post on the device least comfortable for long form: the smartphone.

This I can and will fix later but the irony is not lost on me.

My alarm is about to go off. I need to get going. But here is how I am going into the day:

  • I am meditating on white supremacy.
  • I’m thinking about the work that I did yesterday with Dr. Eddie Moore and Debbie Irving who led an all day workshop on the topic.
  • I am thinking about what it means to name white supremacy not as the elephant in the room but as the room itself. 
  • https://twitter.com/edifiedlistener/status/806620869435019268
  • And that’s a critical distinction.
  • For many, even for me, that sounds so harsh, so comprehensive, so uncompromising, unyielding and therefore we don’t like to use it.
  • And yet it reflects my experience, not always as a malicious force but simply as the reality we live in.
  • Seeing it, naming it comes as a surprising relief, because I know what I’m facing, negotiating, working with and around.

This is how I’m going into the day: aware, awake, alive.

Because knowing white supremacy does not stop me, does not keep me from pursuing my aims, my dreams. On the contrary, I am ‘in it to win it’ and the more I know about the terms of engagement the better equipped I am to succeed.

So here I go. Watch me walk.

Connecting the Dots: Privilege, Social Justice and Choice

A few days ago  I read this opinion piece:

Author, Desmond Cole, writing in the wake of the mayoral election in Toronto,  points out: “It is crucial that we distinguish these things – white privilege and racism – and that we learn to talk better about each. ..So let us start here: white privilege is real, and it affects every single Torontian.”

He goes on to explain:

“white privilege is the flipside of racism: if those of us deemed to be “visible minorities” suffer discrimination, white privilege speaks to the corresponding people who, whether or not they realize it, gain advantage from this dynamic. Systemic racism does not just have countless victims, but beneficiaries as well…

White privilege isn’t about what is in the hearts and minds of individuals; it is a set of circumstances in the world, with which we all must contend – but which white people can ignore with impunity while the victims of racism cannot.”

He concludes with the argument that because inequities will not simply fade away, it behooves us as individuals and as a society to take actions which redress them. ” Racism is the bully who shows up at the party without being invited: almost no one wants to associate with him, but few have the courage to show him the door. Those of us affected by systemic racism don’t have the luxury of ignoring that bully.”

Read the full article to take in the weight of his nuanced analysis.

A little later  I ran across this post in pursuit of a different interest:

Here the author, Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax), is referring to the challenge of creating connected courses under the banner of access, equity and diversity. Essentially he and his colleagues are doing their part  to insure due diligence in developing programs which actually reach and impact  underserved urban and rural communities.  The Western Massachusetts Writing Project is the organization in question and the following quote comes from their vision statement adopted some years ago:

Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.

The author acknowledges costs in the process of taking this stance which is more clearly grounded in social justice: the loss of some issue-weary members who worry that the primary aim of helping students and teachers with writing has been pushed to the back burner. The author points to the steps they are taking to keep access, equity and diversity near the top of the agenda – an upcoming symposium, past gains in mobilizing membership around advocacy against teacher evaluation based solely on standardized test results. Nevertheless, the tension remains: “when many discussions come filtered through the social justice lens, it can feel as if the “writing” and “teaching” elements get lost in the shuffle, replaced by a political action lens.”

I hear his struggle and applaud his and his organization’s efforts to work against or perhaps through the tide. It certainly isn’t easy.  This is where these two pieces come together for me. The privilege lies in being able to choose to address, redress or ignore the uncomfortable topics of equity and access. Sticking around to put up a fight time and time again on behalf of those who are excluded from this privilege may strike some as tedious, as a lost cause. For those who belong to marginalized groups, there simply is no choice.

Let’s recognize that there is good work being done and that there is much more to do. It is upon all of us to do the work we are able to do wherever we find ourselves – in our families, schools and communities – breaking down barriers, acknowledging privilege here,  dismantling the structures of systemic and institutional bias there.  We all can afford to get better at connecting the necessary dots.