First They Came For Urban Black and Latino Moms (For Arne Duncan)

Jose VilsonJose, Race31 Comments


A few months ago, I walked past a “successful” charter school here in Harlem, NY, speed-walking to get my school supplies for the coming school year. I noticed a huge crowd of mostly Black and Latino families all waiting to pick up their children when a taut, pony-tailed White man came out with a clipboard and yells, “Alright, parents, we need everyone to line up!” My inner voice yelled “What!?” at the entire scene. No one protested. A few snickered and rolled their eyes. They all got in one straight line, parallel to Malcolm X Boulevard to pick up their children.

This would have never gone down at a suburban school.

Think about this in contrast to what US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a recent speech:

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said. “You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”

Oh. The HORROR. The racial and mansplaining undertones of this statement deserve the attention (read: outrage) it’s gotten in education circles. Yet, I can’t help but feel odd about the outrage about this racialized comment, benign compared to Duncan’s Katrina comment. When the Katrina comment happened, I was happy with the idea of holding Duncan accountable to his statement. I wanted Duncan to see that it’s immoral to suggest that passing his agenda via the deaths of close to two thousand people in the Gulf Coast region was a good idea. Many politicians and pundits profess that education reform is for all students, but the general public understands that ed reform comes on the backs of our most disadvantaged students, many of them poor children of color (and poor whites as well).

Context matters.

The outrage to his latest comment about white suburban moms only underscores the threshold for who we speak out for and who we don’t. My recent post about white privilege brought out supporters of all colors, many of whom were people who identify as White. For that, I’m appreciative. Yet, a few dissenters (all of whom profess to want better for children) either argue that it’s not about race, but about the kids OR won’t respond period, as if having a discussion about Trayvon Martin is equivalent to having a discussion about the way we approach race in life as a whole, or within people we ought to consider colleagues. I would have loved to hear a similar outrage about the way parents in poor urban schools get thrown into a web of bureaucracy and behaviorist politics.

I get the offense, and understand the need for flexing a bit of political muscle to hold Duncan accountable again. The package deal of the Common Core State Standards has me, at best, leery of the nonsense. Just don’t expect me to get riled up, either. I’ve been mad. Perhaps you should have been angry with us, back when the levees broke …


*** photo c/o ***

p.s. – What Melinda said.

p.p.s. – What Mike Doyle said.

Comments 31

  1. The point is well taken, and the levees have broken over and over and over again. And they will keep breaking until we acknowledge the huge part racism plays in eroding them.

    Our county incinerator sits in one of the densest sections of our county. We make noise, we “lose,” we move on, but children still live in its shadows, because they are not white.

    Duncan’s latest tear in his robe is not so much outrageous as it is telling–he has tried to hide in the lies of Superman, out to save our non-white children. It made a good story for those of us ensconced in privilege, and it made a great cover for the wolves he runs with.

    He has blown his cover for those who wanted to pretend otherwise. Privilege runs deep in our veins. A little blood spilling on his fluorescent white shirt is startling to those who refused to see his bloody actions before.

  2. Many of us have been mad- for a long time- since even before the levees broke. We have been mad since NCLB has tried to foist a “one-size-fits-all” approach onto education. We have been mad since Race to the Top has made matters even worse. We have been mad since students have been treated like widgets whose only value is their test scores. We have been mad since curricula have become more narrowly focused because non-educator reformers insist that math and reading scores are what really count. WE ARE REALLY MAD!

  3. While your basic point is sound, I’m not sure your opening hook is right: “This would have never gone down at a suburban school.” At schools around here, they get parent volunteers to make the parents picking up their kids line up their cars and not block the pickup areas. The only difference I see from your example is that it takes fewer people to organize the pickup line when the people are on foot rather than in cars.

    Of course, there is another message—that the suburbanites all have cars and want to show them off, even if they live only a few blocks from the school, while urban parents are more likely to be walking or taking public transit.

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  6. America’s problem is not only her racism but her inability to accept that China or other countries maybe better than her in some academic subjects. Instead of working with these countries we want to compete, because remember the U.S. must be first in everything. America can’t accept that her educational system was responsible for famous scientists, doctors, engineers, writers,etc. she can’t understand that the educational system wasn’t broken until the NCLB. The NCLB has devastated and almost broke the educational system in America. American education is not about education, it is about testing students to death, destroying unions and urban public schools, replacing urban public schools with charter schools, getting rid of older and black and hispanic teachers, and making publishing companies, computer companies, consultants and individuals rich. The attack is against all public schools in America. Yes, they are coming for urban schools first because they know that urban parents will believe their garbage that Charter Schools are better and pull their children out of public schools. Suburban parents support their public schools and they won’t fall for garbage. Plus in urban cities the people who sell charter schools to urban parents know all they have to do is tell them if they sign their child up they will get free internet service, or a free lab top or a nook. And don’t forget longer hours so the parents can be free to do what ever they want to because their child is still in school. But eventually the system will be knocking at the suburban parents door too. All it takes is a disgruntled parent and the Charter school money makers will be running to the parents aid. Keep in mind, the whole goal is to destroy unions, public schools and destroy teachers. Yes, they have come for urban public schools in the morning, but they will be soon coming for suburban public schools. Remember the goal is to compete with China while destroying America’ s educational system which used to be one of the world’s best before the NCLB and Race to the Top.

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  8. I see nothing resembling a coherent argument in this article. I work in an inner city charter school, I love kids, and I am white. Am I the triple threat bad guy? What do you mean, “This would never go down at a Suburban school?” Lining up parents? Huh? That is exactly what happened at my elementary school.

    1. Post

      Daniel, the argument is simple: I was already outraged about Duncan’s off-the-cuff quotes long before he went after suburban mothers. Education reform’s whole playbook was written on the backs of its most disenfranchised, starting from the Black and Latino mothers. The current uproar is fine, but let’s not forget that these things happen in places that are predominantly of color.

      Your whole comment re: I love kids is a cool story, but nowhere in this article does it say that being white means that you don’t love kids, or that working in a charter school makes you anti-kid. However, I do find a preponderance of objectionable behaviors (including lining up parents on the street on the street named after a man who simply wouldn’t stand for such nonsense) happening in places free from some of the legislation that otherwise might have made the charter think twice. However, as someone else has already articulated, parents sending their kids to charters often see it as a path to buy into a certain culture, if they’re so lucky. Alas.

      Now that you know what the argument is, you’ll note that this charter school was a middle school. Even then, I generally didn’t see parents lining up to pick up their kids past the 3rd grade. Please. Your experience is in the minority. I should hope you didn’t catch feelings because of your privilege. Peace.

      1. I still don’t see a coherent argument. Forgive me for saying so, but let me just paraphrase back to you what I think you just told me your argument is to me.

        1. Arne Duncan recently said something offensive about “white suburban moms”.

        2. You acknowledge it to be offensive, but are concerned that people getting upset are forgetting the greater outrage; that current US educational policy disenfranchises minority students.

        3. You somehow link this to an experience you had whilst walking past a charter school in Harlem and were offended that a white man with a ponytail(not sure why that was deemed relevant context) was asking parents to line up to pick up their kids.

        4. You declare that no one in the suburbs would ever tolerate such an offense as being told to line up to pick up their kids.

        FYI, as a young, well educated male father living in New York City you might consider lessening your usage of “privilege” as it seems like you are on the positive side of the privilege equation in all areas of life but skin color. Just saying….

  9. Jose,
    I was mad and offended aboutArne Duncan’s Katrina comment and still am. I’ve found I can be angry at more than one thing at a time and education reform has been pushing me to my limits. I was also outraged at the Trayvon Martin shooting and acquittal and if I was anymore white you would see right through me in direct sunlight. I would encourage you to look at this as an opportunity to bring people together, to educate them on the entire ed deform package rather than taking the easy pot shots. Its natural to focus more on things that directly affect us personally. I’m not sure that is racism so much as human/animal nature. Consider this your opportunity to reach out and be more than just a simple human reacting to an external stimulus. :)

    1. Post

      I have to be honest with you: I don’t even know what this means. I don’t know where the “pot shots” in this piece are. If anything, I’m mentioning that there are those of us (of different colors mind you) who’ve been offended for some time. In fact, most of the work I’ve done has been across racial lines, so please. I also find it insulting that the minute I pick up on a racial element to a story, as one of a small handful of people who talk about race in an open forum in a substantive way, I’m asked to unite rather than divide, as if my race (and the effects I and so many others do) is something I have an option in discussing. Please read Gretel’s comment above for more. Other than that, peace.

  10. Great post, no doubt that much of the outrage is driven by white privilege, and your comparison to the comments re: New Orleans is apt.

    Still, I think the reaction is understandable and I want to highlight two other really troubling elements of the comments – they are not just racist, but intentionally sexist. He’s clearly dismissing these concerns b/c they are made by “moms” by feminizing the entire resistance movement to CCSS. So that’s way messed up.

    But what about the “children aren’t so brilliant” part? WTF? The secretary of freaking education is judging that kids, based on test scores, are now at fault for perceived failures in our schools. So first it was teachers’ fault that “the education system is failing to prepare our children for college and careers” and now its these dumb kids who don’t do well on CCSS. Wow.

    1. Post

      Adam, thank you! You’re absolutely right in calling out the sexism too. An FB discussion broke out on that element, but let me bring some of that here too. I have a hard time with the flippant way Duncan, our country’s top exec on education, told suburban moms to sit down, shut up, and take the CCSS, especially when it’s completely unsubstantiated.

      1. We momma bears are going to protect our cubs, and in doing so, protect all the cubs in our community. We don’t care if you’re a panda, black bear, grizzly (or even one of those marsupials trying to pass itself off as a bear) the bottom line is that the Sec’y of Education was dismissive in the way he spoke to whites, females (we come in all colors) and suburbanites.

        For a man who is allegedly well-educated, he has quite the knack for saying the wrong thing. His Katrina comment was positively vile; his sexist, self-loathing white racist comment reaffirms what an awful mind this man has.

        Throughout our country and there are plenty of suburbs which are integrated. Perhaps if Mr. Duncan had taken a moment to stop looking down his nose, he would have seen that. Is an Asian or African American suburban mom’s anger with the CC any different than that of their white peers? If I were a minority urban mom, would my anti-CC sentiment garner more credibility?

        Those of us who do not support the CC are protecting our children, school systems which have historically performed well, and all urban children in poor performing schools. Corporations have no interest in white, black, yellow or red. Their inserting themselves into education reform with only one color in mind: green.

  11. Your closing comments imply all white people were not upset when levees broke and suggest we should have gotten mad then if we are going to get mad now. Stereotyping, untrue and unfair. You state that is why you will not get involved or “riled up”. This creates and reinforces the very “us versus you mentality” you claim has upset you.

    This comment “Oh. The HORROR. The racial and mansplaining undertones of this statement deserve the attention (read: outrage) it’s gotten in education circles. Yet, I can’t help but feel odd about the outrage about this racialized. . .” Sounds condescending to me. You take this opportunity to point out the disparate reactions over racist comments, by expressing the very dismissive attitude you are railing against. You are free to do it, I understand where you are coming from, I agree with your observation to a large extent, but I find I am offended at the same time. Its certainly not any worse than what you lament about, and the situations are on different scales in terms of offensiveness, yet I find your attitude to be one that would alienate readers like me, or readers who were unaware of this situation on a conscious level. You offer a thorn rather than an olive branch. I just wish you had offered the olive branch so I could have shared this observation with my readers, but perhaps venting was more important to you. . . I do it from time to time so I cant judge, just wish you had finished off with ray of reconciliation. That is all.

    1. Post

      I understand and I respect your opinion. If you weren’t familiar with my work before this, I might see how you could get that impression. Yet you’ll notice that the horror comment was made to syand in contrast to the fact that I was already horrified long before. I implied nothing but this. in fact the people who told me about the Katrina comments were white.

      To your other points, I’m OK with you not wanting to read or share anymore. I stand by my comments etc. I have thousands of posts over the years where racial discussions were had, some pretty, some not as pretty. yet, I’ve offered nothing but olive branches in the form of expressing these issues thoroughly, a safe space otherwise not afforded by other blogs. I’m also not in a position to stand idly by while I’m being told all things are equal. In the meantime, I havr no intention of changing or codifying for shares. Peace.

  12. I do not know what was being said on other sites but on the “Badass Teachers Association” Facebook page the anger about Duncan’s white suburban moms statement was Not because of his talking about white suburban moms but because by making this Racist and Sexist statement he was inferring that there are no black moms or dads in suburbia!! He was also inferring that the only problem with the CCSS is moms not liking it! Here he denies that so many

    1. Somehow this got published before it was finished! to continue, He denies the fact that so many Professional Educators and Professional Psychologists have deemed the CCSS as being inappropriate in most cases and especially for very young children!

  13. When Jose says “I can’t help but feel odd about the outrage about this.. ” I know something of what he’s saying. My kids are in NYC public schools and I sit on our (fake) school board and am constantly reminded of how badly parents are treated here by those who purport to be saving our schools. Duncan’s comments pale in comparison to the derision Bloomberg has directed at public school parents. Few in the suburbs cared much about our fate.

    Of course, within NYC there’s the divide between schools serving middle class and working class/poor families. Take the cell phone ban. It’s total in schools with metal detectors yet goes virtually unenforced in many schools. DOE random scanning operations stopped after raids on the Upper West Side and Flushing drew bad media coverage.

    So I see Jose is just saying what needs to be said. All things considered. He’s being exceedingly polite about it.

    I’m following Duncan’s war on white suburban moms and the outrage over the common core testing rollout with great interest. Maybe when everyone else gets treated like urban parents we’ll have enough critical mass to finally push back.

  14. JLV is spot on. I’m not sure how anyone can raise argument with the claims JLV makes. First, Duncan is leaking privilege with every word out of his mouth and every policy he stands for. He has for years. Truth. Second, “lining up” is a simple example of disenfranchising ie putting someone in their place. This has been going on for centuries, and continues to dominate on every level/scale for people of color. Truth.

    The ironic thing is that this does happen at white suburban schools. The only difference is that white parents can just keep walking and not line up if they choose. They speak up/out and are heard… while people of any color are ignored, arrested, or told to, “stop being so angry”. I’m proud of people like JLV who have the courage to actually speak out. I hope it comes from a place of love. One which simply argues for all people to be heard equally. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, right? If you’re white, you can acknowledge privilege and help combat… if you’re black, you can help occupy space that was previously reserved for those in positions of privilege. This post is simply JLV occupying space… well occupied sir!

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