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


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.