On Why Your Colorblindness Can Strike Me As Covertly Racist ( #EdChat Edition )

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose, Race7 Comments

Damage after Hurricane Katrina, School Bus

Let me make it plain: conversations in too many sectors have this strange relationship with race these days, and by strange, I mean covertly racist. This sentiment is best exemplified by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s latest quote about New Orleans (thanks, Fred Klonsky):

“I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better.'”

Classy move there, Secretary. (Your apology’s a little late, which is right on time.) I have so many problems with this statement, I’d be here until tomorrow discussing its implications. However, let me just highlight a few:

1) As I mentioned in the same blog I borrowed this from, the cataclysmic events of the day and the thousands of lives lost and ruined by this disaster only seem to mean one thing to Arne: a rise in test scores. If we get rid of the lowest-performing students through collateral damage and natural disaster, who are we to disparage that as scores rise? The districts with higher performing students didn’t get affected nearly as much. Plus, if we can destroy the public sector of education and replace it with privately funded institutions who only accept certain types of children, then those students who don’t get to go to those schools, in effect, don’t count. They’re on the bottom end of the “outliers.”

Which brings me to …

2) If those voices are silenced, then how does some people’s “color-blindness” affect how this conversation proceeds? Well, his defenders will most likely say, “He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” “His boss is a Black president!” and “Look at the second part of that statement. Black people DO have to do better!” These statements and others like it already denote a racial tone because it suggests that color is to be ignored in a system that places values on race as is or that the retorts aren’t substantiated because there’s a Black person involved within a 5-mile radius. It also suggests that, when in conversation with a diverse group of people, since there “is no color,” then the dominant peoples’ voice (cultural values, speech patterns, stereotypes, etc.) should be used, and thus nullifying the conversation since everyone’s supposedly on the same plane, even when they’re not.

and …

3) It makes it easier to ignore participants whose experience is different from the dominant populace, and this doesn’t just apply to race, but sex, age, etc. Rather than addressing these issues, too many educators rather run away from these topics because of their limited experience with race or they don’t want to deal with that part of themselves. At the end of the day, it doesn’t just hurt participants of color, but Whites as well, since their opinions hinder true dialogue and embed further intellectual segregation, even when they think they mean well.

I bring all this up because I ran into a conversation online where the chatroom was mostly of one dominant culture, and a few others observed that they couldn’t get into the conversation because it’s mostly ed-tech crap. (Yes, I said crap.) When someone tried to bring up the need for more discussion about pedagogy and / or achievement gaps, these parts were ignored, and that’s the worst part.

Ignorance doesn’t just take the form of hatred (ignorance of fact), but also when one actually ignores the other (ignorance of being).

Unlike my blogger colleagues who discuss race, I won’t seek to validate my opinion by speaking of the myriad of friends I have and who understand this discussion, no matter what race. Rather, I extend this phrase: color-consciousness. It means that true diversity exists outside of the flavors that exist in your spice rack, or the flavor of liquids you used today.

And more to the point, it means people aren’t simply collateral.

Mr. Vilson, who never drank Cristal, but them f***as racist …

p.s. – Dr. Beverly Tatum covered this extensively in Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? Pick it up if you haven’t.

Comments 7

  1. Very well stated and right ‘on time.’ Perhaps Arne should read this so that he knows not to wait a week to apologize for putting his foot in his mouth. I also reviewed that chat and drew the same conclusion. But lile you said, some people do not want to discuss those issues because of their limited experience and because it would force them to do some very thorough self-examinations.

    Came across this quote from Mary Mcleod-Bethune last night:

    “If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves. We should, therefore, protest openly everything … that smacks of discrimination or slander.”

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