race Archives - The Jose Vilson

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ocean

This afternoon, I happened upon a situation that most New Yorkers don’t. I found myself walking into the ocean with maybe 50 people over a half-mile stretch of beach to my left and my right. The more I walked into the ocean, the less people I saw around me. I didn’t even notice that, after a few more feet of walking in, I had no one next to me, just me and the razor-sharp horizon in front of me. The once boisterous conversations around me became nothing but a din as the water crashed against my chest.

I don’t usually get moments like this, contrary to popular belief about teachers’ summer vacations, yet I couldn’t help but notice the metaphor laid out by nature in front of me. With this consternation around Ferguson, and the resulting calls for reverberation and leadership from folks who are always asking us to rethink our education advocacy, I wonder whether our calls for teachers to speak up is truly in vain.

How do you fight back against what seems like an insurmountable ocean of inaction? How do you keep swimming with the salty waters constantly thwarting your plans, pushing back against the progress you seek?

Why ask anyone to speak up at all when the people who can take the leadership on speaking up are the people asking for folks to speak up? Sadly, all of us can fall into the trap of asking leaders (supposed or otherwise) to take leadership on items that they probably won’t, like the incidents in Ferguson. I’m starting to see that new and responsive leadership is ultimately necessary, a leadership that’s reflective of what we seek.

I wonder if I’m wrong to ask people with huge followings, with lots of books to sell, and with influence in their communities to do anything, much less do more than what they may or may not do already. Instead, those of us who do say, “Enough is enough” might have to speak louder and work better towards moving our communities towards understanding this multi-faceted justice.

In a utopian setting, we wouldn’t have to ask. People who call themselves progressive leaders wouldn’t have to be called out by us, and people calling for empathy wouldn’t bat an eye before speaking out about any civil rights issue, because that’s what real empathy looks like. Yet, this isn’t utopia. Thus, we swim on.

I’m well aware that it only takes a few people to make a movement really flourish, but every so often, it would be nice if we didn’t have to give any one person the green light to do what’s right and lead. We have enough folks willing and able to do what’s necessary for social justice. Thus, from this purview, leading looks like a simple choice.

Am I wrong for thinking that we could be something for real?

Jose

photo c/o

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Ferguson-Michael-Brown-690

This is often the way education conversations go:

Higher-Up: Hey, so what do people want to talk about?
Teacher 1: Can we talk about teacher evaluation?
Higher-Up: Sure, what’s on your mind?
Teacher 1: Well, here it goes. [long diatribe about how great / terrible Danielson is]
Higher-Up: Well, OK. Anyone else?
Teacher 2 (of color): Can we talk about race now?
Higher-Up: Sounds complicated. We need a more appropriate forum for th …
Teacher 2: But this is urgent. We’re having serious issues going on and so many of our kids are of …
Higher-Up: OK, OK, OK. We’ll get to it in a more appropriate forum. Anyone else?

Teacher 3: Let’s talk about Common Core.
Higher-Up: What about it?
Teacher 3: My thinking is [even longer diatribe about Gates' involvement and how great / terrible standards are for kids]
Higher-Up: I hear you. That’s relevant. Anyone else?
Teacher 2: Can we talk about race now? (with a little more emphasis)
Higher-Up: I still don’t think we’re ready. We’re really dealing with this issue and I’d rather we be better informed and nuanced about race before dealing with it.
Teacher 2: But half the people here don’t actually know what the CCSS is, the layers, and why they’re either for or against any of it and …
Higher-Up: SO everyone should have an opinion on the CCSS, so I allowed it.
Teacher 2: UGH!

(skip to the last teacher on the list …)

Higher-Up: Anyone else?
Teacher 100: I want to talk about the deleterious effects of poverty …
Teacher 2: OK, so are we going to talk about race here?
Higher-Up: Now, I said we needed the right forum …
Teacher 2, agitated: NOOOO! YOU WAIT FOR THE RIGHT FORUM! ALL Y’ALL HERE TALKIN’ BOUT ALL YOUR SINGLE LITTLE ISSUE BUT DON’T WANT TO FACE UP TO THE REALITY THAT OUR KIDS LOOK A LOT DIFFERENT THAN OUR STAFF, THEY DON’T WANT YOUR STINKING MIDDLE CLASS / UPPER CLASS VALUES, AND WANT TO KNOW WHY PEOPLE OF COLOR JUST LIKE THE ONES THEY SEE IN THE MIRROR ARE GETTING SHOT WITH NO CAUSE BY THE PEOPLE WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO PROTECT THEM!
Higher-Up: Now, now, let’s stay professi …
Teacher 2: YOU CAN STICK YOUR PROFESSIONALISM UP YOUR …

And scene …

So, not that this has happened before, but I wonder, too frequently, why people always want to wait, wait, wait on discussing issues of race, even ones as point-blank (pardon the pun) as this Michael Brown tragedy. Whether on or offline, people always want to find the “right forum” for this conversation. I get that, with some discussions, we need to have certain protocol so people feel comfortable opening up about their experiences and, in many cases, unpacking their privilege. But then it always feels like people put off certain conversations until people forget them.

All the while, I must openly question how folks can go so hard when it comes to Common Core State Standards and all the reforms that come with it, and not dedicate a few minutes of their time to learn about, if not ask those who know something about, some of the tragedies affecting our kids, both locally and nationally. I refuse to stand in solidarity with those who won’t do so with me.

Because the death of children of color at the hands of our executive branch takes more precedence than any set of standards.

I won’t wait.

Jose

photo c/o

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donquixote1

Last week, I delved a little deeper into this issue of teachers of color, hoping to sow some of the prevailing narratives up and construct something more cogent.

Yet, when it comes down to it, the lack of teachers of color is a symptom and not a cause of the education gaps we currently see.

Time and again, we get reports from former teachers of color about why they leave, and often, it’s the same symptoms for why teachers in general leave: lack of empowerment and autonomy, working conditions, and low pay. With teacher of color, education systems only exacerbate this problem because many teachers of color come back so they could give back to similar communities that they grew up in. Yet, they see some of the same deficiencies from their childhoods manifest in teachers’ lounges and observations about their colleagues. Because many teachers of color who come from similar neighborhoods they’re serving don’t have a family-established wealth to fall back on, they tend to leave at faster rates than the average teacher, too.

But there’s more. This research by Ivory Toldson done on this topic suggests that lack of teachers of color isn’t for lack of want, and that systemic elements of our education system will continue to put people of color at odds with their education system, regardless of whether it’s public, private, or hybrid (charter).

I’d take it one step further and say, why bring in more teachers of color into a system that continually ostracized the already disenfranchised? If teachers of color want to “give back” to the places they grow up in, then we have to consider why the neediest schools consistently get shut down, “turned around,” or transformed into a charter school, replete with uncertified teachers. If teachers of color want to go to schools where the children have similar experiences to them, then we have to wonder why we don’t make all teachers, regardless of race, culture, or gender, take cultural competency classes so teachers of color don’t have to teach both their students and their peers.

Because even the prospect of having more teachers of color threatens the status quo in a way that those who currently staff our schools aren’t prepared for. Too many folks think TOCs might take “seats” (see this comment by Renee Moore here). We aren’t. We can create more seats.

Because “education progressives” are perfectly OK with diversity as long as it doesn’t affect their specific school. Then, it’s a question about “dynamics.” Uh yeah. You should hope so.

Because some folks get mad at the new-found attention teachers of color have garnered, so someone quips, “Teachers of color are equally capable of being assholes.” If so, then why bring it up unless you’re nervous someone will take your seat?

Because we can’t address any of the shortcuts to equity without actually addressing the pillars of race, gender, and class across our education system. Without those honest conversations, I don’t see policies as anything more than a “We’re doing something for the sake of doing something” scheme.Because the symptomatic failures of our education system often doubly affect teachers of color: as the students they once were and the teacher they wish they could become. We can do better. Jose

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You Can’t Educate With Us (On Tone-Policing When Silent)

June 24, 2014 Jose

I called someone a racist this past weekend. And a sexist for good measure. I don’t have much authoritative experience with the latter as I do the former, and I don’t go throwing around such a title lightly. I won’t go into the incident, but it was a long string of events that triggered me […]

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Without Some Affirmative Action, Bros Won’t Look At You

April 23, 2014 Jose
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Book Con. Miami Device. Vox Media. FiveThirtyEight. I see any argument against affirmative action as invalid. Time and again, I see clear examples of situations where there was a rather conscious decision to exclude because of “fit,” which is just doublespeak for “whatever’s normal and profitable to us.” Which is often to the detriment and […]

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Racism Without Racists: The School Re-segregation Edition

April 17, 2014 Jose
Thurgood Marshall

Today, ProPublica released a special report on their website dedicated to the re-segregation of America’s public schools. With the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision on May 17th approaching, ProPublica has focused this special section on Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where three separate and equally devastating stories will be told as case studies […]

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Your Kids Don’t Actually Feel Like They Belong In School

April 9, 2014 Jose
Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights Voting Act Signing

Today, a friend forwarded me a report from the Pew Research Center that focused on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. An excerpt: But as historic as it was, a half century later many Americans — particularly blacks — still believe that the country has a ways to go in overcoming racial disparities. […]

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