Category: Race

In the news: WWeek endorsements, NCLB failure

Willamette Week has endorsed Pam Knowles and Martín González for school board. On the national front, the New York Times reports that the achievement gap persists in spite of No Child left behind.

The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind law on improving the scores of blacks and Hispanics, according to results of a federal test considered to be the nation’s best measure of long-term trends in math and reading proficiency.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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On moderation of discussions

Things have been lively at PPS Equity lately. Chalk it up to growing pains (readership suddenly doubled and comments went through the roof a a few weeks ago), but I’ve had to become a little proactive on moderation of discussions. A few notes with regard to a recent complaint about this moderation:

  • This Web site is hosted on a server that I own, with bandwidth I pay for.
  • When you’re participating in a discussion here, you’re my guest. As such, I want to make my guests — especially those typically on the short end of the stick in the issues at hand — feel comfortable expressing themselves. If one boorish guest makes several well-mannered guests want to leave, I’m going to err on the side of the well-mannered guests.
  • I am interested in minority opinions here. Majority opinions, by definition, dominate in the world around us. This is an alternative publication, intended to give voice to people who are not well-represented in mainstream media and organizations.
  • Minority opinions have always been shouted down in the public square, and majority rule frequently denies basic civil rights when majority privilege is perceived to be under threat.
  • If we’re discussing how to lessen inequity, I’m not interested in arguing whether inequity exists. Likewise, if we’re talking about race, I don’t want to host arguments that white privilege doesn’t exist. And since the education of our children is at the center of everything here, I’m definitely not interested in giving grown-ups a platform to trash talk students for typos.
  • This is not a freedom of speech issue, it is a freedom of press issue. I own this press; I decide what gets published (and until very recently, I’ve published every comment that’s been submitted). Anybody with access to the library can get a free blog of their own at WordPress or several other sites, and discuss whatever they choose. If they follow the rules here, they can even post a link to their own blog.

I do not take lightly the decision to moderate a discussion — by admonishment, editing comments, deleting comments, moderating certain users, or, as a last resort, banning users. I have a strong presumption to allow all voices to be heard, but that is tempered by a desire to work toward social justice. Yes, this Web site has a point of view, and I’m not going to let it get derailed.

In time I’ve published PPS Equity, the vast majority of participants have been respectful, mature, intelligent and informed, even when in disagreement. You, the readers, have contributed far more column inches to this site than me. I’ve learned a ton, and have been respectfully corrected on a number of issues I thought I had a line on.

I’ve participated in online discussions — Usenet, e-mail lists, Web forums and blogs — for over a decade. So I can say with some authority that the tone of discussion here is something we should all be proud of (see, for example, how ugly things have been getting on another Portland site). I don’t know of any other political Web site that rises to the level of discourse here. I’m not about to let one person change that.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Racial code words for dummies

Racism exists in many forms. Perhaps the most hurtful form is the unconscious kind, expressed inadvertently by people who consider themselves to be well-meaning. I don’t think anybody who contributes to the discussions at PPS Equity is a racist, but there have been times when non-white readers have contacted me in exasperation about some of the things they’ve read here.

Just for kicks, see how many code words you can spot in the following passage. This is a real comment on a different blog.

We live in our neighborhood b/c it’s what we can afford, but the schools here are scoring so low and are socially very rough. We go to a charter school (thankfully k-8) about 4mi away, and have been developing a great community there. Most of the kids in our neighborhood go to various other schools too. Ironically, they are the more balanced, healthy kids that I prefer my kids befriend anyway. The ones from our neighborhood school are often yelling cusswords, lying, flipping each other off, and don’t seem to be supervised.

Now, I can see the black readers rolling their eyes and shaking their heads. And I can see some white readers shrugging their shoulders, saying “What? Sounds reasonable to me….”

This, my friends, illustrates the racial divide in “post-racial” America.

Let’s start with the first phrase: “We live in our neighborhood b/c it’s what we can afford….” Right away, we have a denial of privilege. And privilege is at the heart of racism. This is a show stopper for readers who are not privileged (e.g. non-white or economically disadvantaged). Nobody who’s a product of a generational struggle for basic rights and justice wants to explain to you that you are, in fact, privileged, and they’re not likely to get beyond this first phrase.

But if they do, they’re gonna get hit with this doozy: “…but the schools here are scoring so low and are socially very rough.”

Test scores correlate highly to race and income. There is strong statistical evidence showing poor and non-white students score poorly regardless of setting. Conversely, white, middle class students tend to score highly regardless of setting. “Low test scores” are a proxy for race and income. “Socially very rough” is even less oblique, as the writer shows later in the passage.

Note the thankfulness for the charter school being K-8, but no acknowledgment of the privilege that allows a family to enroll in a charter and do an 8 mile round-trip commute for elementary school. Also note that they’re “developing” a community outside of their neighborhood, implying an unwillingness to adapt to the community that existed in the neighborhood before they moved in, presumably “other” in one or more unacceptable ways . This is unselfconscious self-segregation.

By this point, it’s not hard for a non-white reader to read “more balanced, healthy kids that I prefer my kids befriend” as white, middle class kids and “[t]he ones from our neighborhood school are often yelling cusswords, lying, flipping each other off, and don’t seem to be supervised” as describing non-white, economically disadvantaged kids.

This passage is pretty extreme. I’ve never seen anything so blatant here, thankfully. What we see here are generally more frank, direct discussions about race and class, but we still get a failure to acknowledge an unequal starting point — that is, privilege.

Every kind of ism — classism, racism, sexism, etc. –  is a rhetorical match-up between the privileged and the under-privileged.  So if you are white, and you are talking to a black person about race, you speak from a position of privilege. If you don’t acknowledge this to yourself at the outset, or, even worse, if you deny your privilege, you are likely to offend the other person.

If you go further and ask that person to explain your privilege, or argue that you don’t benefit from privilege, things are going to get ugly fast.

Then there are the old political code words for race: gangs, welfare, quotas, crime, state’s rights, “reverse racism”, etc. But more pernicious are the things that come from supposedly well-meaning liberals.

If you’re white, here are some things you don’t want to say when discussing race with somebody who’s not white, with the perceived subtext in parentheses (tip of the hat to Derailing for Dummies, a must-read):

  • You’re being hostile/disruptive/overly sensitive (you are uppity and don’t know your place)
  • If you don’t teach me, how can I learn (it’s your responsibility to demonstrate my privilege)
  • I’ve experienced discrimination, too (so what’s the big deal)
  • Other minorities I know say this isn’t a big deal (so you’re obviously exaggerating and need to prove racism to me)
  • We have a black president (how can you say there is still racism)

Sometimes “compliments” are perceived as insults:

  • You’re really articulate (for a black person)
  • You’re clean/you smell good (considering how dirty you people usually are)
  • Black babies are just cuter than white babies (you know, like puppies)
  • Can I touch your hair (it’s so “exotic”)

This is obviously not a complete list, but it’s a start.

I’m really grateful that so many people have exhibited openness and graciousness in discussing race here, despite occasional frustration and some understandable misgivings. Nobody’s perfect, and nobody can walk in somebody else’s shoes. But if we begin our discussions by acknowledging how privilege (or lack of privilege) frames our points of view, we can get down to some serious business.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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