Racial code words for dummies

1:38 pm

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.

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

filed under: Race, Segregation

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47 Responses

  1. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    I want to say right off that I applaud you for putting this difficult subject right out there for discussion – and more, for providing a forum for discussing it.

    I do, however, disagree with you about a number of things. First, I believe that the heart of racism is not privilege, but ignorance and fear that grow into hate. Some of the most virulent racism occurs in poor white communities. That was certainly true in the segregated South and it was true in the poor white Northern community that I grew up in.

    The hard coal country where I grew up was overwhelmingly white and socially about as rough as it comes. So, when I hear a parent talk about a school as “socially rough,” I don’t automatically associate that with racial prejudice, conscious or unconscious. I don’t see any point in making the urbanMama post this into a racial thing, absent evidence that it is.

    Secondly, I don’t buy the argument that every white person is privileged by being white compared to people who are not white. (If that is in fact the argument you’re making or supporting). That strikes me as a racist argument in itself. Which is kind of how the caricature portrayed in Derailing strikes me. But I worry more about how this idea of unequal privilege is supposed to lead to greater racial understanding, or to greater racial and social equity?

    Barack Obama’s speech on race during the campaign argued that real change will come only if we get past this kind of racial score-keeping and I found that very uplifting and hopeful and convincing.

  2. Comment from waiting to exhale:

    pps parent you said
    (I believe that the heart of racism is not privilege, but ignorance and fear that grow into hate. Some of the most virulent racism occurs in poor white communities. That was certainly true in the segregated South and it was true in the poor white Northern community that I grew up in.)

    My Comment
    I also grew up in the Northern part of hard coal country where it was over-whelmingly white and about as socialy rough as it could get as a person of color. Sounds like we have had the same experience or have we?

  3. Comment from lakeitha:

    Thanks for posting this! Unfortunately, so many people are in denial about the fact that racism still exists. I really appreciate your willingness to discuss this in this open forum and hope you can change some hearts and minds here.

  4. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    PPS Parent: you seem to disagree with the premise that white privilege exists. You also seem to be in support of the status quo in PPS, or at least you’re against anything anyone wants to change. Are you a p.r. person for them? I’m sure not going to convince you of anything. So I’m done with trying.

    Thank you Steve, for putting this out here. I’ve had it with “OMG! you’re so mean! jealous? angry!” I can go dry my laundry and get rid of this headache.

  5. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    I do not deny that there are privileged whites. At the same time I do not believe that privilege automatically accompanies the birth of every white baby. I don’t see how anything constructive could come from believing that. If that is the case I would be happy if someone would point it out to me.

    I have said several times that I believe that we could do a lot more to equalize opportunities in the public schools and I was specific about what we should change. I’m not sure how calling for changes makes me a supporter of the status quo.

  6. Comment from waiting to exhale:

    I need to write my comment over again.
    pps parent

    I also grew up in the Northern part of hard coal country. Where it was overwhelmingly white and about as socially rough as it comes for black people. It seems we might have had the same experiences growing up or did we? This is 2009 but your words take me back. I would suggest you look up Tim Wise.

  7. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Thank you PPS_Parent; you’ve provided a text book example of pretty much everything I was talking about — from denial of white privilege to implications of reverse racism. (It’s like I published your playbook, and you responded… from your playbook!)

    Now, I should clarify. I didn’t write this piece to foster debate about whether or not white privilege exists. Suffice it to say, its existence is the raison d’être of this Web site. I wrote this piece to point out how disheartening it is to non-white readers to continually have to confront denial of privilege.

    You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but you’re not going to get very far in a conversation about race when you start with this denial (at least not outside a Young Republicans meeting). And you’re not entitled to keep spouting off about it here.

    It pisses off my non-white readers and makes them less likely to participate. And frankly, I’m more interested in hearing their perspective than yours. That’s why I wrote this piece.

    The Internet is rife with sites where your kind of views predominate. If you want to deny white privilege, I suggest you take it to one of those sites. I don’t want to read it here anymore.

  8. Comment from Rose:

    These are my fave code words:

    Used to describe a largely black school regardless of what it is really like: “At-risk, inner city.”

    Used to describe a poor white school, “economically diverse, working class.”

    Used to describe black kids: “unsupervised, unruly, disruptive, rough.”

    Used to describe white kids behaving exactly the same way: “independent, energetic, boisterous, going through a stage, non-conformist, talented and gifted.”

    Used to describe how some black kids talk: “eubonics, illiterate, ignorant, uneducated.”

    When white kids talk exactly the same” “slang, trying to be black (as in how cute or annoying) a stage, hip, trying to be cool.”

    Used when white parents use choice to attend largely white private schools funded by tax dollars (charters): “Doing the best for your kid, advocating, being a good parent.”

    Used when you are one of the families left behind and want to protest the inequity: “defensive.”

  9. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Thanks, Rose, I was hoping others would contribute some code words.

    It says a lot to me that one of the old code words, “urban,” has been co-opted by the blog where the comment I dissected appeared.

    Where it used to be synonymous with “black” (and all kinds of negative connotations to white people), urban now means something hip and trendy (with all kinds of positive connotations, like “green” and “sustainable” and chickens and bikes).

    We’re so damned privileged, we’ll even take back an epithet. (Sorry Urban League, you’re gonna have to change your name. Or get hip to the new crew in town.) 😉

  10. Comment from Rose:

    Ha, Steve, like “urban pioneers.”

    Like we are supposed to get down on our knees and thank the white hipsters coming in to “save” our ‘hood.

    I picture them as mini Paul Bunyons, only with goatees and mesh shopping bags, our beloved urban pioneers. They are of course joined by the urban mamas. Who don’t want us to forget they are both urban and mothers. Stop the presses!

    When blacks are urban they are scary, when whites are urban they are hip.

    I’d really like to know exactly how chickens became so revered. It is like a bizarre cult. The cult of chicken keepers.

    I’m all for free eggs and all, but people are getting freaky and starry-eyed and self-important about damn chickens. It is surreal.

  11. Comment from mary:

    Thanks for this post. Just last night someone was explaining that a family transferred the kids out of Sabin because its a “rough school.”

    I’ve heard all these terms used about Madison, not only from neighbors but also the district and school board. Back when Madison was posting lower scores, thats why people transferred out. When it was split into small schools folks transferred out because their kids were college-bound and “didn’t need” that type of intervention. Now that Madison offers a broad spectrum of AP classes and is no longer going to be three separate schools folks talk of transferring out because there are “bad” kids there or because there are fewer “college-bound” kids.

    Elementary schools can suffer a similar fate. When test scores improve they are labeled as “test-centric” and regimented.

  12. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    This is slightly off topic but I think worth saying…PPS administrators (I believe intentionally) contribute to these stereotypes and misperceptions of schools.

    I’ve been going to high school basketball games for the last three years and I have never seen such an outrageous excess of police force as I have at the Jefferson games. It is the only school where my purse was searched prior to entering the gym, where the court was taped off, where the streets were blocked by police and where about 15 cops monitored the gym.

    Athletic events are often the only events that bring a diverse group of people from all over the city together. Nothing creates a welcoming and safe feeling environment like having your purse searched.

  13. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    One of my children attended Jefferson. The extra security at dances and athletic events was not there because the city and PPS administration distrusted Jefferson students and their families. The extra security was there to keep Jeff kids safe from people who were not Jeff students but would cause problems for them. The kids I talked to understood that, in fact they were the ones who pointed it out to me.

  14. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    I don’t think there is any value in perpetuating any cultural stereotype. The urban hipster with the goatee and the mesh bag is as much a phantasm as the welfare mom with the 7 children. We need to challenge such stereotypes, not uphold them.

    There’s a lot of teeing off on these stereotypes in this thread, as if laying into them would solve the problem. I don’t think it brings us any closer to solving the problems. Sure, it feels good to vent. But where’s the love, people?

    Beating people up for not being as enlightened as you are has a name: it’s called “political correctness.” In order to advance the conversation about race and not just beat people up for not being as enlightened as you are, we have to accept one of two things: (1) people with racist attitudes and beliefs are largely ignorant and unaware of their racist beliefs OR (2) people with racist attitudes and beliefs are largely aware of their racist beliefs and have no problem with them. If #2 is true, then there is no hope for change. But if #1 is true, then there’s room for growth and change.

    I think #1 is true. I think, because we live in a segregated world, we are largely ignorant of how other people — people of different races and incomes and ethnicities — live their lives. The vast majority of Americans have little experience of common space. We don’t see each other much, we Americans.

    Oh sure. There are exceptions to this. We see Tony and Joe and the rest of the crew at the office. We sometimes bump into neighbors as we shop at the grocery store. And we see lots of people as we parade through the mall.

    But each of these examples has one thing in common: people gathered together in shared space for commercial purposes.

    So without working and buying things, I wonder if we’d ever see anybody. Our chance interactions are almost always sponsored by someone or something: “This brief encounter with your cousin Larry brought to you by Macy’s” or “This experience of seeing people of a different race brought to you by The Mall of America.”

    You could say, “Well, thank goodness that we do have these opportunities. Without them, we’d never see anybody.” And while this is hard to argue, I’m not terribly happy with this conclusion. I don’t want to have to my experience of democracy brought to me by a commercial sponsor. I don’t want to have to buy a pair of shoes to see other people. And, somehow, I want that experience of other people to be more than just staring at them as they pass by in frozen foods or looking at the backs of their heads as we stand in line to buy gum.

    Of course, we see each other on television – in movies and in sit-coms and on the news. And, based on my experience of others on television, I know that most Asians are very quiet and work in laundries, that women on crime shows have large breasts and wear short skirts and tend to over-react when under pressure, that young black men are very angry and sing a lot about bitches and hos, that Muslims wear scarves over their heads and carry Kalashnikov machine guns, and that white men are smart and usually in charge.

    Yes, those of us who go to churches spend time with each other in a non-commercial space. But people in most churches aren’t exactly open to a diversity of views and opinions, much less a diversity of race, ethnicity, and social class. Most of the time, when we go to church, we hear what we’ve already heard and see who we’ve already seen.

    In fact, the only place where people can go and share common space inside non-commercial venues is a public school. In our society today, public schools are the only place where we have a chance to see and talk to people who are not exactly like us, maybe even get to know them a bit. For those of us who have already graduated from public high schools, it’s too late. There is really no other place to go.

    Look, I know. It’s not like there was a time when this did happen, back in the good old days when people of different racial, ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds got together and held hands and inter-related. Rich people have always stayed around rich people, whites have pretty much always stuck to whites, blacks to blacks, etc., etc. And, of course, this is the case today. And it was certainly not the case with public schools either, certainly not before Brown v. Board, and certainly not today. A large number of suburban and rural schools are virtually devoid of any kind of diversity, whether economic, racial, ethnic, or religious.

    In acknowledging this, we should not conclude that since most public schools are devoid of diversity, we should give up on the vision that diversity entails. Rather, it’s a reminder that we have to fight for what little diversity there is, where people of different backgrounds can share common space. It’s also a reminder that we have our work cut out for us to extend the democratic commons, to find new ways for diversity to be nurtured or, at the very least, to be experienced on a more substantive basis beyond merely passing each other at the food court.

    There was recognition in Brown, albeit a tacit one, that getting young people together who were not like each other was a good thing. If you think about it, it was an extraordinarily visionary thing to say: students segregated on the basis of race were inherently disadvantaged EVEN IF the facilities and material conditions of their schools were the same as their all-white counterparts. To the Warren court, race mattered. It made a huge difference. The Court argued that segregation in public schools deprived black children of the equal protection of the laws. In writing the majority decision, Chief Justice Warren asked, “Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.” Most powerfully, Warren wrote, “To separate (black children) from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”

    Segregation affects their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. So Brown gave us an extraordinary opportunity. It laid the foundation for a free, open, non-commercial democratic commons.

    Yet segregation in public schools persists to this day. In Chicago, by the academic year 2002-2003, 87 percent of public-school enrollment was black or Hispanic; less than 10 percent of children in the schools were white. In Washington, D.C., 94 percent of children were black or Hispanic; less than 5 percent were white. In St. Louis, 82 percent of the student population were black or Hispanic; in Philadelphia and Cleveland, 79 percent; in Los Angeles, 84 percent, in Detroit, 96 percent; in Baltimore, 89 percent. In New York City, nearly three quarters of the students were black or Hispanic.

    I’m reminded of an analogy that a black conservative commentator made. He said that you can walk by fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, but that exposure is not going to make you healthy. By the same token, you can fill schools with a whole variety of different kinds of kids from different backgrounds, but that exposure is not going to stop you from being a racist.

    I certainly do not see integration as our ultimate goal. After all, a school that appears “integrated” on the surface invariably conceals the vast disparities that exist between its students, largely drawn along racial lines. There’s the automatic assumption that throwing kids from different economic and racial backgrounds together somehow leads to racial and class harmony. There is rarely any mechanism in the school to talk about race or class or difference of any kind. There is no means by which race and racial integration could be discussed or promoted, even questioned. It is simply taken as a given that kids of different races and classes, in close physical proximity to one another, are coexisting openly and peacefully. Unfortunately, whatever racist or classist ideas the kids had formed at an earlier age are too often reinforced in an institution that — ironically — is committed to undoing these kind of beliefs.

    So what do you DO about that? I think you do what people have always done when faced with something they find intolerable: work to change it by upholding a vision of something worth fighting for.

    For me, one vision worth fighting for is one where public schools foreground the democratic commons, i.e., bring children and parents of different races, classes, and beliefs together to facilitate dialogue and inquiry among them. In the simplest terms, it’s better that we know about each other, that we interact with each other, if only to increase the likelihood that we can undermine (or at least weaken) the crippling stereotypes that cause us to hold each other in suspicion or contempt. If we make no such attempt, we increase the likelihood that these stereotypes and misunderstandings will continue, will worsen with time, and will eventually destroy us.

  15. Comment from Nancy R.:

    PC, whew that was a whole lot of words.

    Nothing’s destroying me, bro.

  16. Comment from Terry:

    The comment from Urban Mamas is a perfect example of the attitudes and assumptions that lead to white flight. (Maybe Urban Mamas ought to subtitle their blog “the place where white flight is PC.)

    I’ve read so many similar comments, both on blogs and in local newspapers, that I know, with certainty, white flight is the engine of school choice. Maybe not the only one, but certainly a dominant factor in the exodus of good students from low income, high minority schools.

    Not all white people are rich and privileged. Not all are racist. Not all people choose charters or magnets or wealthier schools to avoid diversity.

    But that’s all beside the point. There are enough “urban mamas” in the district to do great damage to the idea of common schools.

    And that’s a fact, Jack.

  17. Comment from Collen:

    Code words……funny, everytime I read a blog pertaining to school/choice/transfer….. I see the same words used over and over.
    My neighborhood school is very diverse (thankfully!), test scores are not great…not even close to being great. Will that make me flee? Nope.
    I have even heard from a parent who is not not sending her children there, “It’s a rough school”. “and you know-so-and-so sends her kids there, and her kids are much “tougher” than my little girl”. Does this statement make me want to flee? Nope.
    I will send my kids to our neighborhood school. Not because it’s “rough” and attracts all the “tougher” kids…but because it’s MY neighborhood! I made a choice to live here!

    my code words…my neighborhood, my choice!

  18. Comment from Stephanie:

    Peter – I use that Warren quote a lot in trainings about the effect segregation has on hearts and minds unlikely to be undone in reference to the early segregation that happens, often without question, of children with disabilities. Based on that and my experience I disagree that choice in eating fruits and vegetables can be compared to kids being exposed to diverse people. I was raised by a father that grew up in the south and said things like, “…there are black people and then there are (you know the rest)” I didn’t buy it because I went to school with kids that were black and they were my friends. Bringing it back to disability because I see this as another civil rights area, in a short year the kids in my daughter’s class are better people for knowing her and my daughter’s skills have skyrocketed because of them. This would have been such a loss if I would have let the district segregate her into a “special” place.
    You are right on that we need to get together on this and while pointing it out is for what it is is helpful we can work to change it at the same time. I vote we do it thunderdome style 😉

  19. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Stephanie … You might be interested in this article …


  20. Comment from sheila warren:

    All on this thread here is some good info. Some might know Peggy McIntosh’s paper on
    White Privilege Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

  21. Comment from sheila warren:


  22. Comment from Stephanie:

    Sheila – I read Peggy McIntosh and Tim Wise after it was posted on another thread and I recommend everyone take a look.

    PPS_Parent – Thanks for sharing the link. I barely got past this quote without being both furious and bursting into tears:

    “The crux of the matter is that we need to have a public debate about how much are we willing to invest in making individuals who are disabled, and sometimes profoundly disabled, have a meaningful level of membership in society,” said Gil Eyal, a sociologist at Columbia University who has done research on autism.

    Who is this wacko to make a proclamation on who gets to have a quality life or not. I don’t want him doing research that will have any effect on my daughter or anyone I know. Someone else in this article noted that it is cheaper to spend the money on early intervention than it is on the intense level of care needed when these kids get bigger and stronger and no one has bothered to teach them skills or there parents did not decide to have them put in foster care. In Oregon, currently, the way for a family to get the help they need is to put their child in foster care. I have met and worked with parents who are beside themselves with grief over having to give up their child so the kid can have the medical care and behavior support necessary to live a good life. A friend of mine was murdered by her own family member and the only reason she had to live in this toxic situation was because it was the only place she could reasonably care for her son with high needs because she refused to put him in foster care. No one should have to live like this in the richest nation on earth. I will say it again, disability is a consequence of the environment and when we allow pompous idiots to make sweeping statements about who gets to have a good life then we might as well hang it up. I do appreciate you sharing this with me because it keeps me on my toes. I am going to go find something to punch now.

  23. Comment from Nancy R.:

    Stephanie, I am sorry to hear about your friend. I will light a candle for her right now, and my thoughts go out to her, her family, and you, her friend. Paz.

  24. Comment from Stephanie:

    Thank you so much. I try to tone down the horror stories and the last thing I want to do is create some kind of stereotype that parents of kids with disabilities are all suffering in extreme poverty and depraved lives. I just hope that we can all get back to caring about our neighbors after decades of only looking out for ourselves. My friends neighbors never bothered to get to know her but they couldn’t wait to come out of their house when the news crew rolled up to talk about the sketchy house and all of the strange noises they heard. Her neighbors said terrible things on the news and no one bothered to think for a minute that someone cared about her and might be watching. I just hope we can remember what it is like to care about people again and we haven’t gone so far into our self interests that we can’t go back. I think so.

  25. Comment from toni:

    I’ll keep this short. In short, I agree with this post and some of the posters. But I can say this: these compliments will never just be compliments to me. Look up damali ayo, find her work, tell me what you think.
    * You’re really articulate (for a black person)

    *would you like me to count how many times i’ve gotten this??
    *ohh, i bet if I tan all summer i can get as dark as you.

    *sure, because you’d like to get as “dark” as me as long as its temporary and not attached to the social and economic stigmas that come along with being black
    * Can I touch your hair (it’s so “exotic”)

    *or is it naturally frizzy? i just love black hair, but do you wash it? can you wash it?

    And if one more black kid gets placed in a remedial class for behavior instead of actual poor academic achievement, I’m going to scream!

  26. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Stephanie … I interpreted Gil Ayal as suggesting that maybe we should be spending more money on individuals with special needs than we are now and that public discussion is a way of bringing that out in the open.

  27. Comment from Bili:

    Well done.

  28. Comment from Stephanie:

    PPS_Parent – I hope others interpreted it as you did. I welcome some other opinion of this guy but everything I referenced supports that he is using social science to investigate the economic and ethical issues around the cost of educating children with autism. Part of the research is looking at the “phenomena” of parents as experts. Many of the other folks who blog about disability took this statement in the same way that I did.
    Much like the racial code words here is one I hear way too much for people with disabilities. “Their own kind”. It chills me to the core but I am telling you I hear this all the time. Sadly, I have to play nice with the people that say it because the only way I am going to change their mind is to win them over and educate them. I sat across the table at a state meeting from a supervisor in developmental disabilities and mental health that looked at a panel of parent working towards more inclusive funding practices and he said, “Well the studies show that these kids want to be with their own kind.” If you mean HUMANS, well then they certainly do want to be with their own kind then.
    I would like him to tell that to the kids I know that have knock down drag out behaviors every morning just to avoid yet another trip on the little yellow bus so they can be whisked into a different door into a different classroom than every other kid.

  29. Comment from Rose:

    Peter, you wrote this: “For me, one vision worth fighting for is one where public schools foreground the democratic commons, i.e., bring children and parents of different races, classes, and beliefs together”

    I agree completely! This is the reason I send my kids to their neighborhood school.

    It would be sanctimonious of me if I wasn’t practicing what I preached.

  30. Comment from Rose:


    I agree completely. Whether it is Urban Mamas or more informal groups, we need to frankly address and acknowledge that white flight plays a huge role in school choice.

    As I have pointed out before, a number of studies have shown white parents pull out of any school over 10 or 15 percent black, no matter how it performs.
    Until white parents face their own racial bias about black kids, we will get no place.

    Any school “choice” programs will end up used as white flight mechanisms, including by those parents who want to pretend they are non-racist by living in a diverse area….and then sending their white kid to an almost all-white school (including charters).

    In Portland, school choice has probably done more damage to equity in education than any racist could have imagined, back in the day when they lobbied against us kids from Woodlawn busing out. Because now you have white flight endorsed by the ruling progressive class.

  31. Comment from Terry:

    “…school choice has probably done more damage to equity in education than any racist could have imagined… .”

    Music to my ears, Rose, sweet sweet music.

    Now, how do we get the “ruling progressive class” to acknowledge the nexus of white flight and school choice? And then to do something about it?

    I know you’re extremely busy, Rose, what with your kids and jobs and all, but you seriously ought to consider running for the school board.

    Of course I encouraged Ruth Adkins to run. And that certainly hasn’t worked out as well as I imagined it would.

  32. Comment from Stephanie:

    Yeah, Rose for school board. I will campaign for you!

    Now I know I am new to irritating the school board with testimony but I have found Ruth to be the only board member that has consistently thanked me or given me any encouragement whatsoever. She promptly returned my email and she bothered to comment on here about my point that using a regional flex system for the high school redesign will immediately create a barrier to all students with mobility issues. I don’t know any backstory or decisions she had made that might be controversial but to be cliched sometimes you keep your enemies closer than your friends. Integrity does not mean you don’t have to sell your soul every once in awhile for the greater good. Open to learning more but just wanted to give a shout out to Ruth Adkins who I have found to be quite pleasant and supportive.

  33. Comment from Terry:

    What bothers me and others in the school activist community, especially those involved in the Neighborhood Schools Alliance (co-founded by Ruth Adkins), isn’t anything Ruth HAS done as a school board member. It’s what she hasn’t done.

    Two years on the board, and Ruth has yet to address the inequities caused by the district transfer policy, at least not publicly or in any substantive manner.

    The Ruth I knew as an NSA activist is not the same Ruth I see as a board member.

    Or so it seems to me, anyway.

    That said, Ruth is certainly a “pleasant and supportive” person. And she’s smart as hell, too.

  34. Comment from Joe Hill:

    Rose: you rock! This is exactly what has been going on, and it is another reason why NCLB’s “blame the victim” strategy is so galactically stupid. Well, I suppose it’s not stupid if your real strategy is an assault upon public education in order to privatize the last truly public part of the commons. It’s only stupid if you still believe in the ideals of public education for all.

    If you can be persuaded to run for school board, put me down for dollars and time. Sister, do we need you!

  35. Comment from Rose:

    I have a confession to make: I thought I’d come back here and find the urban mama types breathing down my neck. How kind of you all.

    But I could never run for school board! I may present well now, but I’m a graduate of the school of hard knocks and never had the chance to finish high school. Can you imagine running for the board with a GED? Wouldn’t Lars Larson have a field day.

    On the other hand, what fun. I could look them in the eye and say, “This is what happens when one fish swims to the top of the barrel.” And then do my best imitation of a shark!

    But we do desperately need someone to stand up and tell the truth. Maybe one lightening rod is in order, just to break the issue?

    I think if we want to fight inequity we need to make white flight a key issue, loud and clear. Because white flight is real, it is indisputable in the statistics, and it is harmful. And school choice is white flight in action.

  36. Comment from Nancy R.:

    Get ready for more white flight:


  37. Comment from Stephanie:

    I am up for some agitating. Let me know if any party crashing is on the agenda because I do love parties.

  38. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Please don’t reduce this entire phenomenon to white flight. We spent more than 200 comments on the issue of charter schools recently, talking about the reasons why people send their kids to charters. Chief amongst them was pedagogy, i.e., many charters offer approaches to teaching and learning that mainstream schools do not.

    Steve and Nancy did not leave their neighborhood school because of white flight. The reasons they left were complicated, but it was not “white flight.” My wife and I chose to leave our neighborhood school for complex reasons — not white flight.

    Let’s not simply pit the Urban Mamas against the PPS Equity’ites. I don’t see what good this accomplishes. We can’t vilify people for wanting to make choices for their kids that reflect their values and beliefs, nor can we boil their decisions down to something like “white flight.”

    We need to come together on the issue of racism in this town. It’s a problem, and we need to deal with it. Name-calling is not going to help. Serious, engaged dialogue where people feel safe to explore hidden, unconscious prejudice and are encouraged/empowered to take action in response to their insights is what we need.

    For example, check out the Anytown institute, sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice.

  39. Comment from Nancy R.:

    Peter, of course the transfer issue is more than white flight. But white flight is a huge piece of it. I have been at meetings with the UrbanMamas where they have refused to let me participate in the conversation — that is not welcoming. I am not vilifying them, or you, for wanting to go to charter schools, but I don’t care for the way they “dialogue.” And I don’t care for the nyah-nyah, we’re OUT of there attitude that, all due respect, comes along with the leaving.

    And then you/they want to be part of “the community” but on your own terms. Dipping in.

    Like we say at Jeff — go hard or go home.

    Someone just left this kind comment for me over on Urban Mamas:

    “Go troll elsewhere or just stay in the circle jerk over at your husband’s blog, Nancy.

    Posted by: Do as she says not as she does since her kids aren’t in their n-hood school”

    Sweet, eh? Man. Think the moderator will pull that one? You can give me grief all day long because my kids aren’t in “their” neighborhood school. We’re right in our neighborhood, and it’s not a charter. We would be at our neighborhood school, if it wasn’t a fancy little “boutique” magnet program, with the “neighborhood” side starved out and neglected.

    You know what is at the heart of this for me? I don’t like that people have moved into the town I grew up in, into the neighborhoods where I was raised, and they’re saying, “Sorry, our kids are too good and we can’t play with you. We don’t want to know you.” Someone recently told me that she couldn’t “throw her kid under a bus” the way I have.

    It is all disrespectful and it is the opposite of everything I believe in.

    Peace. And I mean that. Peace.

  40. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Nancy – you and Steve are important leaders in the PPS community, and I — along with many others — are indebted to the work you both do and the contributions you make.

    The school choice and transfer issue is the most divisive issue in our community. To get past it or find a way to heal the hurt that’s been done, it’s going to take leaders who can see and appreciate the complexity of the issue. Since you and Steve have both experienced first-hand what these complexities are, you are ideally suited to lead this conversation. The fact that Steve serves on the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Enrollment and Transfer is testament to that.

    As you know, I serve on that committee, too. I think I also bring an awareness of how complex the issue is, how to balance the need for what is best for our own kids vs. what is best for the greater good. I believe, perhaps naively, that the two are not mutually exclusive. I’m going to keep working on a vision of something that will lift us all up.


  41. Comment from Terry:

    Rose, anyone can run for the school board, and you don’t need some fancy-pants letters after your name for a serious candidacy.

    And who gives a damn what Lars Larson thinks?

    We need a voice on the board willing to represent the “school of hard knocks.” And one willing to speak truth to power.

    That’s you, Rose.

  42. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Terry and Joe, you’re a little too late to draft a school board candidate… the filing deadline was over a month ago. 😉 Besides, what’s Rita Moore, chopped liver?

    On another topic (which we’ve visited before), I don’t want to host any more discussions about personal choices. I don’t want to be called out on mine, and I don’t want to call anybody out on theirs.

    Just like global warming won’t be solved by people choosing to drive a Prius, and like Jim Crow segregation wasn’t ended without federal intervention, school equity in Portland isn’t going to be solved by personal choices. We need policy changes.

    (I’ve had a number PPS policy makers wring their hands and tell me if we could only get enrollment up at minority schools, we could offer more classes. Which is about the lamest excuse for public policy I’ve ever heard.)

    It doesn’t matter if people claim legit reasons to go to a school other than their neighborhood school, the indisputable, statistical truth is that school choice has led to increased segregation.

    Yes, it’s not just about white flight. It’s also about increased white privilege, since the increasingly segregated schools they flee lose funding and educational offerings in their wake.

    This is beyond debate. But so are the reasons people flee, when school A offers so much less than school B.

    Since I’m tired of explaining the difference, say, between opposing a new charter school and criticizing a family for choosing a charter school, I’ve amended the comment policy of this site. Discussion of someone else’s choice is now explicitly off limits. The next person who does that…. Well, in the spirit of NHL playoffs, I’ll let Denis Lemieux explain:

    All bad. You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes by yourself, and you feel shame, you know.

    And then you get free.

    (Go Pens!)

  43. Comment from Terry:

    Well, I wasn’t talking about right now, Steve (or Rose.) I don’t even know what Zone Rose lives in.

    But sometime, whether in two years or four, we need some outspoken advocate for equity, someone willing to propose substantive POLICY changes, elected to the board.

    In the meantime, all the rest of you should raise holy hell at board meetings.

    I’ll come in support. Or to hold a sign.

  44. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Thanks, Terry, I’ll gladly accept your vote.

  45. Comment from Rose:


    Go ahead, raise your leg against my incipient campaign.

    What a minute! Is this position paid for? Are bribes allowed?

    Just kidding!

    I’ll run next time if you all a) pay for my campaign and b) give me free child care during all those meetings.

    On a serious note, we do need someone with the backbone to press serious policy changes, also someone comfortable reaching out to marginalized communities. I think this most especially includes outer SE. That area is going to EXPLODE with issues within a few years. A good board would be ready to deal with it.

  46. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Thanks, Rose, I will gladly accept your vote too.

  47. Comment from Nancy R.:

    One of my Facebook friends recommended this article: