Monday, August 18, 2014

To fix racism is to fix poverty is to fix education

I am cooking up a follow-up post to my recent post about teacher diversity but given recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, I feel I needed to finish and publish another post I have been planning for a while.

As I explained in that post about teacher diversity, growing up going to the schools that I did in DC, with the classmates and teachers I had, was a positive experience that meant I grew up surrounded by people of color as well as by regular conversations about race and racism. This has granted me a unique white person's point of view, one that is perhaps a much more open and tolerant one. However, it has also meant that not only did I sometimes have blinders on as to my own work to do on racism, I had blinders on as to the extent of racism in our country. For example, I went through a it's-no-longer-about-race-it's-about-poverty/ it's-the-classicism-stupid phase, but I've since been convinced otherwise. Classicism certainly exists, but racism is also still alive and well. So the blinders are now off, but only in so much as they can be off given that one is always blinded to a certain extent by their own perspective/privilege, experiences, and surrounding culture.

The post I was planning was in honor (or maybe in response to?) the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, but not in the conventional sense. I am not big on anniversaries, for one. Second, for as monumental as Brown v. Board was, it has not accomplished  (see, for example, this 2005 report on segregation in DCPS) what many seem to says it did or hoped it would. And I think that's at least partly because so many other policy areas, such as housing (think of restrictive housing covenants) did not or have not adequately, if it all, addressed racism in their manifestations.

My life's work is teaching, writing, and education. I know a great deal of change can be affected within classrooms, schools, and school systems but the current reformers' saying "fix education and you've solved poverty" is dangerously and hopelessly myopic, especially when many reformers and their funders are actually hostile to the idea (like the Waltons) of solving inequality or don't agree ( like Bill Gates) that income inequality is a problem.

But also those who want to work on solving poverty first can be myopic; they don't always look at what causes poverty. So much poverty among people of color is caused by institutionalized racism. People who say we must fix poverty in order to also fix education must also acknowledge that we must also fix institutional racism in order to fix poverty. As I said recently on twitter:
And by the way, by pattern, I don't mean conspiracy; I mean a pattern.

So, in honor of Brown v. Board's 60th anniversary and in light of what's happened in Ferguson and in so many other places, I am asking that all education organizations, groups, and high-profile individuals, of all stripes, endorse the following agenda:
  • Reparations for those descended from slaves. African-Americans are responsible for generating huge amounts of wealth for our country and for individuals in it and the vast majority have yet to truly share in that prosperity. I don't know if reparations would be awarded to individuals or to communities, but if compensation to 9/11 victims and their families could be worked out, then so can reparations to African-Americans.
  • Compensation should also be paid to African-American victims of racist housing policies, racist education policies, and racist public safety and criminal justice policies. 
  • Major reforms to current public safety policies, many of which disproportionately and negatively impact people of color. Included in this is de-militarization of police forces, an end to stop and frisk policies, better pay and funding for police departments so that there is no more reliance on corrupt civil forfeiture practices, better training for police officers that emphasizes preventative, non-discriminatory neighborhood/community based policing.
  • Major reforms to our criminal justice system, which also disproportionately and negatively impacts people of color. (Even if you don't agree with me on the humanitarian reasons, look at it from a financial standpoint. It is unreasonably expensive to imprison people both is terms of real costs and in terms of long-term costs, including those to society.):
    • The dismantling of the War on Drugs. Decriminalization of most illegal drugs (notice I did not say "legalization"; I said "decriminalization"--those are two different things). 
    • Immediate clemency for all those imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses. A shifting to mental health care rather than imprisonment for offenders.
    • Better funded and staffed public defenders' services.
    • An end to imprisonment for non-payment of fines, and an end to imprisonment for minor, non-violent offenses. (I am not advocating for no consequences, mind you, just for ones other than imprisonment.)
    • No more privatized prisons and the return to the public sector of all privatized prisons.
    • An end to capital punishment.
  • Healthcare policy reform including Medicaid expansion for now and a single-payer system eventually.

    I hope that fellow education activists, educators, and education policy people understand that such policy reforms will only help our students and improve our schools and school systems and that they will endorse these recommendations. These flawed policies are impediments to the progress of people of color and people living in poverty, as well as to the progress of our society.

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