A Good English Language Arts Advocacy Letter…

Open Letter to Caroline Kennedy US Ambassador to Japan regarding Fuji-TV:

Dear Ms Kennedy:

My name is Baye McNeil, American expat, 11-year resident of Yokohama, Japan. I’m an author of two books on life here for African Americans and a columnist for the Japan Times covering the black experience in Japan. I’m a huge admirer of your family’s work over the years, particularly of Robert Kennedy’s work in my hometown of Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, where he was directly responsible for its “Restoration” back in the 60s.

There’s a serious matter I’m not sure you’re aware of so I thought I’d bring it to your attention just in case. @fujitv this Saturday (Mar. 7) is planning to air nationally a modern day minstrel show, featuring two groups, Rats & Star and Momoiro Clover Z, both in Blackface.

Yep, a minstrel show, blackface, gloves and all!

Needless to say this is very distressing not only for the African-Americans living here, like myself, but a mockery of black people everywhere. I’m of the mind that it should not air. And I’m not alone.

A petition was started a week ago which has garnered nearly 5000 signatures in that time, the majority of which are Japanese people themselves. And that’s with the limited ability I have via social media to reach the broader public. If I had the Japanese press’ ear, I’m sure those numbers would be exponentially larger.

I’m not delusional. I realize Fuji-TV is a monster company and the 5000 voices I’ve collected are barely enough to be heard by these guys, and so in a last ditch effort to stop this from airing — which I believe is a mistake that will tarnish Japan’s image further and will not be easily forgiven or ignored by the world– I want to ask you to do whatever is within your power to do to help Fuji-TV see the error of their presumably good intentions.

I know time is short, but in the long run, as US Ambassador to this lovely country, I’d like to think that helping maintain and improve relations between our two countries, particularly when it comes to dilemmas like these, would be something you have in your wheelhouse…or at least have staff people who can get on it and quickly. I certainly hope so…

I thank you in advance for your attention in this matter.

Even if there’s nothing that can be done (which I understand is a possibility) I hope at least you can make sure that Fuji-TV has full knowledge that no less than 5000 people are not going to be thrilled about their minstrel show! And if they were lucky that would be it. But they won’t be lucky. The backlash will be all over the international media! Last week it’s the “Apartheid is good” thing from Sono-san, this week it’s minstrelsy on national TV. Next week? God knows what… Japan will be looked at as nurturing the image of a backwards thinking country. And, not to sound alarmist, but “Restoration” of its good name will be a feat after this. I love this country but this is even pushing my tolerance levels to their extreme.

So, let’s do our best to stop that momentum in its tracks, by stopping the airing of this minstrel show.

For more information on the change.org petition I started, here’s a link: goo.gl/eiDQMA

I can be reached at: locohama7@gmail.com if you need to contact me.

Sincerely yours,

Baye McNeil

PS: Thank you, and please give me best to Michelle Obama when she visits next week!

Journal excerpt: We really do need a just supreme court of judgment.

(Okay, I am watching last night, (And I don’t know why I continue to punish myself in this way) the NewsHour report on the supreme court hearing of the latest “challenge” to the ACA; and wondering, why is this even happening? Why are these people so hell-bent on denying poor people access to health care insurance. The call for a “market based” system is just another way of telling the poor to, (literally) drop dead!)

As the “supreme court” contemplates the right of millions to have access to “affordable health care”. The fact that fundamental human rights, are a debate assumes that one side, those who have access to quality health care can fairly debate those who are without it. People without quality healthcare are more than likely not in a position, or have the financial or political resources to successfully argue in their own behalf. The “debate” can never be fair if the negative deciders (the anti-ACA camp) in congress and on the courts all have access to quality health care. A “fair” debate would be if the health insurance for the nullifiers and their families was on the line. And what a low moral standard of debate for a nation that so many constantly proclaim as “exceptional”. What would truly be exceptional is not comparing citizen’s access to health care with a “less wealthy” nation; rather it would mean transforming the blessings of wealth given to America, into a model of sharing and concern for the less fortunate of our citizenry. And the best case scenario here (again, how low are the standards here!) is to provide the struggling poor with an overpriced profit driven health care system; a system that at least the POTUS is trying to force to take on some of the characteristics of a humane treatment system, through the Affordable Care Act (ACA); termed “Obamacare” to draw in the race baiters/haters.

A true and just ruling, a ruling, truly inspired by the wealth and power of the US, would grant to every citizen the right and access to health care that is provided to the citizens who already have health insurance; or even better, the level of insurance provided to the members of the court and congress!

And in the end, what makes their wisdom and judgment supreme? And is there a court more supreme in which they, and the callous voices of the ACA nullification, will themselves be judged? Why is there even a discussion about the cynical attempts by the selfish wealthy few to deprive such a fundamental human right to health care for the many working and unemployed few? How can (turning Spock’s words into the opposite negative) the health needs of the few, be more important than the health needs and quality of life of the many? And how can they sit in judgment of those who are without (or barely holding onto) health care insurance?

It seems that “constitutional democracy” is a convenient cover to place and hold the masses into a desperate and destitute state. A process by which the nation can play a cruel game of population selection, by condemning select segments of the society to: missing and inadequate education, prison, and poor life options, through chronic illness or chronic violence. And then there is the sacred worship of the “interpretation” of a document, a document crafted by so many believers (and participants) in a system of enslaving other human beings. A good and just law would not enhance the power of the strong and greedy; rather it would prevent the strong from harming the weak and needy.

People should not be forced to make a case for their humanity; a humanity granted not by a US supreme court, but by a supreme being. They should also not be forced to make a judgment between food or rent and medicine; and the “rule of law” approach, can’t be used as a ruse of law in order to deprive people of a fundamental human right to health care.

The hardest advice for me to give…

I think that in a secret section, in the secret heart of every Black man in America is a small part that quietly admires people like Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Tupac Shakur and Marshawn Lynch. This is the part that you dare not reveal to your white friends, your white colleagues or supervisor at work. It is this understanding (and the courage to think it, even in silence), that this entire game is rigged for us to lose; this is whether or not we play our best game, and/or even if we play the game by the rules! It is the acknowledgement that every day of your life, you know that at some point in that day, your humanity and personhood will be brought into question. And the fact that money, a degree, an “important” title or position, is incapable of inoculating you against the daily insulting moment; just wait on it, it is coming…

I can only imagine the amount of discipline a President Obama must possess, to graciously and patiently be insulted every day, by people like the three stooges, in the persons of: John Boehner, Prime Minster Netanyahu and Rudy Giuliani; and not call the insults, and them, what, and who they truly are. We need people like Mr. Obama, and also, people who are not like him; in the same way that it is not a Malcolm or Martin choice; we need both a Malcolm and a Martin. We need fighter pilots, and we need kamikaze pilots; and we need pilots who possess a little of both.

I really came to understand the other day (in great anxiety) that I am missing a “careerist gene”. Now that is not good when a younger educator calls and seeks your advice on a topic of leadership or management. Trying to mentor (as opposed to professionally developing), for me is very challenging because I don’t want to give a young person the right-wrong advice; and I definitely don’t want anyone to get fired from their job. When a mentee is faced with a difficult ethical decision; I try to invite them into a personal search and reflection of their own heart and spirit; (Pray, I always say!) and see: “what you can ethically live with”.

As for me, it just never occurred to me that I could remain quiet, at peace, and allow any hurt or harm, come to children in my charge. I don’t do well with hypocrisy; and I am against any type of racial bullying (even when it comes from a “colored person”). I never seem to get the memo on: “enjoying an unprincipled peace”. But this is not leadership with recklessness; there must be some ethical sense making to your activist advocation. For me the rubric was pretty simple and straight forward:

(1) “Would I want this for my child?”

(2) “Are the people paying for this, the taxpayers, getting their money’s worth? Are we betraying the trust and expectations of the parents?” (The stakeholders who make the biggest investment in schooling—their children!)

(3) “Does this decision hinder, or help students’ capacity to realize a positive life through education?” Are we compromising (or abandoning the fight for) a child’s possibility for a positive future?

50% of life is knowing who you are, and the other 50% is knowing who you are not. And so I must be very aware and careful of what I say to young education professionals; knowing I have very little tolerance for unfairness, injustice, oppression and the denial of human dignity. Knowing from whence you offer advice to a younger person in your profession; is an important professional ethical consideration.

“In this situation, should I take disciplinary action against this employee?”

I actually believe that in whatever capacity one is called to serve another human being; that service should be our best effort; and also of the best quality. I also believe that we should be totally committed to the mission and overall success of the job assigned; or why do it at all? For me, not giving your best at whatever task you are assigned is the same as stealing; and I can’t imagine getting up each day to go to a job, and just spend the day stealing. Civil Servants in particular rarely address the second word in our general title–Service! People (many of whom earn less money than we earn) work hard, and have taxes taken out of their salaries, or pay taxes when making a purchase; and so, at a minimum, they deserve our best and most sincere work. The challenge part for me in this recent request for advice; was my awareness that I never really “learned” to live, and accept the world as it is, quietly. Sometimes it seems that when they taught the lesson on being afraid to lose your job, I was clearly absent from class that day. I truly believe (and I know it may sound corny); that people should put in: “An honest day’s work, for an honest day’s pay”. And the primary customers (in this case students and parents); are not unreasonable in expecting our best effort. We have unfortunately become accustomed in public education to the philosophy that any effort, any standard, any level of expertise will do; this is a level of service we would never accept from a hospital or a public utility service company. And oddly, some of the biggest “low job performers” in public education; are also some of the biggest critics of the quality of work of other civil servants; well, “heal thyself” professional educators! Imagine the result if a city’s sanitation department, or fire department preformed at our level of success. But, I am also worried that the person will get into “trouble”, and/or harm their career

I can understand how fear in a scientific sense, makes much survival sense; when one is responding to a legitimate threat. Like when I read a sign near the entrance to a national park I was visiting that said: “Please, don’t feed the bears!” I clearly understood this warning; I read it as: “Please, let me not feed myself to them!”
A healthy fear was appropriate in that situation. And yet in matters of professional work I always think; “What the heck, if they don’t kill me, what do I have to lose?” And; “even if they do kill you, they can only kill you once!” The worst death in my thinking, is when you are living an inauthentic life, waiting like the bears in the zoo, for your next official feeding, aka paycheck; now that’s death!

All of these thoughts reminded me of when I went out to take over the helm of CSD 29 Queens NY, and as a result received a death threat. (“We will send you back to Brooklyn in a box”, was the message) Other people (fortunately I guess) took the threat much more serious than I took it. It wasn’t that I was so brave, rather it was because as a Black man living in America, I felt that I had been under a death threat my entire life. It was strange however, to have officers pick me up every morning from my house, stay with me all day; and then take me to my house door at the end of the day. I actually did not think much about dying; only how it would hurt my family, former students and fiends. I also thought about how I missed driving to and from work for a year, as that was some of my best alone time, where I could reflect and problem solve; and for some reason, I just could not do that from the back seat of a Ford Crown Victoria.
Finally, I really felt sorry for the officers assigned to protect me; I often imagined and admired the mental and physical strain they had to endure. The idea of risking your life for a guy you just met, for a cause that had nothing to do with you, and your family. Those security folks were who I always wanted to be. To be someone who everyday lived honestly, and fearlessly in their own truth and purpose. And to be honest I have been blessed, despite the way that I think about life; to be able to help many people from my positions of leadership. But I would be less than honest if I said it was all part of a grand strategic career climbing plan; nope, not even close. I rely heavily on a faith, a faith I often can’t see or hear; and that is why I still worry if my kind of person should be the type of person, or even the best person to give career advice?

The tragic experimentation with children of color should really stop…

“New York City Teachers’ Union Is Closing Portion of Its Brooklyn Charter School”—NY Times.

“The New York City teachers’ union announced on Friday that it was closing the kindergarten-to-eighth-grade portion of a charter school because of students’ low scores on state tests, ending an experiment intended to prove that such schools could thrive even with strict labor rules.”
“…When the U.F.T. Charter School opened in 2005, Mr. Mulgrew’s predecessor, Randi Weingarten, who is now the president of the American Federation of Teachers, pledged that it would “show real, quantifiable student achievement and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.”

The only “good” news here is that hopefully this will help people (both inside and outside the profession) to understand that designing, and running a public school is a very difficult task. And it is even more difficult to make that school academically successful. At some point the communities that provide the children who are fed into these negative assortment of badly conceived experiments, would demand an end to these practices. The children of the poor and disenfranchised, need what all children who gain, rather than lose from their public school experience. A positive, safe and productive environment in which to learn; a singular focus on providing a good future possibility for the child, and not employment rights and privileges for adults; continuous access and exposure to high quality instructional, and school leadership practices; the ability to be engaged with the best resources, supplies, equipment and time to ensure a positive learning outcome; a school building where the adults love them, and then translate that love into acts of active, conscience and collective practices of efficacy.

Every time an “ill-fated”, adult orientated educational experiment starts, performs badly and then stops; it is the children who suffer the most. I would be extremely shocked if every one of those 50 “excessed” teachers are not comfortably placed somewhere in the system! The annual tragic and failed experimentation with “certain designated” children in our public school systems, should stop; but who is going to stop it?

“How Liberalism and Racism Are Wed”

This is pretty amazing! Most of the critiques of liberalism that comes from conservatives I find totally unusable, as they are not sincere about helping the working and unemployed poor; and they are definitely not committed to helping people of color. But this sister, approaching it from a progressive perspective, is on point! In public education we are forced to run back and forth between these two camps (liberal-conservative), and our children never get to realize a viable finish line.

How Liberalism and Racism Are Wed
By George Yancy and Falguni A. Sheth
February 27, 2015; N.Y. Times

Falguni A. Sheth, an associate professor of philosophy and political theory at Hampshire College. She is the author of “Toward a Political Philosophy of Race.”

George Yancy: Can you discuss your own view of your “racial” identity and how that identity is linked to your critical explorations into the philosophical and political significance of race?
Falguni A. Sheth: Until 2001, I thought of my identity in terms of ethnicity rather than race. I was an immigrant, and in the American imaginary, immigrants were rarely discussed in terms of race. After September 11, 2001, I tried to reconcile what I saw as the profound racist treatment of people (often Arabs and South Asians) who were perceived as Muslim, with a politically neutral understanding of “racial identity,” but it didn’t work. That’s when I began to explore race as a critical category of political philosophy, and as a product of political institutions. The biggest surprise was my coming to understand that “liberalism” and systematic racism were not antithetical, but inherently compatible, and that systemic racism was even necessary to liberalism. Soon after, I read Charles Mills’s “The Racial Contract,” which supported that view.

G.Y.: In what ways do you see liberalism and systemic racism as complementary?

F.A.S.: There isn’t a simple link. I am seen as a brown woman, but also as racially ambiguous, which has its own set of problems, as Linda Alcoff discusses. Gender is a key component of racial identity. I suppose that if I were less racially ambiguous, I might have been affected by the Asian “model minority” myth, which identifies Asian women as “good” or “docile,” or “smart.” But to both whites and nonwhites (including South Asians), my visible, physical self doesn’t easily lend itself to that stereotype.
The political framework of liberalism, which promises equality and universal protection for ‘all,’ depends on people to believe those promises, so that racial discrimination, brutality, violence, dehumanization, can be written off as accidental … rather than part of the deep structure of liberalism.
Racial identity is also complicated by class: I went to a public high school in a mostly Irish- and Polish-American working-class town with a large emerging population of brown and black kids: Puerto Ricans, migrant kids of Mexican, Colombian, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Brazilian and Portuguese descent. I felt more comfortable there with the brown kids than I did in my middle-class grammar school composed almost entirely of white kids, many of whom, as I realized only as an adult, were racial bullies. To this day, I exhibit personality traits which are stereotypically “Jersey working class,” which make it rather awkward to fit into the “genteel academic” circles in which I often find myself these days.
Aside from the cultural hostilities that are foisted upon brown people, my non-ambiguous brownness sensitizes me to the vulnerabilities — the lack of rights, security, safety, legal protection — of being nonwhite in a polity that understands “good” and “deserving” members as being white and upper- or at least middle-class men and women. I remember my mother being treated roughly by police when she was in a traffic accident and again, their indifference when she was targeted by the “Dotbusters,” a self-appointed gang of racial nationalists that was assaulting Asian Indians in northern New Jersey in the late 1980s.
When I was finally granted an interview for U.S. citizenship in December 2000, I asked a relative to accompany me in the event that there was trouble. The interview was demanded by the government during the American Philosophical Association meetings in December 2000 (it was virtually impossible to renegotiate the appointment without a long, punishing, delay). Despite a heavy snowfall, we arrived an hour early. The I.N.S. interviewer was over an hour late in opening up the office, and cheerfully told me that I was lucky he had decided to show up. Conversationally and with a broad smile, he told me a series of stories about the various applicants he had had deported, even if they — like myself — had been in the United States since they were toddlers or infants, even if they knew no one from their countries of birth, and even if they stood to be in danger there. He emphasized how few protections immigrants had, and his message was: The United States will deport without a second thought, and hey, it’s the immigrant’s problem, not theirs.
Through such experiences, I have come to understand identity not as racial, but racialized, through populations’ relations, and vulnerability, to the state, which also is the basis of my book. The political framework of liberalism, which promises equality and universal protection for “all,” depends on people to believe those promises, so that racial discrimination, brutality, violence, dehumanization, can be written off as accidental, incidental, a problem with the application of liberal theory rather than part of the deep structure of liberalism.
Electing one, two, or even 50 politicians or hiring multiple bureaucrats of color doesn’t end systemic racial inequality or discrimination, although it does provide a convenient (if superficial) defense against charges of racism.
My book attempts to show that racism, racial exclusion, racial violence, is part and parcel of liberalism. For example, we see the exclusions in early liberal writings: In John Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government,” he discusses the social contract and the equal opportunity to “earn” property for everyone, except the “lunatics and idiots,” women, and “savages.” The treatise also offers a “just war” theory of slavery. Locke helped write the “Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina,” which afforded slave owners complete control over their slaves, alongside representative government. These key ideas are both, “compatibly,” in that document.

G.Y.: When you mention vulnerability to the state, I’m reminded of the American eugenics movement in the early 20th century. Is there a connection here? I’m also reminded of Michel Foucault’s concept of bio-power and its relevance within the American eugenics context. How does your work speak to this sort of policing of certain bodies?

F.A.S.: Certainly, that’s one example. Political vulnerability is intrinsic to any society, but the rhetoric of universal and equal protection conceals the systematic impulse to exclude certain populations at any given time. The groups who are vulnerable are subject to change, depending upon how threatening they are, and/or how useful it would be to those in power to discard them, In the early 1990s, the legal scholar Dorothy Roberts drew attention to how the bodies of American black women were policed. For example, if they were using drugs while pregnant, they were subject to being charged with crimes and thrown in prison. Vulnerability goes beyond bio-power.
Other examples include the internment of Americans, Peruvians and other Latin Americans of Japanese origin during the Second World War, or the deportation of Chinese migrants from the United States in the 1880s, and the disfranchisement of Asians from their United States-purchased land in the early 1900s. And needless to say, the wide-scale disfranchising of Muslims in the post-9/11 United States is but another recent example. In each of these cases, they are deprived of protections because they are perceived as threats in some way, and so they become — explicitly or not so explicitly — subject to laws intended to constrain, dehumanize, criminalize them. It is a gradual process, but they are increasingly vilified, demonized, dehumanized, which then rationalizes the move to strip them of protections under the mantle of “legality.” That is what my work explores.

G.Y.: Given the continuing racial tensions across the nation, how do you see these events as deep problems endemic to liberalism? Or, are such events just a “misapplication” of liberal theory?

F.A.S.: The charge of “misapplication” of liberal theory is, I think, a desire to see selectively — to see only the best possible articulation of liberalism. But liberal frameworks are fundamentally predicated on violence or on rationalizing its effects, such as the conquest of “terra nullius,” of justifying enslavement, or the privation of rights to “idiots,” “savages,” “women.” And it’s not just Locke’s theory that is a problem. Rousseau’s very beautiful “Social Contract” must be read alongside his novel, “Émile,” in which Sophie is raised to support Émile’s political existence as a true citizen. It is a remarkably sexist, if not misogynistic, understanding of women. But even more to the point, for Rousseau, these are not contradictory; they are rather compatible ideas.
While we can make corrections to “ideal” liberal theory, these corrections are at base additive. They don’t fundamentally restructure the foundation of liberal society — namely the promise of universal and equal protections alongside a systematic impulse to violence in the name of “civilizing” the heathens, or for the purposes of maintaining “law and order.” At base, this is what the killing of Michael Brown, and the ensuing encounters between the police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., have exposed: peace, safety, recognition of one’s humanity, law, order, rights will be doled out — or withheld — only in terms that allow those in authority, those with wealth, to remain comfortable. Consider the recent Supreme Court decision to allow restrictive voter ID requirements in Texas — which hurts the poorest citizens. But — and here’s the kicker — until we confront the repeated incidents of dehumanization as systematic, and not just a proliferation of accidental violations of humanity, we won’t be able to address or challenge the fundamental flaw of liberalism: the “compatibility” between the promise of universal protections for some groups, and violence for others.

G.Y.: The discourse of a “post-racial” and a “colorblind” America has been invoked since the election of President Obama. How do you see white power and white privilege as continuing to operate as sites of white sovereign authority?

F.A.S.: The idea of a “post-racial” United States is quite bizarre, but it seems to reflect a narrative of distraction: Electing one, two, or even 50 politicians or hiring multiple bureaucrats of color doesn’t end systemic racial inequality or discrimination, although it does provide a convenient (if superficial) defense against charges of racism. It also assumes that those politicians or functionaries are actively interested and focused — let alone “authorized” or empowered — to change racially problematic policies. In itself, that is a problematic assumption to make, since racism is systemic and deeply embedded in cultural outlooks, laws, ways of life, traditions.
The political philosopher Charles Mills’s understanding of white supremacy is useful here. Mills uses the term to note that the social contract is predicated on a racial hierarchy where whites are at the top, and blacks and nonwhites below. I want to clarify that, in terms of political institutions, “whiteness” is a category of power based on a general, but not universal, correlation between those in power and general racial identity. In my work, “whiteness” is not about any individual specifically but about groups in power, and it is negotiated and contoured by factors of gender, class, ethnic identity, and institutional and historical factors — such as how certain groups are understood at various moments.
In “post-racial” America, white supremacy continues by ensuring that those in bureaucratic, lawmaking, executive, policy-making functions continue to do what those in the top 5 percent — and others who benefit from white supremacy — need to remain on top: ensure that bankers are not punished; pretend that minorities weren’t duped into taking on subprime loans or balloon-payment mortgages; justify rampant invasive surveillance and warmongering in the name of national security; and arrest and detain immigrants — not just adults, but children! Laws and policies that support these events enable at least two things: the siphoning of money away from poorer, darker, vulnerable, vilified populations who have been subject to racism, violence, police brutality and a distraction from the real, everyday problems that affect those populations.
Even in “post-racial” America, the U.S. government has continued to wage war on Muslims and Arab populations: detainees still remain in Guantánamo Bay without charges. Some of them are still being force-fed, but the United States military deliberately no longer offers updates on their status; the current administration has created the “disposition matrix,” and expanded the drone program, which has killed hundreds, if not thousands of Yemeni, Somali and Pakistani civilians. And there is a noticeable absence of a reprimand for the most recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. There is vocal, visible support for these policies, not through invocations of racism but through appeals to national security or “helping bring democracy” to “backwards” regions, through justifications about saving “women and children” or innocent “civilians.” The institutional effect is that Muslims and Arabs and South Asians are still systematically suffering at a greatly disproportionate rate to any possible “transgressions.” It seems that “post-racial” America continues to racialize and dehumanize.

G.Y.: How does an epistemology of ignorance work within this context — in, for instance, the comparison between the experience of black Americans and Asian-Americans?

F.A.S.:As Mills has argued (and as many feminist philosophers and philosophers of race argue), pervasive racial inequality — understood within the frames of legal, social, political systems — persists because “whites themselves are unable to understand the world that they themselves have made.” Here’s what that looks like: “Slavery’s over. Why are we still discussing it? What does this have to do with poverty? After all, look at all those Asian immigrants: They’re not asking for handouts. They’re doing very well for themselves.”
But such a comparison ignores history and context: Asians who migrated post-1965 to 1985 were a different class of migrants. They were migrating as professionals, or for graduate study, and did not have a history of slavery in the United States, nor a vivid history of racism (ironically, because they were almost entirely prevented from migrating to the United States for 40 years, and therefore were largely invisible). They were not migrating on H1B-visas, as many South Asians do today (which restrict access to the full complement of economic and legal protections that permanent residents are eligible to receive). Such a comparison also doesn’t acknowledge that white wealth was built not only on the backs of black slaves, but on the backs of their “free” and mightily persecuted descendants, nor that whites as a group benefit from not being recipients of racist treatment. And of course, it neglects the very pointed goal of redlining, which was to block the entry of blacks into white neighborhoods, and thereby access to better schools for their children, among other benefits. It neglects the specific history of targeted harassment toward blacks, whether in the South, or after they migrated North, as Ta-Nehisi Coates details in his excellent Atlantic article about reparations.
And perhaps most importantly, such a comparison falsely focuses on poverty and wealth as a consequence of individual character, rather than as the result of policies that benefit those who already have, while hurting those who have little. This is why I think discussing racism as a “matter of the heart,” or individual cultural attitudes is useful but limiting. It inhibits us from considering systemic analyses, and thereby systemic solutions to systemic problems.

G.Y.: There are some theorists who continue to want to reduce race to class. My sense is that W.E.B. Du Bois was correct regarding his claim that even poor whites possess whiteness. Do you think that such a distinction has any relevance in our contemporary moment in American history?

F.A.S.: In “Black Reconstruction in America” (1935), Du Bois discussed the wages of whiteness paid to white workers by the Southern white bourgeoisie — through the vehicle of racial apartheid — in order to divide and conquer the working class, and get white and black workers to hate and fear each other, despite, as he says, “their practically identical interests.” There is certainly truth in the claim for today, but it also depends on context, geography, historical moment, and situation—and the racial perspectives of those in power.
Poor whites won’t be racially profiled by white police, or store clerks, or white or nonwhite landlords to the same degree as darker men across economic classes will be. Yet, thinking institutionally, because economic policies adversely impact those who are already disadvantaged, poor blacks and poor whites will both suffer that impact. However, those in power and positions of authority will most often blame working-class and poor blacks for various moral character flaws. We have seen it countless times: from Daniel Moynihan’s infamous 1965 report which traces poverty to character flaws of African-Americans to Ronald Reagan’s vilification of poor black women who then came to be referred to as “welfare queens,” to President Obama’s multiple admonitions to black men to be more responsible fathers. This is despite the fact that we have ample evidence illustrating that black men are incarcerated six times as often as white men, and that they suffer from racial profiling and discrimination and unfair laws like “stop and frisk,” which collectively inhibit them from finding employment, housing or economic success. Presumably, if poor blacks suffer from “character flaws,” then so do poor whites and other populations of color, but we rarely hear the same moral admonitions directed towards them.

G.Y.: Lastly, from what you’ve argued, engaging in a critical overthrow of white supremacy as a system will certainly involve a systemic approach. Yet, people of color must deal with virulent manifestations of white racism on an everyday basis, even enacted by “well-intentioned” whites.

F.A.S.: Certainly. Those, it seems to me, are but symptoms of institutional aggressions, manifestations of virulent racism that are expressed through the larger structures of our society. How can those aggressions disappear without the simultaneous coextensive reform of our larger juridical, legal institutions, federal laws and policies that, at some level, endorse and approve those micro-aggressions? While it is important to note those micro-aggressions, I think, reform, redress, has to occur at the macro-level, with policies that address socio-economic, political change. Many people take their cues from the laws under which they live; if the laws reflect respect and dignity, then…

Knowledge is power, and is a powerful life-saver, for some of us…

“Knowledge Isn’t Power”… Paul Krugman; NY Times…

A Black or Latino parent would be insane to accept that assertion; because if so, they would be setting their children up for economic and political oppression, and perhaps even, prison and/or death. First, it is important to consider the source: Mr. Krugman to his credit, is a Noble laureate; B.S., M.S. Ph.D. economist; college professor; and NY Times columnist. Well, at first glance, it seems that knowledge didn’t hurt him that much! But now consider the confusing argument. Because some people cynically cast obtaining an education or knowledge in the role of the end all, and be all of acquiring political power, does not dismiss or diminish the power of education in the hands of the nations designated powerless class. There is also the confusing message of conflating the false concept of: American workers who need to be retrained so that they can be rehired (to those good middle class jobs?); with the terrible state of bad and inherently inadequate education that afflicts the poor, and the people of color in our nation. These are those who never had the first job to be under-skilled, out-skilled, out-sourced, out of, in the first place. The huge forgotten number of young Black and Latino males who are, and continue to be forever connected to the criminal justice system; or that Black and Latino teenager who either dropped out, or who received a 6th grade education masquerading as a high school graduation. Will a solid, standards based, meaningful and knowledge rich education propel these people into the captainships of American industry and politics, of course not. But these children (and later adults) can’t begin to think about political power, when they are daily facing a horrific and debilitating way of life. There is a terrible reality that the writer fails to acknowledge. The people with power design a system for their children, and the children who look like their children to have an excellent access to knowledge; that knowledge in turn prepares them to assume the positions of power. The Black, Brown and poor children however must fight their way through an obstacle course of 2nd rate powerless education; they in turn pass on this poor education (and designed to keep them poor) to their children, in the same way that it was passed on to them. The “power trick” here is that they never create enough academic-knowledge winners that would allow them to have a critical mass of critical thinkers, who could really challenge the power and economic structure of this nation.

The southern slave states legal prohibitions against the “book” education of slaves serves to describe education and knowledge, in its most fundamental motivational terms. Beyond the practical aspects of slaves being able to read maps, decipher written messages for: “white folks only”, or to circulate resistance and rebellion information amongst themselves. There was an even greater power in education and knowledge that the slavers feared; and that is when that slave learns to read, and is able to understand the world in an enlighten way, and maybe even read some incendiary documents like the Declaration of Independence; that slave would no longer be fit to be a good and trusted slave; there was always the possibility, that this knowledge would suggest a humanity, a feeling of equality, and most dangerously—a feeling of power.

Perhaps “knowledge is power” (like “no child left behind”) is for some a convenient throwaway line. But for the poor and disenfranchised of this nation (who don’t stand to inherit a billion dollars); education is neither a punch, nor a throwaway line; it is in fact, a very life line to our having a chance at something close to a decent and fundamentally humane life. Maybe, that is something some of our more educated citizens (including liberals), just might take for granted. As for this former Brooklyn kid who went on to become a NYC teacher, principal and Superintendent; education saved me from the negative power of the streets; and so I can’t see it in any way except as a transformational and powerful force. Education may not be the total power we want; but for the survival of Black and Latino kids; it sure is a powerful self-esteem and intellectual building force. And in many cases a possible lifesaving activity. And even if education does not get us the power we want right away, I think our children are better off with it, then without it.


I could see how for many students of color, it would be better off just staying home.

“The Rise of Homeschooling Among Black Families”… http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/02/the-rise-of-homeschooling-among-black-families/385543/

Of course one thought that might emerge: “With the millions of Black American children suffering, not learning and wasting away in our nation’s public school systems; will 220,000 children make a difference, is the effort worth it?

I once visited a poorly functioning high school and had a terrible thought; a thought, that fortunately I kept to myself. In this case I simply took the advice I have offered students for many years: “Just because an idea enters your brain, you do realize that you are under no obligation to express that idea.” For those reasons I never expressed my strategically held “secret” thoughts in my meeting with the school leadership team, after the tour. And so the thought I held secret was this: “Instruction is so poorly delivered and received in this high school, at what point do we stop calling: “not-a-school”, well, not a school?” Students when they did arrive to class, arrived late and disrupted any brave attempt a teacher might try to make at teaching a lesson.” Further, I said (again to myself): “so much of the time of the school’s poorly evidenced instructional and learning practice was lost over the course of a day; that I am not sure that if the students in this school would not do any worse (and might even do better); if they simply stayed home, watched Sesame Street, was given books, science kits and a computer?” “They could”, I mused, “possibly even learn something!” (I admit that was not a nice thought, but it accurately portrayed how I felt at the time!) That memory came to mind as I read this article on the Black Family Home schooling movement. I posted the article on Facebook and the following commentaries emerged:

Chryssey A. Schloss-Allen(CASA): Interesting. I’m sure many people in NYC want to do this especially with such competition and poor school choices left to the black community. Too bad you can’t open a small 3-student home school for people with standard work schedules.

MAJ.: After seeing (for so many years) the amount of harm visited on children of color in our public school systems; I have grown in appreciation of this movement. Even if the parents are “less than experts”, they can do a heck of a lot better than a lot of these schools. Particularly in that critical area of: high expectations. I say that even as I love the unrealized potential of public education; and knowing the pedagogical importance of socialization in the education of the child. Hey at this point, I say: save your children! I am going to do more in supporting these parents.

CASA: Maybe I’ll start a weekend science program in the nearer future. I know enough about basic biology and I can technically teach it up to a point. Most I’d need help with is physics and astronomy. I know where to get inexpensive microscopes and free samples and other kits. I have a telescope and I know people who can teach robotics/computer skills. I actually want more kids to be home schooled or at least have access to supplemental education. Low income does not equal mentally challenged.

Candace Howe: let me know if you need help in chemistry/anatomy & physiology.

CASA: Definitely!

This conversation made me think about something I have learned from my 30+ public education journey. That is, unless the parents and communities for whom the public school systems of this nation has, and continues to tragically fail their children, decide to take an uncompromising stand. The poor, missing, 2nd rate and inadequate educational experiences will continue. Waiting and expecting for help from Black leadership is, to borrow a line from Bob Marley, like: “waiting in vain.” In fact the most current and efficient deniers of a quality Black child educational experience, will more than likely be delivered from the hands of those who look like the children. Black parents may need to be the Black leadership that saves and protects Black children in this nation. This (public education) thing is like a war; complete with victors, losers, casualties and collectors of huge amounts of money despite the overwhelming amount of academic failure. And it is a war that must be fought on many fronts. But I feel that the first, and most important front is the child’s home; and however parents choose to fight on that “front”, I think it is a worthwhile effort. I was reminded of a recent post by Uche Blackstock where she was taking her child on a trip to the Brooklyn Museum. I responded: “Great Job! In terms of student academic achievement. The quality of “informal” educational experiences. are equally as important as the quality of “formal” education experiences.” My mother did not have the level of formal education achievement by the three young ladies I mention in this post; and yet her “mother wit”, combined with a clear understanding of why she left her native land in the Caribbean to come to America; told her to encourage and support my visits to that same Brooklyn Museum; the Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and the Brooklyn Zoo. All of these places planted a thought (that grew over the years); that there was a big and exciting world beyond my Brooklyn Crown Heights neighborhood; and most important, I wanted to learn about that world! We absolutely need parents with the skills to teach their own children at home. But all parents regardless of their level of education can choose to encourage and inspire their children, starting at home. One single child is important, because in my mothers case, the educational support of one child, led to the educational support of thousands of children she would never see; and who benefitted from her actions long after her death. Yes, saving even one child, or 220,000 children is very much worth it!

Americans of good will should spend President’s Day shopping…

It is perhaps not an accident that Black History Month and President’s Day meet each other in February. This then allows us to explore (and juxtapose to Black History) the centerpieces of the great historical presidency grandly displayed in the personalities, and national recognition of the lives of George Washington & Thomas Jefferson, our: Founding Slave-Holding Fathers! Pardon me if I am underwhelmed by these two gentlemen; and not particularly celebratory. I have read wonderfully written biographies of both men; and for sure they are important and pivotal American historical figures, but objects and models of honor, heroic? Sorry, but I would prefer one of those old fashion White anti-slavery abolitionist or Quakers! And if large sections of this nation can call themselves patriotic, and choose to honor American murderous traitors (let’s just call them what they really were) like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee; why can’t I as an American, exercise some authority over which historical figures I choose to honor?

And even in this month as I am reminded of the great triumphs and wonderful accomplishments that have been made by African-Americans in the face of great trials, denials and degradation. I seem to hear the voices of those on that bitter journey of no return. They are languishing and suffering in the bowels of those cursed slave ships. The White slavers blessed by a false worship of a god they themselves invented for their own evil purposes. The sacred cries of the captured for help, going up to a silent sky: “When will we ever live again, love again?” They are left then only to dream, and they are dreaming of a charge to me: “Do not let our suffering be silenced, do not be silent”. Meanwhile the slave shippers feel that their prayers have been answered “Surely”, they must have said; “We are blessed to have these people delivered into our complete power; to turn human beings into objects of wealth; to do whatever evil we choose to, and with them; to capture and sell them, work them without mercy for free, starve them, destroy their families, their personalities, personal futures, their very personhood, and ultimately destroy their very lives if we so choose”. I imagine that the sharks following the ships where in every way better than the enslavers; because they were at least driven by an animal instinct to survive. What was driving the motives of the white slavers?

And now on President’s Day we are asked to face Mt. Rushmore as we pray to the slave-holding fathers. “They were men of their times; you must put the whole thing into a historical context”, the grand excusers will say. But there were many white men (and women) of that time who were opponents of the system of slavery. “They were ‘kind’ masters”; some will say. But the only kind master were those who mastered their evil inclinations, to want to own another human being for purpose of exploitation, and therefore did not own slaves. How could these men not know that the Africans they held captive were not human; as one wore his slave’s teeth in his mouth; and the other had a slave women bare his children? No, Washington and Jefferson were evil hypocrites, historical context not withstanding; and they will never be objects of inspiration and admiration for me. To do so is to betray the tears and dreams of my ancestors. Americans of good will should spend President’s Day shopping… Shopping that is, for a new set of heroes.

Love has absolutely everything to do with it (and us)

“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

At the heart and art of love is compassion, service and ultimately sacrifice. There is not one day that love is not with us; or available to us; available to be given away by us. Now sacrifice is the least respected course of action in a society that demands that self-reward—self-gratification must serve as the highest value; and yet in some way it remains the most noble (albeit unbelievable) of all human actions. The model of course is the Cross:

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

But (and this is the hard part) the decision to save oneself; is the loss of other selves; the irony is that we cannot find our “selves”, unless we lose our selves to something greater than ourselves. Our selves will one day depart this existence; what then can we call our life, if it did not generate many good results for the world!

“The greatest happiness in life is in knowing that others love us, for ourselves, or rather, they love us in spite of ourselves.” –Victor Hugo

The great challenge is that we are called to love actual people; and therein lays the struggle; people (including us) are not always “lovable,” or even emotionally available to be loved; and yet they never cease to be worthy of love. If God loves humans; then why can’t we?

Selfishness is the mother of self-hurt that ultimately leads to the hurt of others. If we cannot cease to engage in self-hurt; than we cannot stop from hurting others; for their presence reminds our selfish-self of what is missing from inside of us; and brings up what we misunderstand as to what is really important outside of ourselves. If we really think about it our suffering is not caused by the other (no matter how badly they behave); rather they are acting as a mirror, reflecting everything we feel is missing from our lives.

The great lie that leads to despair and anger, is that we could possibly be “alone” on a planet that is home to billions of people, who are facing billions of challenges to becoming fully human. The only possible problem is that there is so much work to do, and too little of us.

Waiting on love, is like waiting for a bus that will never arrive; nor is love the destination that the bus promises to deliver us. Love is a good-friend, a God-Friend that never leaves us, or forsakes us; “in spite of ourselves”!

Notes on the Nightly Blues

“Nobody loves me but my mother
And she could be jivin’ too
Yes, nobody, nobody loves me but my mother
And she could be jivin’ too
Now you know why I act so funny with you, baby
When you do the things you do”

B. B. King understood that love could be conditional, and something you can’t always be sure of; a good lesson for all who are forced to sell themselves in the market place of contrived importance. And now, concerning the sad plight and downward flight of the NBC news anchor. It is the strange act of the news industry reporting on, but not really telling on itself. The truth is that the line between news-reporting and news-entertainment was crossed long before Mr. William’s tenure; and to be fair to him, he is (literally) the product, not the cause of the problem. The “news-reporting” industry creates its own false set of narratives like: “broken Washington”, “both the Republicans and the POTUS have a health care plan to critique”, and not calling the planed Netanyahu visit for what it really is; and then they repeatedly cover these stories to reinforce their own interpretations. I imagine that Boko Haram must be wondering: “What level of atrocities do we need to commit, to get serious international press attention”. It is as an insincere effort on the part of corporate journalism, as is their claim to: “journalistic objectivity”. The hypocrisy is the pretending that all of the nightly news programs are not all made up for entertainment purposes. (In my best Claude Rains voice) “I am shocked, just shocked that inauthentic news reporting is going on at NBC!” This world is a circus that is only waiting for the next trick; or the next accidental fall. They both draw an equal amount of applause. And then there are people like Marshawn Lynch and Kanye West who have figured that out; for they both are wise to the absurdity of this society, and play the game to their advantage. The “celebrity” who engages in quiet acts of kind and compassionate service, won’t come near the number of social media “hits” and news coverage they could acquire by doing something stupid, or acting “off the script”. The entertainment business has efficiently trained us the consumers to generously feed at the trough of the meaningless, irrational and silly story; but also important is the story of the famous brought down to share in the miserable existence of ordinary life. Ok, everyone (with an ordinary life) can feel better now. But unlike Mr. Williams the ordinary unemployed don’t have a huge fortune to carry them through a job lost. And there are a lot of people in this nation who are painfully struggling to live each year off of the $20,000 fine Mr. Lynch so casually “grabbed” from his NFL bosses. Act contrary, do the wrong thing, tell a half, or full lie; or don’t speak at all; it can all be made to work in America. Just as long as celebrities know that they are useful only as long as they are marketable; and then you are dumped for the next sellable product. The “counter-culture” is the center, and not counter to this financial culture. This market-driven society ultimately reduces anything worthwhile to “entertainment”; that is its strength, and that is also its sadness. If the culture-controllers were really serious about getting information to us, they would make Jon Stewart the NBC nightly news anchor; maybe then we could get some real news!