Black folks please be careful of both the Covid-19 virus and the viral disease of racism…

OK, I have now been made aware of three situations (I know the individuals personally) where three highly educated, smart and articulate African-American men (one a PhD. who reviewed my book) who have entered a commercial establishment correctly wearing a Covid-19 facial protection mask, only to have the store employees and/or a fellow white customer assume that these individuals were there for the purposes of committing a crime. Fortunately, none of these scenarios ended tragically. I suspect that there are other instances in the nation of which I am unaware.

Look, I know that many of you have received, and in some cases adopted the US ‘post(Obama)racial’ story-line. But I am going to give you the same old-fashion Black elders advice I received as a youngster. This is the cautionary instructional lesson that I ‘upgraded’, rephrased; and then gave to all of my Black (and Latino) students over the years; even when they did not want to hear it.

To be honest, I hated as a child every time a family member, neighborhood or a church elder told me that: “Because you are a Negro (or Black), you must work twice as hard as a white person, because of prejudice!” I felt that those conditions were extremely unfair; and since I spent most of my childhood school days at the top of my classes, and ended up being placed in gifted and talented programs; I felt that I was already, “smarter” then most of my white student peers, without having to work too much harder. In fact, I spent many countless days/hours in the Brooklyn Public Library, The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and The Brooklyn Museum, reading books at home; essentially competing against myself (not white kids) in acquiring vast amounts of knowledge. But back then (1950’s) you had to actually listen to adults and could not argue back. But, over the years I have come to be less critical of and more appreciative of the elders of my youth.
Their approach probably did not meet my pedagogical standards for teaching a lesson. But they were doing the best they knew how in trying to protect us from the horrible reality of the societal and US cultural wide practices of discrimination, low expectations (still very much in play in our public schools today) and biased negative perceptions.
The elders of my young days did the best that they knew how to do; and their wise observation and assessment of the true identity of America was correct then, and it is with some small modifications, for the most part still true today.

We should not get it twisted, or confused; whether you like it or not; living in a nation that is built on, thrives in, and is powered by racism and bigotry, your Blackness is your ultimate existential reality. For over forty years I have pushed and supported young people by way of education, to realize their highest aspirational career dreams. There is no record of me ever encouraging a young person to work below their potential; and in fact taking that position has caused me a great deal of personal, financial and professional pain. But let’s be clear, it does not matter if you are a MD, PhD, Ed.D., JD, DD or no D; rest assure at some point, in small or large aggressive ways, you will over and over again encounter the ‘black group treatment’ of prejudice and discrimination. And please note, that many of the pathological racially damaged black persons in our nation, could also be the very individuals who will inflict this racial prejudice mistreatment on you.

I am proud to have served as a public school principal and superintendent; but I can also say that not one day ended without someone, a parent, public or district official, one of my peers or even the people I supervised; failing to remind me that they saw me as no different from any Black person who was at the bottom of the school or district staffing chart.

Two of my best friends are highly accomplished Black physicians; and they both have numerous stories of being on the receiving end of racial aggressive actions, including from white doctors they were training! One, a trauma surgeon was told by a white patient arriving to the trauma center after a car accident: “Can I get a real doctor?” (I told him that he was a better person then I, because I would have said: “Sure, in fact he stared in a James Bond movie and his name is Dr. No-doctor!”)

Every prominent Black American thinker, artist and educator (W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Lorraine Monroe, Ralph Ellison, Asa Hilliard, to name a few) has made this point: That against our will, and not requiring our consent, awareness or agreement, we Black people are forced, by virtue of our US residency to live in two separate and unequal political world realities. And any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of this edict, will always lead to loss, pain, suffering and perhaps even death.

Remember, that the poor national government response to the coronavirus is very much in part due to the large numbers of white Americans who wanted (and still want according to polls) a president who is clearly unfit and incompetent; but who would work hard to make bigotry and prejudice great again.

Referees warn boxers before a fight: “Protect yourself at all times!” And so, despite the bad ‘medical advice’ being provided by “science experts” on social media platforms, Black people are not immune to coronavirus.
We must at all times, in the best ways that we can (e.g. staying home!) protect ourselves and others from this dreaded disease. But at the same time we must be of ‘two-minds’ and be proactively and protectively aware of that other American chronic and untreated deadly viral disease of racism, for which no vaccine has ever been employed.

Warning: Principal Burnout Danger From the Los Angeles Unified School District Teacher’s Strike.

One story not being widely reported is the heroic and champion actions performed by Principals, AP’s and other school administrators during the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) teacher’s strike. Imagine performing two very difficult jobs at the same time, teaching and managing a school! And although their efforts are ‘superhuman’, they are in fact very human and thus in danger of coming out of this conflict (that will eventually end) emotionally and physically exhausted. This could spell possible ‘burnout’ danger as the school year progresses. It is extremely hard to serve in a school administrators role in ‘normal’ school times; particularly in those (Title 1) schools where the majority of the children are poor and in need of every ounce of your psychic and physical energy. Principals can regularly feel overwhelmed, exhausted and unsupported even in non-strike times, and so in the present strike conditions in LAUSD…

But I can appreciate that these ethical school leaders understand why they must ‘stand in the gap’ and keep schools open. Putting some kids ‘in the streets’ unsupervised could create a series of serious life-long problematic situations (e.g. an arrest, pregnancy, house fire, etc.), or could even mean a death sentence. When parents are ‘living in and/or on the edge of poverty’, taking off from work to do childcare is not an option. Also, many of these children desperately need the daily meals and the orderly and stable environments their schools provide. Parents with the financial resources can provide safe out of school ‘substitute learning experiences’ for their children during the strike; and so, we see another harmful (for some students) emergence of the ‘opportunity gap’ in public education. We know that most poor parents won’t have this option, which is why student-attendance is so high in the poorest strike afflicted LAUSD schools.

Too many school districts in this nation cynically take advantage of the good will and professional commitment of school-based administrators; and I don’t think that will end this year. But I would hope that the California Governor, State Legislators, City of Los Angeles, and the LAUSD school board could come up with a one-time financial grant-award to all LAUSD school administrators that would hopefully be substantial enough to allow them to take a nice rest and recuperation travel-vacation break when schools go into their calendar closings. That financial-gift plus ‘over-time’ pay could at least help to keep these wonderful educators from burning out before the end of the school year. It would also be a really wonderful gift-that-kept-on-giving if some of the things the striking teachers are asking for (e.g. adequate social-guidance-counseling services and expanded health care resources) could also be awarded to these brave administrator’s schools!

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He writes a bi-weekly column: “On Education” for Brooklyn’s: Our Time Press. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/