29 September 2007

"But It's 2007!"

It seems ignorant comments are not just confined to my son's history class.
(Read "Yes, Virginia, People Still Do Say That Shit", if you haven't yet.)

So this is a list of local situations that I've seen personally in 2007, in case anyone still is clinging to the notion that racism is over.

Male Offspring, while fully expected to excel at sports, did not receive the IB* application packet when the other kids did. This despite the fact that he took sophomore math and honors science in the 8th grade. Despite the fact that both sisters are/will be succesful IB diploma graduates.

(*IB = International Baccalaureate, an international honors program.)

No one could tell me why. Something in the IB coordinator's "Sorry about that, but the deadline has passed now ... he can try next year, though," gave me the feeling they just wanted me to quit asking.

Next year? Excuse me? He's supposed to jump into this program after missing the first year? And then you'll wonder why he's not successful? No. Fuck that. Fuck you. He earned his place same as those other kids, he's going in this year.

Thank goodness for his counselor. We got him in through the back door. He'll have his shot.

But I've learned that it is part of my privilege that I am listened to and often see results when I go to address an issue at the school, and even that I have that expectation. (Often there is visible relief when I show up to deal with a situation.  "Oh!  So ... YOU'RE Male Offspring's mother!  Okay!  Sooo nice to meet you!") Many, many parents of color I've spoken with do not experience the same results when they address things. In this case, the parents of color I talked with said they didn't even know about the IB application, let alone the deadline.  This says something about who receives information. And who doesn't. If it weren't for the fact that I'd already fought to get my girls into the program, I wouldn't have known that this opportunity existed for Male Offspring.

They are usually the only black students in their IB classes. And I had to fight for that.

There is an African American girl in Teen Demon's class who is the personification of school spirit. She is student body president, is involved in school clubs, and one of the few black kids in IB. Her grades started to slip; she was stretched too thin with all her activities. She was told to consider moving to regular classes. That's a message about the expectations for her.

Another girl, a white girl, actually wanted to drop IB. School was not her biggest priority, she wasn't involved in clubs, sports, or activities. She actively attempted to move to regular classes. Not only was she encouraged to stick with it, they did not allow her to drop out.  Let me say that again:  they did not allow her to drop out. She eventually did, but those adults had expectations of her; they fought for her, they encouraged her, despite the fact that she wasn't even interested in the program.

The first young lady was not encouraged. They did not fight for her. In fact, she was told maybe IB "wasn't the place for her," even though she had three years of that program under her belt, even though she contributes to the school in many ways. There were expectations for her as well.  Fortunately, she is not living down to those expectations.

Same school, same program, same teachers and administrators.  So even being class president isn't enough to overcome the disparity in treatment and in expectations here.  What the hell, people?

The Radical Bohemian somehow got marked in the school's records as "white". This means her grades - excellent - were being credited to the white category as far as school performance. This pissed us off, as she was one of only two black students in the IB program for her year, and now her performance was being credited as a white kid. I asked both the school and the district how that had happened.

Apparently, when we moved here, there was no provision for bi/multiracial students. You checked one box, and one only. So she didn't check any. (These days she just checks black) Well, it turns out that,

Caucasian is the default.

What? I'm sorry, did you actually just say "Caucasian is the default"? No shit, we knew that; I just didn't know it applied to my daughter's school records as well as to life in general. I was told by a different person:

Oh, she's such a good student. Since you didn't check a category, someone probably looked at her grades and her WASL scores, and made a judgement call.

Are you fucking kidding me? So ... let's see if I've got this straight:  good grades + good standardized test scores + IB program = Caucasian kid? I don't think so. Unconscious bias, anyone?

A Latina student was asked in Spanish class last week, where her family was from. She'd been taught her family history and Chicano history since she was a little girl. She is also shy, not one for speaking up. This though, was one area she knew, and she confidently told the teacher her grandparents were from the northern part of Mexico. The teacher looked at her name again and replied, smiling,

No -- Spain! Look at your name. Your family must be from Spain.

then she turned to the class and said,

Do you know why I say that? Because _________ is fair-skinned, and her last name is Spanish. Mexicans have the influence of the Indians, so many of them are dark-skinned.

All the kids in the class turned to look at this young lady. Surprise.

Are you kidding me? How arrogant. This teacher, who, by the way, speaks the most awful, gringoized Spanish I've ever heard, has the audacity to correct this child about where her family comes from, AND throw in some fucked up racist incorrect shit on top of it?

That young lady later said she felt stupid in front of her class. Like she didn't even know her own history. How do you undo that feeling?

My son has the same teacher. He says she has asked other students with last names like Garcia and Sanchez, why they are in her class. "Why don't you already speak Spanish?"  What?  Look, lady, do you speak Swedish?  No?  Why the hell not?  Explain yourself.

This is the most qualified individual the district could find to teach Spanish? You seriously expect me to believe there was not a more qualified native speaker who could teach Spanish? And you think there's not been a need for affirmative action?

In fact, I'd suggest that this one local situation is a great example of how our system has included automatic affirmative action for whites since before we even became a country. In addition to being ignorant about her field of study, this teacher (whom Teen Demon also had for two years) is not even an effective instructor in her field. But she's the one they hired, she's the one who gets to teach the Spanish language to kids in this school. Hello, people, the white kids lose out too, in situations like that. That means your kids too, they're getting fucked up, substandard information in classrooms like this, all across the country.

Is it any wonder US folks in general are abysmal at speaking other languages?

This same student, last spring, went on a field trip to the UW. Her mother put the trip together on her own, after finding out that the colleges only recruited from honors classes, and that a whole group of Latino kids had never been exposed to a college campus. The girl was fired up after the trip. This shy young lady got her nerve up and actually asked the school club administrator how to go about setting up a Latino Students Club. The advisor told her this:

I'm not sure that's such a good idea. It's not inclusive, you know? I mean, what if a white student wanted to start a white supremacist group here on campus? How would that make you feel?

Really? Are you fucking kidding me? An adult in this school actually compared a Latino Student Club to a white supremacist group. A hate group. What message does that send this student about the value of her culture? What does that say about the level of awareness we accept from the people in positions power? And why was this person permitted to take that action which is against the school handbook/policies on starting up student clubs? We can have a prayer group and a Young Republicans club, but not a Latino Club?

So between those two incidents with this particular student, what do you think the chances are that she, with her already shy personality, will take another chance on speaking up? What is the lasting impact on her? And without that club she wanted to start, what are the chances that she'll even find any support or understanding in the school?

(She did, eventually start the club. She had to fight for it, she had to bring in allies, but it's there now. It is very popular, and the young lady is coming into her own through the business of running it.  She's winning.)

An individual in a high position in my area took a group of her (white) staff to the Central District of Seattle in order for them to "learn what it's like to be a minority". I'm serious. So they trooped in for a meal, and now, apparently, they understand what it's like for, say, a student of color to be the only one sitting in a white classroom. Really. That hour is somehow equivalent to living a lifetime with a constant awareness of your environment behind the history of being black in this country? That must've been one hell of a meal.

Oh, and they also, apparently, have increased their cultural understanding with collard greens!

This was relayed to a group of black women and a Latino man in that well-intentioned way that suggests the person expects approval or even accolades for her actions. Or a cookie. The person relaying the story did not pick up on the reactions of the group. She truly thought she had done a good thing, and that she's ready for diversity work now.

More harm than good here, people.  This lady and her cohort may conclude that since they were fine on their dinner outing, a black kid in a white classroom should be similarly fine. If he's not fine, they may see it as his fault, because after all, they managed when they were the "minority". For an hour. They may be even less willing to listen to voices of people who do live this stuff every day, because now they "know from experience".


So now, how to deal with that person, and her staff, who are in positions to affect things for young people? Her good intentions have made the work even harder for those around her, and she has no idea.

So yeah. These are just a few of the things I've personally seen or heard about, the kinds of things still happening in 2007. These are the things that well-intentioned people say and do. It happens a lot.  This is just a sampling.

And it wears a kid down after a while.

26 September 2007

Yes, Virginia, People Do Still Say That Shit.

So here's what happened to my son in history class the other day. First off, preface this with the fact that my son is the only black student in all of his IB* classes -- a fact he noticed the first day of school.

(*IB is the International Baccalaureate program -- a worldwide honors program. The US is pretty new to it. The number of US schools offering it is limited, but growing. I chose this particular district specifically for IB, as it was the closest I could get to the education the kids had been getting in Hungary. Students of color are underrepresented in IB, African American kids in particular.)

Okay, so Male Offspring is taking Non-Western IB History this year. (the non-Western part is something, at least.) Last Thursday, the teacher is giving the lesson about how human life originated in Africa, the migration of the peoples, yada-yada. One young lady raises her hand and says it makes sense that life would've begun there, as it's

warmer there, and stuff can probably grow better than in a cold place.

OK, she's getting her reasoning skills on. She continues with,

Plus, black people have the really broad foreheads and noses. They look like monkeys, so it makes sense that they would've come first, since they're the ones closer to monkeys.

Oh, yes, she did.

And every child in that classroom turned to look at my son.

Because that's what happens when you are the only person of color in the classroom. At that moment, my son was not "Male Offspring", he was "the black kid in class".

My son could not tell me what the teacher said in response. He said he was shocked, everyone was staring at him. He said the teacher looked stunned and didn't really know what to do. She did say something to the girl, but he couldn't tell me what.

He said all he could hear was noise in his ears.


Now, I know there are a lot of folks living under the shiny illusion that this shit doesn't happen any more. People invariably respond with, "That's terrible! It's 2007!" Well, it happened in my kid's classroom last Thursday. If you're surprised by that, either your kid is white, or you don't live in this country.

I met with his teacher. Like you all didn't see that coming. A friend who works me in the parent group and who knows Male Offspring came with me.

We thought she was a student. No joke, people. This is her second year of teaching. She graduated from this very high school in 2001. She was like, soooo totally young! I had some assumptions and biases of my own, my first thought (besides "Holy shit, she's not a student?!) being "Oh, this little girl is not going to be able to handle this situation." I had to check myself, however, as we talked.

I had an idea about how to address what happened -- more about that in a minute -- but I wasn't sure how that was going to go. I can imagine if I were a teacher in her position, I might be nervous about meeting the parent. I might feel defensive or embarrassed. So I thought maybe she'd see any suggestions on my part as a judgement, as overstepping into her area.

She didn't.

I tried to get across how that felt for my son, the history behind that remark, the fact that he had no allies in that classroom who understood. Yes, other kids were shocked, thought it was wrong, but no one really understood. And no one spoke up.

I asked how she had initially responded to the young lady in question, and actually I think she did pretty well for being a new teacher caught off guard with such a loaded comment. Better than certain veteran teachers I know, that's for damn sure. Also, I should've said earlier that she did apologize to my son after class, and admitted to him that she hadn't quite known what to do.

I told her that SHE was my son's ally in that classroom, she has to be that for him, because every kid looked to her for direction on how that situation was going to go down. I told her I did not hold her accountable for what comes out of a student's mouth, but I do hold her accountable for addressing it. I fully expect her to have my son's back in that classroom.

I thought Miss Thang would get defensive or make excuses or gush about how she toootally understood. She didn't. Girl may be young, but she's sharp; I'll give her that. She looked me in the eye and said "Okay. That's my position, then." All right. She also said, "Obviously this student has missed some things we've been talking about in class. That says to me it's time to reteach."

It's time to reteach. Go on, girl.

I went into the meeting with 3 objectives:
1) I wanted the student to know her remark was inappropriate and hurtful, and I wanted her to get the correct information so she hopefully won't be spouting that shit again.
2) I wanted the other kids in the class to get the correct info, and to have an example of how to address comments like that.
3) Most important, I wanted my son to come away from this feeling empowered, not humiliated. I wanted him to know that he does not have to accept those statements, and I wanted his expectation to be that the adults in life will address that shit immediately.

Anyway, Miss Thang was on board with all of it, she wanted to learn how to be prepared for the next time. Which was a nice change. I told her my idea:

I wanted his class to see Race: the Power of an Illusion, a three-part PBS documentary.

Part I involves a high school science class in which the students do DNA swabs and blood pricks, then type their DNA. Before they get the results, they form hypotheses about whom they believe they'll be most closely linked to genetically.

Not surprisingly, they predict along racial/ethnic lines; the black kids believe they will be the closest, genetically speaking, to other black kids, the white kids predict they will be most like other Caucasian kids. Ditto for the Asian and Latino kids.

The results, of course, come back the opposite of what they'd thought: one African American young man finds he is genetically most similar to a blond, Russian classmate. A Caucasian student finds that in addition to having a 100% match with someone in the Balkans (which he expected, given his family history), he is also a 100% match for an African individual, which he did not expect. Another white student is most similar to an Asian girl in his class.

The film goes on to talk about race being a social construct, and the history behind that. It talks about the two migrations of people -- the first dying out, the second being modern humans. ALL of us. It covers how we all came about on the same timeline, that there are no separate species of humans, no lines from an earlier time, no group that is more/less advanced, and how any visual differences are a result of geographic adaptations after migration, not from genetic coding.

In other words, none of us are closer to monkeys than any of the rest of us.

Basically, it breaks it down in scientific terms that race has no biological basis; no gene, or group of genes, is common to a particular race. Race cannot be identified genetically. I was surprised to learn that there is twice the genetic variation between two penguins -- which, to my eye, look identical -- as there is between any two humans.

But ... past science did make a false connection between genes and race and intelligence, past science was used to purposefully construct the social aspects of race. In fact, the film covers how the Nazis actually had used US racial research to form their bullshit theories.

We all know how that turned out.

Here's the thing:

If a particular group of people can be shown, according to "scientific evidence", to be savage, to be less intelligent, less capable of self-governance -- closer to animals than your own group -- how much easier to justify taking their land and confining them to reservations? How much easier to rationalize enslaving those who are less than human? How much easier to convince ourselves that beating, lynching those who are "closer to monkeys" is necessary to keep them in line? That selling them as property is okay? How much easier is it to send those who are "inferior" to concentration camps? How much easier to justify Jim Crow laws, miscegenation laws, if some folks are shown to be closer to animals than others?

Pretty damned easy, according to history.

So the monkey comment, besides being incorrect and ignorant, has a whole shitload of history attached to it, even still, today. If you think the monkey comment was no big deal, that particular bit of history most likely does not apply to you and yours.

My son will remember that little girl opening her mouth and ignorance falling out, he will remember every eye in that room turning to him. He'll remember hearing nothing but white noise roaring in his ears while the teacher struggled to address it, struggled to find something to say to this girl.

Something that wouldn't humiliate her too much.

He will remember that time in 9th grade history class when his classmate said black people look like monkeys. He'll remember how that felt. And he will be fully aware of the history behind that belief, enabling it to still be voiced in 2007.  He will also remember he has a voice.

Afterward: (ha, look at me trying to play author and shit.)Miss Thang showed the film to all her classes. She had the kids write their ideas of race before the film. Afterwards they wrote how the film did or did not affect their views. She said it went well, that she was encouraged by some of the kids' papers.

She said she'd like to incorporate that film into her classes every year. She's going to bring it up to the science teachers, and try to put something together with them for later in the year.

And for the record, no, that is not the usual response.

I was impressed with Miss Thang, and yes, I checked myself on my own assumptions that I'd formed upon seeing her bouncy blonde ponytail and wide-eyed. perky smile. I learned a lesson too.

So, my son will not forget this experience, it will leave its mark; but he will also remember that the adults in his life dealt with that shit, and he'll be more prepared next time. He'll remember that his class learned that shit is not okay and not correct. And hopefully, he'll remember that a little change was made in his school as a result of addressing that ignorant remark.

19 September 2007

In Which My Pants Go Marching Marching

See the radical protester in camo fatigues, holding back the media with her awesomeness and blinding attire? That would be my kid.
There's more.

My pants were at the March on Washington. As in my soldier girl pants. My former BDUs. (that's Battle Dress Uniform in civilian lingo.) From when I wore combat boots for a living. That's them, there on the right.

The boots in the picture, though, are all hers.

I'm so proud. Not only was my daughter an organizer in the March, she donned her mother's old army pants to do so. There's a certain irony there. A certain je ne sais quoi. Oh wait, yes I do: a certain Fuck You, Georgie, and fuck your war. Here's one former soldier whose ass you didn't get to control.

And whose ass no longer fits in those pants, which is why the Radical Bohemian is in currently in possession of them. Yeah, I really hate that part. That part pretty much pisses me off. Almost enough to make me get up and exercise.

Anyway, my teenager is fortunate enough to be wearing those BDUs to march on Washington, rather than wearing them to march through Fallujah or Baghdad. I've been thinking more than usual about the mothers whose kids are wearing desert fatigues lately.

Good job, baby, you rock.

(Why yes, as a matter of fact, I am posting about the March and my daughter ad nauseaum. My blog, my kid, important event that BushCo. wants to stifle. Whatever.)

17 September 2007

The Radical Bohemian in the News

I got an email from the Radical Bohemian this morning informing me that she has been photographically featured in the Washington Post online. (much thanks to Sling for sending me the screenshot -- I owe you a shot.) The media, as I've been bitching about, threw a few bones out here and there, but pretty much it was slim pickins as far as coverage of the ANSWER Coalition's March on Washington. If, however, you wanted to know what OJ was up to this weekend, no problem there.

Guess our Commandant in Chief would rather that We the Sheeple don't know how strong the anti-war sentiment really is. Better to keep us all docile and happy and thinking about Britney's custody case.

According to this photo series, "dozens" of protesters were arrested. Okay, if you want to call 196 "dozens", technically you're not wrong, but when I hear "dozens", I tend to think of a number more like 36 or 48. But that's just me.

Anyway, she is picture #7 in this series of pics. She says they were shouting "shame" at the time it was taken. She says there is another picture out there somewhere of her holding back the media from the caution tape line. I guess she told one guy, "I don't care if you're CNN, that doesn't mean you can cross our line!"

Anyway, that's my daughter, in the blindingly lemon yellow ANSWER shirt and security vest, with the hat and braids. Go baby.


Oh, and the police took her bike, Spirit the Unicorn. She thinks. She and some of the other protesters left their bikes chained up -- in a bike rack -- near the starting point of the march, as it's not so effective to wheel your bike along on a march. And riding in a march, well, that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

Anyway, the Officer Smirks-a-lot told her, "We took a lot of bikes that weren't supposed to be there. Did you have it registered?" (she didn't, it was fairly new) "Oh, well, in that case, you know, we give a lot of bikes away to kids."

Already? In the middle of the night on Saturday when you were busy dealing with all those folks you arrested? In other words, damn lefty, stirring up our weekend, that's what you get.

She was told she could not file a report of theft until she checked with the police holding area on Monday. He did not seem hopeful that Spirit the Unicorn would be there.