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.


  1. I am shaking my head, feeling the truth of your words. I can only hope that I can raise my kids to be truly open-hearted. It is going to be hard though, because all the news shows is black folks making bad choices,a white person has to screw up pretty bad to make the news, black folks, not so much.

  2. I would like to go up to each of those individuals and slap them upside the head; maybe knock a little sense into them....urgh.

    I had a college professor insisting that I must be 3rd or 4th generation because a)I did not speak with an accent, b)I was not "dark" enough, and c)My first name is not Maria. Until I got so pissed off at her that I started swearing, yes, at a college professor, in Spanish as to what the chosen profession of her mother must be, did she realize that maybe she had erred a bit on the generalizations she relied on. The class, you see, was intended for immigrants/1st generation of immigrants. She allowed me in the class, though I don't think she ever apologized, now that I think about it, maybe she was waiting for me to apologize to her.

    When I hear about this kind of stuff happening, especially to kids, my blood boils. We raise kids to defer to the adults and not get into trouble for, say, defending themselves or proving an adult/teacher wrong, and they get slammed and urgh again, what lessons are they learning?!? It's like that whole, "No good deed goes unpunished," deal.

  3. Aaaargh! Make it stop! I want to get on a plane and just go to your school and bitch slap these people. There are just not enough swear words in the English language.

    I have to go now. I am so seriously loosing my shit. I'll try and comment more later when I can type without recourse to the top row of keys.

  4. Welcome to the twenty-first century. Please fasten your seatbelts.

    Seriously, though - we've talked about this before - the fact that it's 2007 doesn't make a lick of difference in this place, hmm? I hardly know why people even say it. As if it were RELEVANT.

  5. I am Italian, my children...all 3 of them...have Mexican American fathers. I need to say their fathers were assholes in general and their ethnicity has nothing to do with that....My kids were raised in a mixed environment and thankfully they never had to suffer what the world gives children today. I can't imagine having to go thru what you are. I would probably have to do something that would land me in prison as opposed to just jail in order to make it right. My son married a Japanese girl...so far my granddaughter Sachiko has only been asked about her "weird" name and she is sassy enough to have told the kid he was the weird one. She is 5.

  6. Kamrin: yes, I think the media plays a part, and the thing is that white people do make the news in negative ways, but they are seen as bad individuals, so it doesn't have the result of reflecting on white people as a whole.

    TW: Good on you - I'd have loved for the young lady I mentioned to be able to see that. As for your comment on teaching the kids to defer to adults, be respectful, etc -- I have started to actively teach my son that if he is called to the office or disciplined, call me -- before he hit puberty, his attitude was "please, I already got in trouble once, I'm not telling my mom too!" But the past year or two, he unfortunately has learned that things are not always equal. Sometimes it's normal kid stuff, but other times ... there's something else at play. Now he calls.

    Evil-G: Yeah, it makes me mad. But if I go off on them, then I play into those stereotypes of how "those families" are, not to mention it only reinforces ignorant people's beliefs. So I have to be strategic, and do the diplomatic "see how reasonable I am, please work with me" through gritted teeth.

    WM: Szia! Exactly.

    Rosemary: the thing is, my kids (so far) have been at the easier end of the spectrum. Compared so some situations that are going on right now to some of my friends' and colleagues' kids, this is easy stuff. Like the thing in my son's class? Yes, it happened, yes he was the only one in there, but guess what, he's IN those IB classes. Largely because his mom knows how to work the system, has the resources and language skills to do so, and because it has been my experience and expectation the school WILL hear me and WILL take me seriously. What about the parents who don't have those things? I'd be foolish to think that my being white has not played a part in my kids' experiences (both advantages and disadvantages, but that's another post). What my friends kids/families are going through ... much worse than my stuff. Much worse. That says something, too.

    Good to hear your grandbaby is strong and sassy -- she'll need it.

  7. Cowbell honey, you need to hold my purse while I mess those people up. Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

  8. this entire post is reminiscent of my first year of high school. "your last name is french... huh?"

    "monica, how would you pronounce the word on the board... no, how would you REALLY pronounce it?" that was was in honors english, during a section on dialect.

    "we believe your behavior problems are a result of your honors classes being too difficult." i got As very easliy but was "bad" because I was in a catholic girls school full of intellectually inferior racists. i fucked with them because it was fun and i COULD... not because my easy fucking classes were hard.

    oh man, in 2nd grade we had a teacher who actually instructed kids to "turn and look" at students who were about to be singled out on some old uncomfortable shit. OK, I have at this moment decided to make a seperate blog about some of this shit. I have way too much to say.

    until tomorrow.

  9. I saw that news story about Bill O'Reilly's enlightened restaurant review. Yeah, WTF, indeed? He should be hanging out at the unemployment office with Imus, don't you think?

    As far as High School teachers go, they can be just as ignorant as the next guy.

    Hope your pants made it back home OK...

  10. wonderful post...again....

  11. Red: If I could find someone to pay me to do it -- with health/retirement, I'd be on it in a minute.

    RG: After reading what you did to those homophobe dudes, I'd love to hold your purse. And step well back.

    Monica: Yes! See? People believe it's rare, or that they're "isolated incidents", but you talk to any person of color, and this shit comes up. And most folks have lots of stories, not just one or two.

    I hope you do write about it, I'd love to hear about your experiences.

    That thing your English teacher said, on the dialect thing? AAGH!

    Craig: The thing is, Bill can spout things that are so ignorant it's laughable ... except that there people out there who actually see sense in his insanity.

    Mouse: Thanks!

  12. Cowbell: Seriously? Get hooked into some Organization Development people in the greater Seattle area and get a little advice on how to market yourself. It can be done, and once you've got a steady client base with good word of mouth, you'll be making enough to pay for a health plan and sock 10% into a non-taxable IRA for your later life. Seriously. You would ROCK at this. If I ever do get my ass to Seattle, the two of us are going into business together.


I've got a fever ...