Tag Archives: white privilege

Culturally incompetent cultural competence trainings

6 Oct

I recently had an insightful conversation with a coworker and mentor who has deep roots in communities of color in Seattle. We were discussing cultural competency and how a lot of trainings around that focus on formalized social service techniques and objectified cultural knowledge, rather than informal relationship building, caring, and networking.

This implicitly downgrades the importance of the already existing informal networks among communities of color. It downgrades the agency people have to produce and reproduce culture and resilience in the first place, e.g. the ways in which my coworkers of color know our students’ grandparents, aunties, friends, etc., which builds trust between us and our students.

Instead of teaching people how to honor these relational networks and how to earn a place within them through showing respect, many cultural competency trainings focus on teaching white people objectified sociological knowledge about communities of color; they impart this to white people through a kind of banking-model pedagogy that encourages white people to treat everyone else like characters out of a sociology textbook, as if people of color only exist as the opposite of white privilege. A certain social and emotional distance is maintained.

This results in white people who are hypervigilant about their privilege and are versed in calculating techniques of social interaction with people of color, but don’t know how to actually build mutually caring relationships that could challenge that privilege.

As Andrea Smith talked about, this also ends up reinforcing the white colonial subjectivity, the anthropological mind. People with this mindset are self-critical and self-reflexive, but from a distance. They continue to use people of color as mediums for their own self-reflection, as if people of color exist only to help white professionals check their privilege and overcome their biases.

As a result, cultural competency training never gets to a decolonial process of creating knowledge and selfhood together, through collective power and love.

It also implicitly assumes that people of color cannot overcome their own biases, and that the informal relationships among them are possible sources of corruption or inappropriately emotional connection. It values abstracted, reified, homogenous, and unchanging “cultures” rather than the millions of different ways in which people constantly change their cultures through relating to each other in creative ways.

In this sense, many of the methods through which cultural competency is taught are themselves Eurocentric and culturally incompetent.

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Why we should all support Africatown right now – Rally and Press Conf. Sat

1 Nov

Below is a call to action from the More4Mann coalition regarding the future of the Horace Mann school building, and the future of Black youth across our city.  There is a rally and press conference at 2 PM at Mann, 24th and Cherry  in Seattle.

Whether or not you agree with the tactics  and rhetoric of  More4Mann and the Africatown Innovation Center they are building , you have to admit they have created a situation where the severe obstacles facing Black youth can no longer be hidden behind school district smokescreens.  They have refused to leave the Mann building until the  District takes these issues seriously, and partners with them to actually do something about it.  This is a historic opportunity to start head-on confronting the institutional racism that our passive aggressive middle class politicians want us to ignore.

Needless to say, every powerful act of Black liberation in the US tends to create a backlash from people who are scared to do what it takes to dismantle white supremacy, and are even more scared of the  new world that young black geniuses might build if they’re armed with a powerful education.  

More4Mann_banner3

There has been a media backlash this week against the More4Mann movement.   I’m worried that it might be part of certain faction’s efforts to sabotage the Africatown programs and to force Supt. Banda to back down from the public comittments he has made to partnering with the More4Mann movement.  Banda had said publicly, on record, that he would  allow the Africatown Innovation Center to rent space in another district building during construction at Mann, and to return to the Mann building in the fall.  We need to hold him to this promise, because the district has not yet committed to it in writing. 

  We encourage everyone to engage in the debates and to write comments on these articles: 

Even more importantly, everyone in the city who cares about fighting racism in the schools, and anyone who cares about Black youth should come out to the press conference on Sat at 2 PM.   This is  bigger than simply a local struggle in the C.D.   It is a growing, broad-based, city-wide, multi-communal movement with leadership from accomplished educators and activists of African descent.   

I went to the Black Education Summit held at the Mann building on Oct 5th, and I was totally energized and inspired to hear the presentations of educators like  Dr. Joye Hardiman, Marcia Tate Arunga, and Dr. Debra Sullivan.  As a teacher who works in the ‘hood, I’ve sat through hours of boring, useless, naive, and dishonest professional development trainings on race and diversity. All of them talk about race very narrowly in terms of multiculturalism and awareness of white privilege.   This may be better than nothing,  but they fail to recgonize the need to decolonize our entire curriculum, to change every aspect of the learning culture and institutional structure of our schools in order to meet the needs and desires of students of African descent.

None of those trainings have really illuminated  the cultural assets and intellectual strengths that  students of African descent bring to the classroom.  None of them have really helped me relate better to my students.  None of them have affirmed my love for my students, or my efforts to be a part of their community, on their terms, in ways that can help them see their own potential, their own futures, not some  teach-for-america-white-guilt-freedom-writers-I’m-gonna-save-the-poor-black-kids bullshit.

I knew Africatown was the real deal the minute I heard highly experienced Black educators speak about things I’ve experienced in the classroom and have never head any teacher,  from any racial background, talk about.  Like the fact that students need to see us teachers as whole, three dimensional people, not simply as distant, flat authority figures who fill bureaucratic roles.  Many Black students want to pose and answer high-level critical questions and want to co-create knowledge with their teachers.   They love to play with langauge and to create rich, literary narrations of every aspect of life, including informal interactions.  They are bored answering questions if they think their teachers already know the answers to these questions and  are not telling them.

I had learned some of these  things from my students, my friends, my mentor teachers, and my coworkers.  But I was constantly looking over my shoulder, doubting this knowledge, thinking maybe I was being “unprofessional” for teaching this way.  These aspects of my teaching seem to work for my students,  but I’ve been worried some district official will walk into the room and censure me.  It was incredibly empowering to hear accomplished educators with years of teaching and research experience affirm that yes, this is how we should teach.  It made me want to put every ounce of energy I have into teaching and learning with my students.  

Imagine if every teacher in the district could experience that?  Imagine if the Africatown educators set up a thriving pilot program at Mann.  Imagine if they research and analyze their own practices over time.  Imagine if they offer professional development to teachers in other schools based on their findings, so that we can replicate their successes in our classrooms?  

Despite what the critics are saying, the Africatown educators are not being racist when they say that Black students learn differently.  They are  simply pointing out a fact you will NOT learn in a 28 day Black history month unit that spends the first two weeks on slavery.  That fact is this: the  Black community has not only experienced oppression and victimization but also resistance, creation, and cultural brilliance.  The community has struggled hard to maintain and grow aspects of what several of the Africatown educators call an “African centered epistemology” – the belief that human beings are inter-related and we can only  know ourselves and grow ourselves through each other.  This is such a powerful antidote to all of the individualism, competition, standardization, and bureaucratic boredom of capitalist education that we’ve been railing against on this blog.  It is a unique  cultural expression of the idea of “from each according to ability, to each according to need” that many of us are fighting for in all aspects of our lives.

In other words, I think that an African-centered learning process is not only different from what other district schools have to offer.  It is better.  Students of all races could benefit from learning this way.  The haters should step out of the way and the district should partner with More4Mann and allow them to work with teachers across the district to make this happen.

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We are hosting a Press Conference this Saturday, November 2nd at the Horace Mann Center (24th and Cherry).

MORE 4 MANN

THE POWER OF WE!

The community mobilization around the Africatown Center for Education and Innovation at Horace Mann has reached a critical moment, and we need all hands on deck.  Many of you are also working on developing an African-American education agenda for Seattle Schools and we invite you to join us this weekend.  Let’s unify, and shift the paradigm for our youth.

We intend to announce the positive educational outcomes and programs we plan on developing for our youth in the community; and announce our forthcoming partnership with Seattle Public Schools. Come and learn about many of the successful programs created and organized by parents and community members.

We need every parent, child, youth, and community member that is able to attend in support.  We want to present a unified community and message to the media.  We are taking responsibility for the education of our children and providing the district an opportunity to rectify past inequities and ineffective methods to educate our children.

We will no longer accept and allow sub-standard resources, results, programs and policies directed to our young geniuses.  The 2012 Seattle Public Schools Data for African-American Students highlights the crisis-

  • Only 48.5% of African-American 10th graders met or exceeded standard for Algebra
  • Only 29.1% of African-American 10th graders met or exceeded standard for Biology
  • 26.9% rate for short-term suspensions for African-American middle schoolers (highest number in the district)

We will no longer accept these types of results.  We have amazing parents, students, activists, educators and leaders in our community.  We have resources, and we have the solutions.  We will only accept a narrative that begins to aim for 100% graduation, 100% African and African-American students ready for college AND career, and 100% of our students matriculating to post-secondary options with a network of mentors, and a strong positive identity in-tact.

Join us Saturday. Facebook the event. Invite a friend. Bring your children.

  • If you only have only 1 hour in the day- I’ll see you at the Press Conference at 2 pm.
  • If you have an extra hour- arrive at 1pm and join us for a meal beforehand.

The paradigm has shifted, and we’re not turning back.

See you Saturday!

Response to the debate about the ACIC on Save Seattle Schools blog

8 Sep

I wrote the following piece as a comment to contribute to the vigorous debate going on over at Save Seattle Schools about the Africatown Community Innovation Center (ACIC).  For background about the ACIC, see here and here.  The moderator of the Save Seattle Schools blog closed down comments and ended the discussion, so I could not post this there, and I’m posting it here instead. 

I am a young teacher with five years experience working with youth on the verge of dropping out.  Almost all of my students have been low income, and the majority are not white.

I agree with a few points folks have raised in this discussion:

  1. It’s unacceptable that the district does not have a plan for overcoming the so-called “achievement gap” (I agree with  Wyking, this is not an achievement gap, it is really a form of institutional racism).
  2.   I also agree that the so-called “education reform” groups funded by  corporate folks like Gates have NOT improved the situation for Black students, despite all of their opportunistic use of anti-racist rhetoric.

However, I also have several critical questions and points:

Melissa and others who have described yourselves as long-time activists in the district: where is your plan for overcoming racism in our schools?  You have been at it for 10 years – in that time, what have you done to dismantle institutional racism?

Change comes from the bottom up, not the top down; instead of waiting for a plan from the district, we should form one ourselves, and implement it through direct action; if the district wants to support us, that’s great; if not, we should do it despite their opposition.  Right now, the ACIC seems to be one of the only groupings independent of the corporate ed. reform groups that is trying to do that.  If I’m wrong and if some of you have other projects you are working on, please share these.

I’m impressed and inspired by how the ACIC folks have taken matters into their own hands, and I hope their actions start a larger and longer process of grassroots organizing district-wide.

Several commenters are saying we should not support the ACIC because it won’t solve the district-wide problems of racial inequality.  But it’s unfair to expect one program to do that. I see the ACIC as one part of a possible solution.  If you think it’s not enough, why not support it and then do whatever other things you think are missing yourself?  I agree with Wyking’s point at the school board meeting: the ACIC could serve as a “triage unit” for Black students while we all work together to stop the situations in schools across the district that are injuring Black students in the first place.

I am frustrated to see some of the knee-jerk “progressive” responses to ACIC – folks suggesting they are pro-charter, privatizers, ed-reformers, etc., or the suggestion that we should avoid these tensions and just go camp out on the Gates’ lawn because fighting the corporate education reformers is the “real” issue.

I am firmly opposed to corporate ed reform, but that is not the only struggle going on, and some of you are missing the forrest because you’re stuck in the trees.  You are stuck in this siege mentality of defending public education, but you’re forgetting about the need to transform it so that there is something worth defending in the first place.  To do that, we need to confront the racial inequalities – and other inequalities – that the public schools perpetuate.   The ACIC issue brings this to the forefront, and it seems like some of you are  trying to dismiss it or fit it into pre-conceived strategies of building progressive unity vs. the privatizers.  It’s not that simple.

In fact, I would suggest that if we want to win against the corporate education deformers, then we need to focus on organizing against institutionalized racism in our schools.   If we don’t do that, corporate funded groups will try to use the horrible situations that Black students face in our schools to justify anti-teacher policies, privatization, charters, etc.

The ACIC folks have made it clear they want to maintain their autonomy from such forces.  They have made it clear they are seeking autonomy to develop culturally relevant and effective curriculum for Black youth, while allying with forces across the city who are sincerely trying to transform the district schools.   How can that be anything other than a positive development?  If such an alliance fails to materialize, that will not be a failure of the ACIC leadership, it will be a failure of the largely white progressive education activists for lacking a broad enough vision of what is possible and necessary.

Finally, a quick point about race and class.  It’s not a matter of one or the other.  The district is failing nonwhite youth, and is failing low income youth.  These issues are closely related.  Because of 500+ years of institutionalized racism, a higher percentage of non-white communities are pushed into poverty than white communities.  However, in terms of absolute numbers, the majority of poor folks  in the U.S. are white, and they are also being oppressed, failed, and underserved by the public schools. I see this working with youth who are on the verge of dropping it out – some of the white youth also don’t have it easy.  But because working class and poor Black students in general are treated even worse, the system is able to dampen possible resistance from white youth and their families – people think “well, it could be worse” instead of “this is messed up, let’s fight back.”

In other words, those of you who said it’s not a zero sum game are correct, but in a different way than you originally meant.  If the ACIC and other attempts to improve the situations of Black students are successful, this is a good thing, not only for Black students but also for working class white students.  In fact, I hope that working class white parents are inspired by what parents at the ACIC are doing, and choose to take a stance like that for our own kids, in solidarity with Black parents at the ACIC.

Flyer To the Nova Community About the Mann Building

7 Sep

At the last school board meeting, and NOVA parent and contributor to this blog read this open letter to the NOVA community regarding the current debate over the use of the Horace Mann building in the Central District.  We also passed out the flyer below, which summarizes the points in his letter, and folks are also sharing these with the NOVA community.   If you know anyone who studies or teaches at NOVA, or parents who have students there, we encourage you to share this with them.

Why Nova Should Support the ACIC  pdf

Flyer for the NOVA community; summary of an open letter by a NOVA parent

Flyer for the NOVA community; summary of an open letter by a NOVA parent

Trayvon Martin and the Badass Teachers Association

22 Jul

I recently joined the Badass Teachers Association.  The BAT Facebook forum exploded rapidly over the past few weeks, drawing together thousands of teachers who want to fight back against the corporate education “reformers”.  These politicians and think tanks, who should be called “deformers”,  are setting us up to fail by imposing new centralized standards while  at the same time cutting crucial resources we need to teach.   I’m happy to see that teachers are tired of this, and that we are starting to organize ourselves to fight back.  I’m happy to see we’re done playing the role of passive, obedient professionals, and instead we’re ready to act like badass workers.  This puts us in good company:  it puts us on the side of badass truckers, longshore, warehouse, and fast food workers who have been fighting back recently.

Badass longshore workers face down EGT, a company pushing for corporate waterfront reform (aka unsafe working conditions, and more corporate control of workers on the job)

Badass longshore workers face down EGT, a company pushing for “corporate waterfront reform” (aka unsafe working conditions, and more corporate control of workers on the job)

However, to build a movement of badass teachers,  we will need to break through the wall that has held back so many  labor movements in the past: the wall of institutionalized racism, or systemic white supremacy.  White supremacy  divides working class people, giving some of us unearned advantages over others, and making some of us complicit in the oppression of others.  This weakens the overall struggle of the working class for freedom and creativity.  Instead of fighting back against the capitalist system that is controlling us, white supremacy prompts us to go home at the end of the workday thinking “at least I’m not Black” (or Latino, or Native, or…. )

White supremacy can only be broken down through action.  When a mostly white jury found George Zimmerman not guilty for the murder of  Black teenager Trayvon Martin, thousands of people took to the streets.   Imagine what it would be like if workers built off of this energy by  shutting down business as usual, saying “if you are going to kill our youth, we will refuse to work”.   This is how the West Coast prisoners have responded to  injustice; why can’t we do the same?  Of course, a strike action would take serious coordination and organization, and I hope that networks like the Badass Teachers Association can start laying the groundwork for that within our schools.

However, judging from the Facebook debates, not all of the Badass Teachers are on the same page about the need for this kind of solidarity.  Some suggested that talking about race, rather than racism itself, is the source of the divisions among us.

The whole discussion about Trayvon had started because some  teachers were posting heartfelt questions about how they could help their students process these traumatic and racially charged  current events in the classroom.  Others were emphasizing that many of their students could be the next Trayvon if we don’t take action to challenge the racism that lead to his murder.  However, in response to these genuine expressions of solidarity, other teachers argued that talking about Trayvon or about the underlying racial issues is a distraction from fighting the corporate education reforms.

I strongly disagree with that last perspective, and I posted this statement explaining why:

 Some people on here are asking why issues of race are relevant to badass teachers. Here’s one answer. Teachers are under attack by corporate education deformers like Gates, Broad, the privatizers, etc. One of their main strategies is to rally working class communities, including working class Black communities, against teachers. They do this by pointing out how the public schools reproduce class and race inequality in society – what they call the “achievement gap”. The thing is, our schools DO reproduce inequality and everyone knows it. The corporate “reformers” have no effective solution to that problem – they will simply scapegoat us for it, in order to deflect popular anger away from them. But they will succeed at doing that if we remain complacent in the face of all the inequality in our schools. So if teachers want to defeat the corporate attacks on us and our schools, then we can’t simply defend public education as it currently exists . We need to fight to transform it. We need to directly confront institutionalized racism and white supremacy, in our schools and in the larger society. Joining our students in making sure they don’t become the next Trayvon Martins is part of that.

That’s one more reason why I’ll be out there on Tuesday joining with students who are rallying to make sure they are not the next Trayvon.  If we are going to be badass teachers, we need to act like badass fighters against all forms of oppression, including the white supremacy that is devouring the lives of our students and communities.

“Do you need a password to become a US citizen?” and other heartbreaking student questions

4 Jul

citizenship-billboard_c-1919_loc_3g03808v1-e1368817317418Every once in a while a student will ask a question in class that breaks my heart because it reminds me of the utter absurdity of our society.

Don’t get it twisted – I’m not heartbroken because  the students’ questions themselves are absurd. I’m not calling them stupid.   I’m heartbroken that we live in a  society where students have to ask these kinds of questions in the first place.

For example, students should never have to ask their teachers “what will you do if  la migra [immigration agents] come try to pick me up in class and deport me?”  Students should also never have to ask “can you give me something to read at home, because I don’t think it’s safe for me to come to school anymore.”   These are questions that make me wish a  revolution could start by the end of the class period.

I felt this heartbroken when a student asked “don’t you need a password to become a U.S. citizen?”  His family had moved here from another country and he was  asking this because he  automatically assumed he was not a citizen since he never got his password.

I wondered where this student was coming from with this question.   Was he noticing that he is is denied privileges that others have?  Was he thinking that other people must be  buying access to some password that  unlocks these privileges,  like  purchasing a subscription to Netflix?  Was he thinking that U.S. citizenship is like a piece of software, where you download the free trial but you have to pay a fee to unlock the deluxe edition?

The social studies teacher in me wanted to lament the fact that this student’s misconception was never cleared up in elementary or middle school civics lessons.

But the revolutionary in me recognized  a much deeper problem: that this student’s perception is actually alarmingly close to how U.S. citizenship really works.

In fact, you generally do need a password to become a U.S. citizen, and it looks  like this:

arm

Historically, immigration laws were designed to keep out people who did not have this skin color.   In fact, the  U.S. Naturalization Act of 1790 defined citizenship itself as white:

“All free white persons who have, or shall migrate into the United States, and shall give satisfactory proof… that they intend to reside therein, and shall take an oath of allegiance, and shall have resided in the United States for one whole year, shall be entitled to the rights of citizenship.” (quote from here)

It isn’t just white skin that  has historically defined what it means to be American; it is also white behavior.  And white behavior means taking an “oath of allegiance” to the U.S.  It means obeying the rules, staying quiet when you are oppressed, and, most of all, aiding the system in keeping down Black folks, indigenous folks, and people in other countries who are  rebelling against U.S. imperial control.

white male privlege

White skin privilege was the last refuge of the miserable.  Poor, working class white folks might come back to their tenements or homeless encampments, exhausted at the end of a day of back breaking labor, but the system wants them to think “at least I’m not Black” instead of “I want to go on strike.”  The system wants them to think, “I can move up in the world as long as I don’t unite with non-white folks to fight back.”

So in other words, the same password that unlocks the privileges of the deluxe edition of U.S. citizenship also locks us inside of it.  As Noel Ignatiev put it, white skin is a set of golden handcuffs. That’s why my friend Desert Rat wrote a song that goes “White People suck, so be pale pink if you have to.”

Books like Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White document how some groups were historically denied the white password to full citizenship, but they gained access to it over time, usually by positioning themselves as loyal citizens willing to side with the Anglo elites against Black people.

Whiteness is not the only divisive password to citizenship that the capitalist system has created.  Another one is the “model minority myth”.  After decades of racist, explicitly-anti-Asian immigration laws, middle-class East Asians were recruited to the U.S. after 1965 to fill technical jobs.  Racist politicians have tried to pit them against Southeast Asians, working class Asians, Black and indigenous folks,and other immigrant groups; they say that because some Asians can move up in society, U.S. immigration policy is fair and racism is not something we should worry about anymore.  This hurts Asian communities and everyone else. 

This process of divisive “password protection”  is also playing out in the debates over comprehensive immigration reform going on right now.  Congress is aiming to pass legislation that will create a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented folks, at the expense of increased immigration enforcement vs. the rest.  This is an attempt to create a caste of so-called “good immigrants” who can be turned agianst a subordinated caste of so-called “bad immigrants”.  It’s a classic strategy of divide and conquer.

This will directly affect our students. While some of them will have access to Deferred Action and possibly the Dream Act, and will be able to go to college and get papers, others will be labeled “gang members” and will be deported because they have criminal records, even if it’s for minor offenses.  Considering the fact that many of our students are labeled gang members simply because of the neighborhood they live in or who they hang out with at school, this will severely divide and disrupt communities, including our school communities.

If this is what Congress means by a “pathway to citizenship” then it’s no surprise that my student is mistaking the process for a “password to citizenship.”

Citizenship may be expanded for certain groups, but many youth will be left asking why they’ve been denied the password to the deluxe edition.

I am a teacher because I want to help my students create the tools necessary to answer these heartbreaking questions.   I am a revolutionary because I want to struggle for a new society where we can spend time asking new questions,  because these ones will have already been answered decisively through collective action.

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What kinds of questions break your hearts?  Feel free to share in the comments section, and we can discuss.