Thursday, March 26, 2015

Colored Children: More Than Meets the Eye

U.S. education reform is in many ways centered on figuring out how to properly educate Black and Hispanic students in public school systems around the country. More often than not, the core assumption of the problem has shifted from under-resourced schools and the woeful decay of professional respect for teachers, to the students themselves being the problem.  There is the false assumption that because a student is Black or Hispanic, they are broken in some way.  In a way that now there is a cottage industry of academics and enlightened social entrepreneurs lined up to fix them.  There is a shingle on nearly every corner for services or experiments of some kind to fix children of color. So deep has the assumption gotten that people, likely with good intentions, are beginning to refer to Black and Hispanic children as if they are some strange species and not simply children like all others.

I have come across academics who suggest that White graduate students, need special training to learn how to interact with URM youth. Recall that “URM” is the dehumanizing moniker which stands for Under Represented Minority. I have seen some that base the selection of researchers into their particular education reform program on, the demonstrated ability to interact with URM’s.  I even saw one that suggested that Black children are better able to learn when material is couched in musical contexts.
I find this language and the aggregation of assumptions about Black and Hispanic children insulting and degrading.  Does a White graduate student need special training to deal with my daughter because she’s Black?  What would that manual say?

Culturally sensitive work is always good and cultural sensitivity is an acquired skill that we should all strive towards.  The training necessary; however, is not how to deal with Black and Hispanic children. They, in fact, are just children.  They come in all shapes, sizes, dispositions and interests that all children come in.  Their color and ethnicity are merely coefficients on the core variable - child. The necessary training is on how White academics can disentangle their good intentions from a simplistic and outmoded view of Black and Hispanic people who are different from themselves. 

Lesson one:  do not confuse the color of a child with the summation of their identity.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Their Jingle

It is important in this era of global terror to reflect for a moment on American terrorism.  The young White fraternity boys of Sigma Alpha Epsilon have helped us remember the lineage of terror that has reigned in America since its origins. While we are making a collective fuss about the racist rant of these young White college students, we should not overlook the history that they were so fondly remembering…. hanging Black men and women from trees in America.

Their fraternity was founded at the University of Alabama in 1859, six years before the end of slavery and 97 years before the University of Alabama reluctantly admitted the first Black student, Autherine Lucy in 1956. What the White boys of SAE were singing was that…

There will never be a nigger in SAE.
You can hang em from a tree
But they’ll never sign with me,
There will never be a nigger in SAE.

Greek letter organizations are steeped in traditions. It is likely that song is not new to SAE.  That said, in this era of American finger pointing at the world about its terrorist and inhuman proclivities we should pause and reflect. We should pause and reflect on one of the cornerstones of our American past that the SAE boys have canonized in song.

These images, that the SAE boys were singing about, are from the 1930’s and 40’s (see Without Sanctuary).  That is in our living memory.  Some of the people in those pictures may well still be alive. They stood around watched and took pictures of themselves while Black men and women were hung from their necks and bound and burned alive. That is institutional and national memory of terrorism and brutality. 

I do not really care what happens to the White boys from SAE.  What they have done is shed some light on the barbarism from which they have come and which continues to plague our nation in so many ways.  One of our prophets born of that torturous time, James Baldwin, left us a counter to the SAE jingle…

In the private chambers of the soul, the guilty party is identified, and the accusing finger, there, is not legend, but consequence, not fantasy, but the truth.  People pay for what they do, and still more for what they allow themselves to become.  And they pay for it very simply: by the lives they lead.

That is true of SAE, just as it is true of America.