For Gilroy.

From where I sit, I can be in Gilroy in about an hour and a half. Gilroy, like so much of our state, is deeply diverse, and the Garlic Festival is one of the best-attended events in the state. If you wanted to find a huge, densely packed crowd of diverse Californians, you would be hard pressed to find a better place than the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

We know very little about the shooter, but we all knew who he was, because it’s an old story, one we’ve heard many times before.

We know little about the specifics of this particular one as yet. We have a name, one I will not repeat here. And we have the inevitable far right radicalism in his online profiles.

One of his last Instagram posts– again, I will not link to anything that publicizes his name– was a picture of Smokey the Bear holding a sign saying “Fire Danger High Today” with a caption exhorting people to read a well-known white supremacist text, a hate-filled screed that advocates for endless war and the need for white men to rule over everyone else. After making that “Fire Danger” joke, the shooter went to the Garlic Festival and killed three people, including a six-year-old boy, Steven Romero. Fifteen others were injured before police killed him.

As I’ve said, it’s an old story, one we’ve heard repeatedly, relentlessly in the past few years.

The extremist ideology– primarily white nationalism– that created and sustains the radicalized far right has spawned these shooters over and over, and the mainstream right feverishly works to protect this extremism wherever it is discussed. They disingenuously wish to separate the racism and white nationalism of Trump and Trumpism from the iteration of white nationalism just one step to the right in violent hate groups. Trump/Trumpists and many of these groups claim they “deplore violence” while repeatedly signalling that violence is just fine when it’s against the “right people.”

Some far-right extremist thinking supports Trump, but others hate him because they believe his racism does not go far enough. And it’s this tiny wedge, this nitpicking, that the white nationalist mainstream right of Trump and Trumpism often uses to distance itself from white nationalist shooters. It also uses the “lone nut job” and “mental illness” lie, a lie they are only willing to extend as a shield to white male shooters. The facts are clear in this: people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than to commit acts of violence. If there’s a mental illness that ties all these shooters together, it’s right wing extremism.

This is the end result of “send her back.” This is the end result of “Mexicans are rapists.” This is the end result of “build the wall.” This is the end result of Trumpism in America. And the right is in paroxysms of joy.

It’s not that America was never racist or sexist. It’s that the right found a Golden Calf who would tell them their racism and sexism was good, right, and, overall, FUN. Of course they love him. He gleefully transgresses and anoints their own transgressions. Then he tells them that all those bad people over there– all those Democrats, “globalists” (Jews), “illegals,” Black activists, feminists, Muslims, etc– want to take all their fun away. 

There’s been white supremacist violence in this country for the entirety of its existence. What’s different now is easy access to high-powered weapons, combined with the internet age– the right-wing extremist propaganda machine in a new 24-hour news cycle, combined with the new ability we have to find like-minded people who create the bubbles in which our ideologies are concentrated and intensified. Add a president who is gleefully, openly racist and sexist, who whips his crowds into a hate-filled frenzy so intense that hate crimes spike wherever he holds rallies, a president who winks and grins and says, “Isn’t hate fun?” and here we are.

While I don’t think most conservatives in the US are happy with the idea of killing children in the abstract, there are endless examples of conservatives mocking the suffering of Latinx children at the border (this, this, this), and there are numerous conservatives who defended and even celebrated the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, who are now surely celebrating the death of little Steven Romero because they think he’s “illegal.” Conservatives don’t want to hurt “people.” They want to hurt the “right people.”

Conservatives are horrified and offended when anyone correctly associates the hatethink ideology of Trumpism with the violence it condones, both tacitly or openly.

Everyone says they want to stop these mass shootings, but the right blocks every practical measure to reduce them, instead offering the weakest and most namby-pamby of responses: Just give more people guns. This isn’t a policy white conservatives enact in their own homes– when Jayeden is hitting Traxxx and Payzleeigh with a stick, they take the stick away; they don’t hand Traxxx and Payzleeigh sticks and allow their preschoolers to re-enact Battle Royale.

And of course, by “people,” they don’t mean people of color.

We all know what the practical solutions are, but the right is in a frenzy to stop them, dumping billions of dollars into preventing even the most common-sense legislation, even those measures supported by a majority of their own rank-and-file. They won’t even allow solutions to their pretend causes of this violence, screeching with anger whenever anyone tries to expand health care coverage. Trump himself revoked Obama-era restrictions on people with mental illness purchasing guns.

So where we are is: Conservatives say the shooting is caused by mental illness, but have worked assiduously to prevent people with mental illness from getting proper care and to ensure that people with mental illness have free access to guns. What conclusion are we supposed to draw here?

We need to end hate- and fear-based propaganda. The brave Sandy Hook parents have successfully sued Alex Jones for defamation. We need to similarly hold other hatethink propagandists accountable. We’ve been tracking the toxic impact of conservative hatethink since the first Black president threw its racism into overdrive: 2014, 2019. We need to stop giving aid and comfort to white nationalists by boycotting advertisers on their shows. We need to demand that journalists call racism what it is, and that they stop pretending that “both sides” always need to be consulted. When one side is “racism is bad,” do we really need to consult “both sides”?

We need to enact sensible gun-control legislation. Most gun owners support stricter gun control measures. A full 69% of NRA members are in support of stricter background checks, and 78% of gun owners who do not belong to the NRA support them. There’s a tiny minority of people in this country who are so weak and fearful they believe any common-sense legislation is the Deep State coming to take their guns– usually because The Jews are beginning the Globalist Takeover. THOSE are the people who are controlling gun legislation in this country, with the help of billions of (probably laundered Russian) dollars poured into propaganda. “The right” in this case are the wealthy and powerful who are funding this propaganda and determining which legislation gets passed and which does not. When you ask people if they want stricter gun control laws, most say “yes.” When you ask people if they like any specific liberal policy proposal without labeling the idea as “liberal,” they say “yes.” But conservative hatethink propaganda has taught them to loathe and fear anything labeled “liberal” or “left.” They’ve been whipped up by hatethink to value hatred of the left– the “hordes” of non-white people “infesting” the nation– more than the concrete policies they actually want.

Too many wealthy and powerful people owe their wealth and power to both conservative media and the gun industry, and will fight us every step of the way. But what’s our alternative? When conservative media instructs its followers to oppose every possible solution, even the solutions to their fake reasons these shootings happen, what’s the alternative? The only way forward is to fight against the propaganda while we fight for the sensible gun control the vast majority of the country– even gun owners– want.

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The White Case for Reparations

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This photo was found in an attic in 2010. It depicts an enslaved child named John next to an unidentified enslaved child, and was stored with a bill of sale for John. Historians have dated the photo to the early 1860s. John is believed to be the ancestor of the man in whose estate the picture was found.

In June 2014, the brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates published his landmark piece, “The Case for Reparations.” This should be required reading for all Americans. In it, Coates lays out the ways in which Black Americans have been systematically shut out of the generational accumulation of wealth through multiple, simultaneous avenues that include things like redlining and denying mortgage loans, predatory lending, gerrymandering, under-funding schools, wage theft, and outright terrorism through bombing, lynching, and the legal slavery of the 13th amendment.

Most white people strenuously reject the case for reparations. This is for several reasons: 1. We do not, on the main, understand what reparations are;

2. We reject the idea that white America owes Black America anything, insisting that the harms of slavery ended when slavery itself ended, and even if they did not, financial compensation is not appropriate. This is a deeply misguided viewpoint.

We as white people need to start viewing reparations as a white issue, a debt we chose to incur that is no more avoidable to white people in 2019 than the national debt.

Coates details the ironclad, undeniable evidence that the harms of slavery and anti-Black racism have had devastating economic impacts on the Black community in America, and continue to do so. He advocates for the passage of HR 40, a bill that calls for the study of the possibility of reparations. John Conyers had introduced the bill– again, a bill calling for just the study of the matter, not for any actual payment of reparations– in every Congress since 1989, and it had been denied a vote every single time.

That Coates is calling for Congress to simply agree to study reparations is, in itself, a testament to the ongoing stranglehold white supremacy has on the levers of power. We have refused to even discuss the possibility that Black America is owed reparations for generations of deliberate economic oppression.

White America freely admits that deliberate economic oppression has happened. It’s all a matter of the public record. Most white Americans are also well aware that race-based economic oppression is still ongoing. For example, the Senate voted in 2018 to eliminate protections against auto lenders from discriminating based on race, a policy that was just five years old. Hiring discrimination against Black people has not changed since 1989, with white applicants still 36% more likely to receive a callback than Black applicants. Black people are almost three times as likely to be denied a mortgage loan as white people. Black people are treated much more harshly at every level of the criminal justice system, and are far more likely to be wrongfully imprisoned. The legacy of slavery continues in its innumerable injustices, and it’s nearly impossible to live in America without being aware of that.

Yet white America has long refused to even discuss reparations. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has taken up Conyers’ mantle and, together with the Congressional Black Caucus, reintroduced HB 40 in January in the hope that we will finally establish a governmental commission on reparations. The bill has just 90 sponsors, all Democrats. Establishing a commission just to study the possibility of reparations is still, in 2019, controversial.

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Enslaved Black women were routinely forced to nurse the infants of their enslavers. Imagine having to nurse the infant of the people who sold your own children away from you. 

No one is denying that Black Americans have been, and continue to be, aggressively and deliberately oppressed. The facts speak for themselves. What white America is arguing is that Black America does not deserve any kind of redress for that oppression.

Let’s think about that for a moment. White America feels perfectly justified in seeking millions of dollars in damages for “pain and suffering” in lawsuits over uneven carpets and spilled water. We are perfectly happy with a system that takes millions of dollars from a family business due to “negligence”– not direct, deliberate responsibility, but negligence. Yet any reparations for the extreme, horrific, deliberate racist violence and oppression that disenfranchised generations of Black Americans, that caused immense pain and suffering, permanent damage, and loss of life– and continues to do so– is not even worth discussing.

White Americans have a litany of excuses. We claim that we “don’t have a racist bone in our bodies,” that we never personally enslaved or attacked anyone, that our families came to America after the Civil War, that we ourselves are poor and disenfranchised. And even if all that were true, in every case where white Americans claim– true or not– that we have not deliberately inflicted pain and suffering, there is no denying that we have been, by any measure, deeply negligent.

White people sulk about reparations by pretending “reparations” means “poor white people will be forced to make personal cash payments to LeBron James.” Let’s take a closer look at what reparations are actually being discussed. This is a partial list, but it will give you an idea:

Creating government subsidies for home ownership– for example, setting up a fund that pays a 20% down payment on behalf of Black first-time home buyers.

Decoupling school funding from property values and distributing per-student funding equally.

Student loan forgiveness; government subsidized tuition reduction programs for Black students.

Re-asserting and strengthening the Voting Rights Act; requiring Congressional districts be drawn impartially; making partisan gerrymandering a federal crime; requiring districts to maintain a certain number of voting machines per 1000 residents; making election day a federal holiday.

Extensive criminal justice reform, including restoring the right to vote to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.

Expanded government-funded studies into racism in health care; health insurance subsidies.

And yes, cash payments.

This is by no means a comprehensive list and I am by no means an expert. There is a wealth of information out there about what reparations can mean.

What’s important to remember is that this is not about assessing whether or which individuals deserve to benefit– a favorite complaint of white people when discussing reparations– but redressing injustice we either caused directly or allowed to happen through our negligence.

The first step, of course, is studying the issueHB 40 would do exactly that. Why is this controversial?

White Americans are terrified that a study will daylight what we already know: that we are complicit in the violent, ongoing oppression of Black people. We identify so strongly with the idea that America is the “land of opportunity” and that we are the “good guys” that even the thought of studying the ways in which we already know we have not always lived up to that promise terrifies us. Reparations terrify us because we don’t know exactly what payout is owed, but we know it is a lot.

What’s startling to me is how obviously everyone in the nation would benefit. Reparations would boost the economy into a golden age of prosperity for everyone, not just Black people. The money spent for reparations goes right back into the economy, paying salaries, buying goods and services, investing. There’s no down side for white America but admitting that we were not, in fact, the good guys. While that will be difficult, taking a good, hard, honest look at ourselves is not a down side in the long run, but a step towards a more just society. Reparations benefit white people financially, emotionally, and ethically. But we do not pay reparations because we will benefit. We pay a debt because it’s owed.

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Another image of an enslaved Black woman with a white infant. It was fairly common to have your child photographed with their enslaved Black nurse, evidently to show off your child and your wealth simultaneously. 

How do we pay for all this, you ask? Who cares? No one is asking Rosie’s Bowling Lanes if they can afford the pain and suffering payout when they get sued for “negligence” because someone spilled a beer on the approach to lane 17 and Phyllis Cardstock in the Senior League slipped and broke her hip. White people aren’t angrily demanding “How do we pay for this?” when the issue is a bloated military budget, a tax giveaway to the wealthy, or a wall to keep out non-white immigrants. It’s only when Black people might benefit that we start fretting about the cost– reparations, “welfare,” “Obamaphones,” Head Start. White people would vote to detonate the sun if we found out Black people were getting daylight for free.

Of course there are some ideas about how to pay for reparations (pay it out over time; use eminent domain to acquire former plantation land and gift it to Black historical nonprofits and HBCUs; reallocate funding from the aforementioned bloated military budget; stop paying Trump millions of dollars for food and lodging for government personnel at his tacky golf resorts every single weekend; raise taxes back to Reagan era levels; establish a marginal income tax rate of 90% for every dollar over $10M earned per year from all sources). But the point is:

You pay what is owed because you owe it, not because you decide you can afford to pay it. It’s not charity; it’s a debt. 

Passing HB 40 is, quite literally, the least we can do. All Black America is asking us to do is to read the damn bill. We can discuss a payment plan later.

Find your Congressional Representative here

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Black Ariel: Casting Controversy Under the Sea

 

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Halle Bailey. (Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Essence)

By now you’ve heard that Disney cast someone called Halle Bailey, a young singer, as Ariel in a live-action Little Mermaid. While I was stuck trying to figure out why they would cast someone in her 40s as Ariel and then discovering that it was not, in fact, Halle Berry but someone else entirely, because I am #old, don’t watch TV, and have no idea who anyone is, the rest of white America was, evidently, freaking out.

Twitter exploded in a #notmyAriel campaign/Klan rally. It’s exactly what you would expect– a lot of emotional displays about how the fictional character of Ariel is “supposed to be” white, and that “little white girls deserve to see themselves represented.”

“They’re subverting Andersen’s original intent!”

As soon as the rest of us began pointing out that this is a film about a mermaid, and therefore a fictional story about a fictional creature who isn’t “supposed to” look like anything, they switched to this– Hans Christian Andersen’s supposedly inviolable intent.

Disney made many changes to Hans Christian Andersen’s original, but the only aspect the #notmyAriel hysterics care about is the mermaid’s skin color, described in the original as “white.” Yet Disney changed the most basic aspects of the story, remaking the plot entirely into a love story. In the original, the mermaid (who isn’t named, let alone given the name of a male Shakespeare character), is far less interested in the young prince than she is in obtaining an immortal human soul so she may go to human heaven when she dies. Her grandmother gives her the idea of marrying a human as a way of obtaining a soul:

“Why have not we an immortal soul?” asked the little mermaid mournfully; “I would give gladly all the hundreds of years that I have to live, to be a human being only for one day, and to have the hope of knowing the happiness of that glorious world above the stars. . . . Is there anything I can do to win an immortal soul?”

“No,” said the old woman, “unless a man were to love you so much that you were more to him than his father or mother; and if all his thoughts and all his love were fixed upon you, and the priest placed his right hand in yours, and he promised to be true to you here and hereafter, then his soul would glide into your body and you would obtain a share in the future happiness of mankind.”

Souls being, evidently, sexually transmitted.

In the end, she doesn’t marry the prince after all, but leaves him to his bride– who is not the sea witch, but a human princess– and flings herself into the sea to die without an immortal soul. She is then carried into the sky by the “daughters of the air,” who promise her an immortal soul for her continued good deeds and self-sacrifice, and assure her– and all the children in 19th century Denmark, one assumes– that good, obedient children shorten the lives of the “daughters of the air” and therefore bring them to the “kingdom of heaven” more quickly, but bad, disobedient children add time to their “probation” on earth.

Andersen’s happy ending isn’t a wedding, but 300 years with Sky Lesbians ending in Danish Christian Heaven.

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The original 19th century illustration of the “daughters of the air” by Vilhelm Pedersen. (Robarts Library, the Internet Archive)

Fealty to Andersen’s original is a ruse, of course. The one and only change white people care about is that, in one of the many retellings of this story, the mermaid will have dark skin.

Note that none of these white people are demanding that a Danish actress be cast in the role; just a white one. In all other respects American white people, who voted for Trump and continue to support him, despise Denmark and the entire Nordic Model. They despise democratic socialism; they despise single payer health care; they despise unions; they despise “big government” and the social safety net. They despise everything about Denmark, but they feel entitled, by virtue of their whiteness alone, to claim ownership of Andersen’s story and demand that its heroine not be representative of Denmark but representative of themselves– of white Americans.

“Little white girls deserve the see themselves represented! Does this mean we can cast white people in Black roles?!” 

It’s preposterous to say that this one casting decision is a problem because white girls “deserve to see themselves represented.” The original white Ariel will continue to exist both in the animated film and in the mountain of related merchandise. And of course, white people are dramatically overrepresented in the media in general.

White people know this. The issue is not that white girls need representation, or that the integrity of Andersen’s original needs to be preserved, or that live action Ariel needs to look identical to animated Ariel, with her inhuman proportions. The issue is that white people believe they are so much better than Black people, so different than Black people, so deeply connected to norms of representation, that it’s an affront when a Black person is cast in a “white” role. This is hardly the first time this has happened. Michael B. Jordan as Human Torch, Idris Elba as Heimdall, the Miles Morales Spider-Man, Noma Dumezweni as Hermione, and just the consideration of Idris Elba as James Bond spring to mind. Even Amandla Stenberg as Rue in The Hunger Games despite her description in the books as having dark skin and hair.

“Then why can’t we cast white people in Black roles?” is right up there with “Why isn’t there a White History Month”? and “Why can’t I wear a White Pride shirt?” This is an obviously disingenuous question, but just to be clear: WE DO. All the time.

Whitewashing is one of the most common practices in Hollywood, and often entire eras and areas of the world are whitewashed. One of the knights of the Round Table, Sir Morien, was Black; one of the most feared and successful Revolutionary War fighters was Colonel Tye, an escaped slave who led an entire regiment of Black soldiers for the British, attacking Rebel slaveholders and freeing their slaves; Moses’s wife is described in Numbers 12 as a Cushite– an Ethiopian– and God punishes Miriam for complaining about it; one of Henry VIII’s best court trumpeters, John Blanke, was Black, and was so valued the king gave him a handsome raise in pay; there were Black Puritan clergy (Lemuel Haynes) and Black Puritan women who were landholders (Zipporah Atkins). I could go on. These aren’t contested stories or theories by amateur historians. This is all part of the established historical record, all routinely overlooked in film depictions.

We so deeply believe that white is the default, it’s common for white people to complain about the inclusion of characters of color at all. “But why does he have to be Black?” or “Why does she need to be Asian?” are common critiques, as if one needed a specific reason to be anything other than white. White people consider white to be “generic human,” and any other type of character must therefore be some kind of specific racial commentary. The only reason to cast a Black actor is if you’re speaking specifically about Blackness within a white context. If you include a Black character who never specifically discusses Blackness within a white context– explaining what it means to be Black in a white world, talking about the struggles of being Black, absolving white people of racism by offering easy solutions like “Just be my friend”– white people demand to know why that character is even there. 

Diversity in casting, for these people. is about white people graciously scooting over to allow people of color a small amount of space that we define for them and that exists only in relation to us. It’s therefore a massive affront and highly offensive when Black people “take” something that’s “rightfully” ours because it’s something we did not define as set aside for them to use to explain their lack of whiteness to us.

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Super cute piece by artist Alice X. Zhang of Halle Bailey as Ariel

People angry about Black Ariel are shrieking all over the internet right now, “Why don’t they just find an African story to do instead of ruining our stories?” Sure, except you get angry about that as well, Ashleighee. Apart from the fact that The Little Mermaid is not “ours” and a Black actress does not “ruin” it with her Blackness, these are the very same people who get angry when Black stories are produced by mainstream studios. Those studios are “pandering” and “too PC.” Black Panther, Dear White People, and Luke Cage were all “racist,” with too few white actors and white characters who weren’t shown “positively.” When Black films are confined to Black spaces, they’re fine, but when Black films come into the mainstream, the culture we define as “white space,” we demand that our needs, stories, and visual representations be centered.

So let’s be clear: This isn’t about one remake of The Little Mermaid with a Black American instead of a blue-eyed Dane. This is about white anger about any story being told in which white people are not the heroes, the center of the narrative, and the posited audience. They’re perfectly fine with a colonial New England, ancient Rome, or Tudor London with zero Black people on screen; they’re perfectly fine with white Europeans playing ancient Egyptians; they believe it makes perfect sense for a “galaxy far, far away” to have enough racial diversity to sustain Wookkiees and Hutts but not enough for humans to be anything under 99.77% European, yet they are absolutely livid over one Black mermaid. It’s not about character or narrative integrity and it never was. It’s about preserving the vision of a white-dominated, white supremacist world.

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If You’re Angry That Harvard Rejected Kyle Kashuv for Using a Racial Slur, It’s Because You Don’t Know Anything About College Admissions

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Kyle Kashuv. (photo: Getty Images)

Recently a young man was denied admission to Harvard. That’s not much of a story, but this young man is famous because his conservative viewpoint set him apart from his fellow survivors of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, which made him a conservative media darling. This young man, Kyle Kashuv, had his offer of admission rescinded from Harvard after it came to light that he had used the racial slur “n****r” multiple times in school-related shared googledocs and text messages in his junior year, when he was 16 years old.

Kashuv showed no remorse about his actions until he learned that someone was planning to make screenshots of his repeated use of “n****r” public. Knowing this would jeopardize his admission to Harvard, Kashuv contacted Harvard in advance and pled his case. That’s “not who I am.” He says he’s “changed” in the “years” since then, as if he turned 16 in May of 1977 instead of May of 2017.

When Harvard denied his appeal, Kashuv went public, posting everything on Twitter, hoping to create a controversy and pretend that Harvard was singling him out because he’s a prominent conservative voice. That ruse has worked, and it’s worked because most people have no idea what the college admissions process is like. I’ve been teaching for years. Here are the facts they’re missing.

Universities rescind acceptances all the time. This is by no means unusual; what’s unusual is that Kashuv is a celebrity. The other students whose acceptances were rescinded this year by various universities are not celebrities, and are not being invited to talk about it on radio and television. All rescinded offers are rescinded due to new information coming to light. Academic dishonesty (cheating and plagiarism), lower-than-expected senior year grades, and dishonesty in your application materials, including falsifying transcripts, lying about extracurricular activities, or, oh, I don’t know, pretending you’re not a huge racist, top the list of reasons offers are usually rescinded. Harvard has rescinded applications of students for similar racism in the past, yet for some reason Kashuv expected to be treated differently. Anything other than special treatment is “persecution of conservatives,” according to the many conservative pundits currently in hysterics over this.

“But he was only 16! How can they judge him so harshly for something he did at 16!” Everything on a college application is something students did at 16– or younger. When do you think they earned those grades, took that SAT, played that cello, or wrote that college essay? Every scrap of information on a university application represents a student between the ages of 14 and 17. If you believe universities should not judge students for their actions at 16, you believe universities should not judge students at all.

Almost all university applications are due in the fall semester of senior year, before any senior year grades have been posted. The entirety of the application represents the student in 9th – 11th grades. Kashuv turned 17 at the end of his junior year. Why should Kashuv’s repeated acts of racism be excused due to his age when literally everything else about him at that age is precisely what universities are judging for admissions? His repeated use of “n****r” is the one and only thing about him that should not be judged for university admissions?

Are conservatives advocating for universities to stop rescinding offers when students are caught cheating or plagiarizing as teenagers, when their senior year grades drop as teenagers, or when it’s discovered students lied on their applications as teenagers? If not, then we know what they’re actually protesting.

Conservatives love to talk about taking personal responsibility, but they only believe that applies to people of color, poor people, and liberals. (Will Laura Ingraham condemn Kashuv’s posts about this as “whining”?) All the very same people who vigorously complained that teenager Michael Brown, teenager Trayvon Martin, and literal child Tamir Rice were “no angels” and should bear the responsibility for their own murders are now upset that a privileged white boy will have to take personal responsibility for his actions in the weakest and mildest way possible– having to choose a different university than Harvard. That “denied opportunity” is angering conservatives, but denying a Black teenager literally all opportunities, stealing his entire future, is absolutely right and just in their eyes, because when a Black teenager is “no angel,” murder is justified, but when a white teenager is no angel, even when he rapes someone, no punishment, no matter how mild, is justified.

Harvard rejects 95% of all applicants. Conservatives evidently believe that white teenagers belong in the top 5% and must commit atrocities much worse than racism or rape to lose that place while Black teenagers must be perfect in every way just to retain the right to draw breath.

People are more concerned about the kid who repeatedly used “n****r” than they are about the Black students and staff who would be forced to sit in classrooms with him. Harvard is rightly considering the health and safety of its current students and staff in its decisions about who they add to their community. It’s telling that people are more worried about protecting this celebrity from the consequences of his own racist actions than protecting the Black members of Harvard’s community from racism. They’re worried about Kashuv’s future, but not at all concerned about the grad student who would be forced to teach his freshman Comp class, knowing full well that Kashuv would take to Twitter with a whining rant about “reverse racism” and “persecution of conservatives” if he earned a B on an essay.

In the application process, elite universities are just as concerned about character as they are about grades and SATs. Applicants must submit a personal narrative and letters of recommendation that attest to their character as hardworking and community-minded. Elite universities are very picky in their decision-making around who they will add to their learning communities, and a student’s character– again, at 16, just like everything else on the application– is a large part of the consideration. It is not at all surprising that Harvard rescinds acceptances from students when racist acts come to light. The examination of applicants’ character during the high school years is precisely what the application process is designed to do. It’s preposterous to imagine that the best way to go about this is to examine everything about a student BUT racism.

I’m writing this on Juneteenth, a time when many people reflect on the brutal racism Black people have suffered, and continue to suffer, in an America dominated by white supremacy. Do we really wish to continue being the kind of nation that believes it’s too much to ask white people who were born in 2001, who grew up with the internet, and who are supposedly academic superstars devoted to the betterment of society to avoid repeatedly using the word “n****r”? Several conservative pundits I refuse to link here have stated that Harvard is setting an “impossible standard” by weeding out students who have used racial slurs, which reveals far more about those pundits than it does about Harvard.

I’ve spent the last six years teaching 16-year-old students after 25 years as a university adjunct. They are magnificent, brilliant human beings perfectly capable of understanding that racial slurs are harmful and why they are harmful. We expect them to take personal responsibility for literally everything else right up until a white male student must face consequences for words or actions harming a woman or a person of color. We expect 16-year-olds to be responsible enough to drive, to work, and to carry the enormous academic workload that college-bound students now must undertake. It is completely and obviously disingenuous to pretend that 16 is too young to understand the harmful nature of racial slurs. We all know that Kyle Kashuv absolutely understood what he was doing and felt no remorse for anything but being caught. What they’re arguing for– what all of Trumpism and modern conservatism is arguing for– is the right to use racial slurs without consequence.

Free speech means freedom from government interference, not freedom from social consequences. “Free speech” means you can say “The President sux” without going to prison. It does not mean that social media companies must host your racist speech, that TV shows must not fire you, or that Harvard must allow you to attend. Actions have consequences, conservatives. Yes, even for you.

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A Conversation with Christopher Morrison about his Film, The Bellwether

Filmmaker Christopher Morrison recently released his film, The Bellwether, a psychological thriller about the sociocultural pressures women face. The film, written and directed by Morrison, is almost entirely a solo piece for the remarkable Alex Reid, whose performance in it is masterful. I’ve known Christopher for many years, and know his work as an advocate and ally, so I had a keen interest in this project. I spoke with Morrison from his home in Brussels. 

Bitter Gertrude: One of the strengths of male allyship in gendered oppression is that cis men will listen to other cis men and take their opinions and analysis far more seriously than they do the opinions and analysis of everyone else. How do you see this film working as part of your advocacy for human rights?

Christopher Morrison: First of all, one big hell yes in agreement that that is such a problem. I see it in action on a daily basis in so many spaces, and have been guilty of that myself for sure. I did try to make a film where a woman always had center stage and was making her argument, and we had to take both the characters and the arguments seriously. I, personally, see so few films doing that, especially content written and directed by men. So as an advocate, that was something built into the film from the jump– simply providing uninterruptible space for women’s voices to be heard. This was also what the gender parity on the crew was about as well, consciously giving those artists a voice in this particular production and story. And, I suppose it is unfortunate that this needs to be said (but these days it does), I was interested in not just a positive abortion story but a story that made it very clear that abortion needs to continue to be talked about openly and the shaming around it needs to be addressed.  

BG: Say more about the film’s gender parity. Was that a deliberate choice? 

CM: Hugely deliberate choice. We fought for parity so hard on this movie. On set it was exactly even, but we fell out in post, unfortunately. But was close, something like 45 to 55%. And they were deeply involved co-creators. The executive producer, Ioana Matei, was involved every step of the way from concept to post, providing her input. Our editor, Stephanie Sibbald, was given carte blanche for the first two passes at the edit. Our great DP Gabi Norland and I worked together on every shot. Many, many shots are Gabi’s creation and her concept, and she made the film better with her obvious talent and experience. There are so many more; the film would not have been possible without their input and expertise.

BG: In the film industry, the male voice is undeniably the most prominent, and most films are made envisioning a male audience. I think part of the strength of Bellwether could be in a man speaking to men about the reality of the societal pressures the rest of us are under. 

CM: I think it’s still amazing and sad how few men take time in their life to just listen to what most women have been through. We see our own lives reflected back on us constantly in the media and it makes us assume that everyone’s experience is the same. In The Bellweather, the audience is spending 70 or so minutes with a woman who is struggling to make her voice heard and just how frustrating and institutional that push-back is in the world. I tried to make the institutional misogyny very present in the Conspiracy.

BG: Films that show women abused or tortured have become controversial. I know you’re very aware of these issues, so it must have been a difficult decision to show her torture. What was that decision making process like for you, and why did you ultimately decide in favor of showing her torture?

CM: I must admit I’ve made a pledge to myself that this will be the last time I show a woman’s torture as main plot, as essentially entertainment. I’m a huge horror fan and I believe that time is up for that trope. When I was writing The Bellwether, I decided that was needed to physicalize what I mentioned above, trying to drag institutionalized misogyny into a very present and physical form that could be a genre film’s antagonist.

BG: One theme that feels prominent to me is humanity as represented by bodies and sensory perception, with a lack of humanity as its opposite. Joanne’s torture is aural, her story is shown to her through visual images, she’s intent on the woman working for “them” to speak to her face-to-face. There’s a lot of screen time given to breath. Her breath is a constant marker of where she is emotionally, and when she’s speaking about her abortion, she’s leafing through a huge Bible, which immediately made me think of the lines in the Bible where life is said to begin at first breath. “They” attempt to reduce Joanne to one function of her body. 

CM: Thank you for noticing the breath! I tend to use that in everything I direct and/or write. I find it so visceral and a way for a flat medium to reach us physically. I have a physical background and finding ways to give a physical experience to a film audience is always something I’m interested in. Everything you point to is an attempt to remind the audience that there is a physical person on screen experiencing this physically, and to remind the audience of their own bodies. 

When I sat down to write this I wanted to write a positive abortion story. Having been the male counterpart to two abortions and the friend escort to two others I saw first-hand the pain and the relief and the questioning and how physical it is in terms of recovery. And as it is still a taboo, particularly in America, I really wanted that in the fore. I wanted to highlight the physical recovery of an abortion along with the mental issues that can come along with it, mostly pushed on women (and some male partners) from the outside. But I wanted the abortion in her past so a lot of the torture had to be physicalized in the present through the Conspiracy. Attacking her aurally is my equivalent of all of the societal talk about how ashamed women should feel about their abortions. 

BG: Tell me more about creating the shell personalities device. As a woman, I understand deeply what it means to create different personalities for different situations. Women in meetings can’t just say, “No, that won’t work”; we have to say, “I wonder if we could think about considering this aspect.” I’ve known a ton of women, myself included, who have been in hot water with management, labeled “aggressive” or “too challenging,” just for forgetting (or refusing) to put on that fake feminine shell personality when dealing with men. I wish men could be a fly on the wall to see what happens when they leave the room. Women drop that shit so fast! So the idea of having a shell personality over your “real” personality is something with which I am completely familiar. What’s unfamiliar to me is the idea that those personalities don’t interact or know about each other. What’s the metaphor there? What do you want people to take away from that?

CM: It first started as a way to make the script watchable and to make it interesting to a high caliber of actress. But once I settled on the concept, the thematics became very obvious. The metaphor was one I feel very keenly in my own personality separations and my struggles to integrate them and feel whole. I would want the audience to just see the basic idea: what parts of you are in control and when and where do they come from in your life and your past? And is that a good thing? 

I did want this film to be something active. As it is said in the art world sometimes, “you might only get this one ‘x.'” I wanted my one feature to say something. I feel it does say something. It doesn’t do everything right, just like I’m an imperfect ally and advocate, but it’s my attempt and it’s out there and I’m proud of that.

Learn more about The Bellwether here.

 

 

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Arts Marketing and Alignment

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(This piece is by guest blogger Adam Thurman.)

It has been a while since I wrote something in depth about arts marketing but this current exciting moment in the field where new leaders are coming in prompted a moment of reflection that is hopefully worth sharing.

In marketing we talk about a lot of things like branding, audience development, the impact of social, etc.

I want to talk about alignment.

Alignment is defined as a position of agreement or alliance.

And when you look at great companies that earn more then their fair share of attention, dollars, etc., what you see is significant alignment.

The visuals, the messaging, the customer service, the programming all make sense.

The sales goals, the selected audience target, and the marketing mediums all make sense.

And of course the reverse is true. If key elements are misaligned then your marketing message will be too weak to break through.

So as you hit your new roles keep your eyes open for misalignment movements.

Does your pricing say elite but your message say “theater for all”?

Does your messaging say customer service is important but the level of pay and training for your FOH staff say “you guys are replaceable”?

Spoiler: That’s probably the case.

Note those things. Note them even though you may not be able to do anything about them yet. Talk about them before you have a solution. That’s the value of your fresh perspective.

And the spend your precious time and energy working to bring those things into alignment. That’s your opportunity. It’s your opportunity to create an organization that makes sense when you look at it critically.

When the marketing aligns with the goals, values, revenue model, people, etc., then the marketing can do incredible things.

I’ve got one of those fancy credit cards. You know the type, made of metal, high annual fee, that sort of thing.

Whenever I have to call that number I get straight through to a human representative. No phone tree, no holding. It takes me maybe two minutes to handle any need.

The same day I have to call one of those no-frills airlines to pay a fee. It is the exact opposite of the other experience. Call center. Long hold time. It may have taken 30 minutes.

It is fair to call the first customer experience good and the second bad. It would also be fair to call both experiences properly aligned.

The fancy credit card folks are making a set of implicit and explicit promises about what they offer card holders. So they have to make the significant investment of time and money to make it work.

The no-frills airline is making an entirely different promise. They don’t promise friendly or warm service. They promise a cheap flight. Being cheap about their customer service is one way to achieve that goal.

So let’s say an arts organization decides to highly value customer service. That implies a series of alignment choices.

You probably need to pay above market rate.
You probably need to invest in training.

If you can’t do that then you are out of alignment.

But let’s say you legitimately cannot afford the investment. Then a smart choice may be to reduce the emphasis on service and try the following:

Limit the hours your box office is open.

Prepare yourself for high turnover and make sure you have a good pipeline for finding new candidates.

Maybe you can change the way people enter or exit the venue in a way that reduces the need for FOH staff.

I’m not saying these are good ideas, but they are aligned ideas. They make sense when the end goal is considered.

But the mistake I see so often is to say one thing, do the other, and hope no one notices.

We notice.

Smart marketing is about pushing toward that alignment.

Adam Thurman is an experienced arts marketing professional and consultant. To contact Mr. Thurman, email mission.paradox@yahoo.com.

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Representation Matters: People with Disabilities Are Done Being Your Inspiration

 

 

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Photo of a version of the American flag with the stars configured to look like the symbol for disability. (Photo credit: money.cnn.com)

We need a long, hard examination of the way we’re representing people with disabilities on our stages and screens. We talk a lot about equity and inclusion, but almost always ignore people with disabilities in those discussions, leaving our industries far behind where they should be on this issue.

We’re still so far behind that casting PwDs as PwDs is controversial. Able-bodied people fight hard for their “right” to cast able-bodied actors to play us, then shut us out of every aspect of the process. Able-bodied people insist they’re doing “extensive research,” yet portrayals of PwDs are more often than not astoundingly inaccurate, more about how you see us than how we really are.

We’re still so far behind that casting PwDs has been called “exploitative,” as if our physical presence must always be measured by the gaze of able-bodied people. It reminds me of the way sexist writers claim women are “flaunting” their bodies by simply appearing in public. Our physical presence in the world as PwDs (or women, for that matter) is not about you. Our physical presence as PwDs is so deeply othered that any public performance is automatically suspect– it must mean something. Add to that the relentless infantilization of PwDs by able-bodied people, and our every appearance as actors results in a flurry of pearl-clutching about how we’re being “displayed,” “used,” or “exploited,” as if PwDs are children who need protecting instead of actors who need jobs.

It’s “exploitative” when we play ourselves, but ennobling when you play us.

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During preproduction for the film The Upside, released in January 2019, producers refused to consider actors with disabilities for the role of Dell Scott, a quadriplegic character, instead first casting able-bodied actor Colin Firth, and then replacing him with Bryan Cranston, drawing criticism from disability rights activists. (Photo by David Lee/The Weinstein Company depicts Cranston seated in a wheelchair on a busy city street, laughing as actor Kevin Hart stands on the wheelchair behind Cranston, leaning down and laughing.)

We’re still so far behind it’s considered a special kind of acting triumph when an able-bodied actor plays us because, like actors who gain weight or allow themselves to be made “ugly” for a role, they’re working hard at lowering themselves, appearing less glamorous, less desirable, less perfect. The actor is ennobled by their humility, by the sacrifice it took to present themselves pretending to be what we are every day of our lives. 

We’re still so far behind that the types of stories we tell about PwDs all center around our difference: inspiration porn, tragedies, the Manic Pixie Sick Girl (and as she’s lowered into her grave, he realizes he has finally learned how to live), and the DEI Sidekick (Hi. I’m here to make the producers look inclusive and the protagonist look sympathetic oops time to die to provide motivation for the protagonist). There are more (so many more) but you get the idea.

Please note that all of these are almost always played by conventionally beautiful, thin, able-bodied white people, and that these issues are intersectional. While this piece focuses on PwDs, bear in mind that people of color with disabilities are facing two major hurdles; female-identified and genderqueer people of color with disabilities are facing three, etc. Women of color are in fact the vanguard of disability rights activism.

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Writer and activist Imani Barbarin, who runs the blog Crutches and Spice, is the force behind #DisTheOscars, an advocacy campaign around disability representation in the media. (Photo by Madasyn Andrews depicts Barbarin, a Black woman with long, thin dreads, smiling in a garden setting, wearing a blue flowered dress and a black jacket, with one of her crutches visible on her arm.)

In the United States, between 13 and 19% of the population are PwDs. That’s a sizable population, yet we are aggressively shut out of every aspect of visual narrative, our stories stolen from us and told by able-bodied people, for able-bodied people.

This begs the question, “What are our stories?” It’s an important question, because the answer is: ALL OF THEM, KATIE. We’re a massively diverse population occupying every race, gender, sexuality, age, belief, and socioeconomic status. The vast majority of our stories are not “disability stories.” We are people with disabilities– people first– and the majority of our lives are spent wrapped up in the same issues everyone else has. Yet nearly every film, play, or show that hires an actor with a disability is doing so specifically to tell a “disability story”; when that narrative is over, the actor is released. We’re rarely allowed to tell any other kinds of stories. Disability is only represented when the story is about disability in some way.

Because we are hired far less frequently than able-bodied people, even with similar training and experience, we’re seldom in the room when these stories are developed, and if we are in the room, we’re one voice– often brought in late in the process as a low-ranking temporary hire (“disability consultant”). It’s no wonder that stories about PwDs are so often about the impact the PwD has on an able-bodied person.

Lack of representation is a vicious circle. Because we are so seldom represented as anything but life support for able-bodied inspiration, PwDs are almost never considered for “straight” roles. It never occurs to producers and directors to cast an actor with a disability in a story not specifically about disability, because they, like the rest of us, live in a world where PwDs are dramatically under-represented throughout all of our media and have come to see that under-representation as “normal.”

Our industries create fantastic, imaginary worlds, but we can’t imagine a Juliet with a mobility device? Our imaginations can comprehend time travel, dragons, talking animals, alien cultures, telekinesis, and 500 different kinds of afterlife, but a disabled Hedda Gabler is incomprehensible? You think that if you cast a PwD, the narrative becomes about the disability because those are the only stories we allow PwDs to tell. 

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Marilee Talkington, a brilliantly talented actor, has a long career of playing both blind and sighted characters. Talkington has played blind characters on several TV shows recently, drawing praise from the National Federation of the Blind and their #letusplayus campaign. (Photo by Cheshire Isaacs depicts Talkington from the shoulders up: a white woman with curly red hair, blue eyes, and coral lipstick, wearing a wine-colored sleeveless top.)

Allow people with disabilities to tell all kinds of stories, including our own. The right to portray someone different than you is not the exclusive province of the able-bodied. Able-bodied people defend their right to play us with “It’s called ‘acting'” without ever once considering that we can do it too.

Hire people with disabilities at every level, from conceptualization to casting to audience management, not just in temporary positions meant to shield you from controversy. When you talk about “inclusion,” remember: we’re here, and we are not going away.

 

 

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Teachers Have Been Telling You For Years that Rich People Cheat the System. Here’s What Else We Know.

 

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Photo: Angela Litvin, Creative Commons

The nation exploded in surprise that thirty people nationwide, including two famous actresses, were indicted for participating in scams to get their children into elite universities. Educators similarly exploded in surprise, but for a different reason– we were shocked that the wealthy and powerful were being held accountable for something that’s been widespread for decades. Educators have known about this– and more– for years, yet no one has listened to educators about the widespread inequities in education.

Are you ready to listen now?

Let’s start with the obvious:

Standardized tests are worthless. Educators know that performance on a standardized test is nearly useless in measuring a student’s overall performance in a subject or in predicting a student’s future performance in that subject. A standardized test only measures how good students are at taking standardized tests, which is why plonking down $1300 for an SAT prep course can bring a student’s scores up so dramatically in a such a short period of time. I’ve been teaching both university and high school students for 30 years, so believe me when I tell you that teaching someone how to take the SAT in my subject is entirely different than teaching my subject. Take a look at the job requirements for a Kaplan employee— they’re not looking for a PhD in the subject or experience teaching it; what they want is a high SAT or ACT score in the subject. High standardized test scores can be bought if you have the money for a test training class. Add to this our longstanding knowledge that people with economic privilege score higher on standardized tests overall, and you can see what these tests are really measuring.

But that’s not the only reason standardized testing is problematic. The SAT, PSAT, and AP exams (among others) are administered by a company called College Board. On the surface, they appear to be a nonprofit devoted to creating and administering standardized tests. Have you proctored one of these exams recently? I have. When students take the PSAT, a practice exam whose scores are never distributed to anyone but the students and their high school, College Board insists on students providing full legal names, home addresses, and social security numbers when each exam is already given a unique identifying code. College Board asks for pages of optional information such as phone numbers, GPA, and whether a student’s parents are US citizens.

Here’s why: College Board makes millions selling the student data they collect to anyone with the cash to pay for it. Here’s the link— buried deep on the website– that helpfully provides various payment plans. You can buy information on individual minors for just 45 cents “per name,” pay $7.710 for the right to roam free through the collected information of minors in an “unlimited annual subscription,” or upgrade your annual subscription to an unlimited “Segment Analysis Service™” for $17,750. Here’s a chart of the kind of data you can buy— including race, GPA, “religious interest,” and whether the student is a “first generation” American.

Is the ACT better? No.

Companies that market various services to students purchase your child’s information in order to market to them. College Board pressures students to check the box opting in to “Student Search Services” by requiring test proctors to read a paragraph extolling its virtues, pretending that opting in will result in elite universities recruiting them– without considering that universities are just as likely to use that data to eliminate them from consideration. Students are also told that opting in will result in scholarships contacting them, a deeply unethical promise that plays on the very real fears around paying skyrocketing tuition. This private company’s executives are dangling the false promise of scholarships to students to entice them to hand over data– data that those executives sell to enrich themselves and ensure their own children have unfair advantages over the very students whose data they sell.

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Photo: gvarc.org, Creative Commons

Standardized testing exists to generate wealth for testing companies, and for companies that purchase the marketing data testing companies gather.

But testing companies aren’t the only private companies lining their pockets with public education funds. Two of the most successful education profiteers are companies that market educational systems and companies that create charter schools.

 

In the past few decades, schools were suddenly labeled “in crisis,” and the phrase “failing schools” was everywhere. Nothing had changed– in fact, literacy rates were at an all-time high– but suddenly schools were all “failing” due in large part to “bad teachers” protected by unions. Never mind that non-union states have lower test scores than union states. Facts were not the point. This was marketing meant to shift public opinion, and it worked beautifully. Standardized tests were quickly positioned as the key factor used to measure “teacher effectiveness” and identify “low-performing schools” by demanding that scores rise by a set percentage each year in order to “pass.” This makes no sense, as pedagogical effectiveness can only be measured using a complex variety of assessments and data. Just ask anyone who’s been through a WASC report. This also makes no statistical sense, since the student population at any given site or in any given teacher’s classroom changes from year to year, so you’re comparing two different populations. But, again, this was not about facts. This was fear-mongering meant to manufacture a crisis. The crisis was manufactured by business-friendly politicians so that corporations could sell us the solutions. 

In addition to the billions of tax dollars shelled out to testing companies, and the additional profiteering in selling your child’s data, there are further billions to be made in educational systems and charter schools, all of which depend on maintaining the mythology that schools are “failing” and that we must continually hemorrhage money into private companies to “save” our schools.

 

 

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I’ll just take this over to the private sector #savingschools #wedogoodwork

It’s important to understand that the educational system is unfairly structured in favor of the wealthy at its core. Public school funding is based on property values. Yes, you read that correctly: higher property taxes means more money for schools, because so much about K-12 public education is district by district. This translates into endless benefits for the affluent: higher teacher salaries that attract and retain talent, smaller class sizes and more varied classes (including the art, music, and theatre programs that translate into better grades and better student retention), better facilities, better extracurriculars– in short, everything that educators know improves student outcomes. Poor Black women are jailed for “stealing” educations when they falsify residencies to get their children into higher-rated schools, but those schools are only better because the wealthy unfairly structured the system. While the children of the wealthy are given the best of everything, my public school teacher husband has had to seat students on the counters because there were not enough chairs. But there’s plenty of money in his district to spend on educational systems and charter schools.

Educational systems. Without getting too deep into the ed policy weeds, pre-2018, schools that went into “program improvement” were forced into choosing from a list of draconian measures that included firing every single teacher or purchasing an expensive “program improvement” educational system from a private company. While the rules have become somewhat less draconian, “low-performing schools” are still singled out through testing and are still required to take steps to “improve.” These “educational systems” sold by private companies are expensive and proprietary. Teachers must undergo hours of training on the new system and have almost no flexibility for what we call “differentiated education”– changing things up for individual students who have different learning styles, the gold standard in pedagogy. While I have all the academic freedom I had in university teaching in my private school classroom, my public school teacher husband is required to teach to a system that is, in a word, wretched. I’ve found multiple errors in the material the system requires his students to use, everything from teaching students erroneous grammar to study questions that don’t match the reading . Even without the errors, no educator on the planet would say a one-size-fits-all system was pedagogically useful. It’s the antithesis of effective pedagogy. Yet these essentially useless systems drain billions of tax dollars out of schools and into the pockets of the corporate profiteers who sell them, while those corporate profiteers send their own children to expensive private schools with individualized instruction.

Charter schools. Charter schools are run by private companies but, somehow, are considered public schools and funded by your tax dollars. The charter school system was a gift from a business-friendly government to private companies as the first step towards privatizing education. Literally any company that files the paperwork can start siphoning tax dollars out of the local school system and into their own pockets without having to prove they actually know how to teach.  Don’t get me wrong– there are good charter schools out there run by true believers with a vision– but too many charter schools are run by people with no experience in pedagogy or school administration. In order to collect public funding, you need students, and charter schools have aggressively marketed themselves. Shady charter schools have run wild in areas that lack economic privilege, preying on desperate parents, promising a better education than the woefully underfunded public schools– schools the charters are helping to defund– and pretending to deliver results by manipulating test scores through weeding out low performers in the admissions process, “counseling out” low-performing students, and suspending them or just marking them absent on test day. Charters are notorious for low teacher pay and poor treatment of teachers because they’re exempt from hiring union teachers, just as they’re exempt from almost all the regulations and oversight we put in place to ensure high-quality public schools. While there are good charter schools, the program itself was designed as a love letter to regulation-hating corporations who wanted to privatize public education, and as such it privileged the needs of the wealthy over the needs of the students, and created a host of problems for which charter schools have become notorious among educators. And while all aspects of privatization of public schools, like charters and vouchers, have been the darling of the right, it’s worth noting that charter schools were created by the Clinton Administration and heartily supported by the Obama Administration.

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Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP

 

This is the tip of the iceberg; there’s so much I’ve left unsaid, including the critical influence of racism on all of this. This is just a taste in the hope that people will begin to listen to educators when forming ed policy. For decades, we have formed ed policy around the lie that educators cannot be trusted to helm education, and now we have a ship that has been all but handed over to corporate raiders and privateers.

For the past few decades, education policy in America has been set largely by business-friendly politicians who have done everything they can to use public education funding to line the pockets of the wealthy. They have allowed testing companies to collect and sell personal data about minors. They have wildly overstated the efficacy of standardized tests and increased their importance in every sector of American education to create revenue for testing company executives. They have used those standardized tests to create impossible standards for schools to meet, and when schools inevitably “failed,” they forced schools to purchase expensive “program improvement” systems from private companies. They’ve used those standardized tests to justify handing public funding to private companies to open “charter schools” with no oversight. In short, bad ed policy has opened the coffers of public education and tacked up a sign saying, “Carpetbaggers Welcome.”

Believe educators when we tell you where the problems are– and where they are not. Stop allowing the wealthy to enrich themselves by raiding public school coffers. Put education policy back in the hands of educators. 

 

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“We Shouldn’t Rush to Judgment” on the MAGA boys? Who Does That Serve?

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Omaha elder and Vietnam veteran Nathan Phillips.

The response of some of my fellow white people to the jeering mob of MAGA boys mocking a group of Native people (including Omaha elder and Vietnam veteran Nathan Phillips, pictured above) after the so-called “March for Life” anti-choice rally in Washington DC on Friday, has been less than spectacular. I’ve had all I can take of “let’s not rush to judgment” and “let’s avoid knee-jerk reactions” and “the media is playing to extremist assumptions.” 
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When you label people of color pointing out racism (or women pointing out sexism, or people with disabilities pointing out ableism, etc) a “knee-jerk reaction” or an “extremist mindset,” who does that serve? 
Whenever people of color discuss an incident of racism and we respond with “Let’s not rush to judgment” or “There could be guilt on both sides,” we’re deliberately ignoring every scrap of sociopolitical context. Who does that serve?
Let’s start with “let’s not rush to judgment.” We can all see in the video that their behavior is appalling, so what, precisely, is the white defense of the MAGA boys against people of color labeling their behavior “racism”?
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The white defense comes in various flavors of “we shouldn’t rush to judgment because we don’t know the whole story” and “They were just [standing there, dancing, smiling, etc] and did nothing wrong.” If you believe that there’s some important context that needs to be applied to this in order to fully understand it, you’re right. If you believe that there’s any context that could be applied to this to justify the actions of the MAGA boys, you’re wrong.
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If you believe knowing “the whole story” could exonerate the MAGA boys, you’re stating that the racist behavior of these MAGA boys could somehow have been earned by the Native elders. You believe that, at least some of the time, people of color share some blame in racism against them. That argument is, at its core, racist.
If you believe that the boys were “just standing there” or “just dancing” or “just” anything, you’re ignoring the entirety of the sociopolitical context, as if this incident happened outside of our culture and time; as if a white mob swarming a small group of people of color, MAGA hats, or chants of “build the wall” are minor details that have no cultural meaning or bearing on understanding this encounter.
Who does it serve to ignore the fact that the actions of the MAGA boys happened within a pre-existing framework of white supremacy? Who does it serve to ignore that MAGA gear is a symbol of racism, an implied threat? Who does it serve to ignore that high school racism in the US has been widely accompanied by students shouting “TRUMP” and/or wearing MAGA gear? Who does it serve to ignore that mobs of white males, especially displaying racist symbology, have a long history of terrifying violence in the US? 
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It’s Privilege 101 to excuse racism by scraping away the context and keeping focus on the actions of the moment, so that the person wielding their privilege is framed as just innocently doing X. “All he did was say she looked nice,” “All he did was stand there and smile,” “All he did was say that there are a lot of Jews in Hollywood,” “All he did was use the OK sign.” It’s a well-worn trick to protect privilege.
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So when we pretend that the sociocultural context of this incident just doesn’t exist, who does that serve? It serves white supremacy.
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trump.racism

Racist pro-Trump graffiti found on a Spanish teacher’s door at a high school in northern California. Racist pro-Trump graffiti and other expressions of pro-Trump racism have risen to alarming levels at US high schools. While the election of Trump has clearly emboldened young racists and contributed to the frequency with which racists express themselves openly, Trump’s election is a result of longstanding systemic racism, not the cause of that racism.

 
Perhaps even worse than “let’s not rush to judgment” is the claim that people of color are having a “knee-jerk reaction” rather than a reasonable response. When we make the claim that people of color are having a “knee-jerk reaction,” we’re insisting that people of color don’t know racism when they see it and are just reacting emotionally, without thought. We’re insisting that our “thoughtful” reaction that does not “rush to judgment” is superior, and should be deferred to. We’re insisting that there are ways in which people of color bring racism upon themselves, and that they are required to test all events thoroughly against white-created standards to satisfy us that they did not deserve the racism we gave them. We’re insisting that people of color require our consent to identify our actions as racist.
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“But we don’t have the whole story.” While white people have no business telling people of color what is and what is not racist, let’s set that obvious fact aside for the moment to entertain the possibilities around “the whole story.”
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Look at the statements conservatives are making in the MAGA boys’ defense:
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“He drummed right in that boy’s face.”
“He walked over to them before they swarmed him.”
“There was a group of Black people there calling the boys racist and homophobic slurs.”
“That Native elder has a history of instigation.”
“One of the Natives told the boys to go back to Europe.”
“The Natives were just using the boys for a hateful political stunt.”
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Even IF conservatives are correct and every one of those statements is true, none of it excuses the way the MAGA boys behaved, none of it erases the sociopolitical context that gives cultural meaning to a swarm of MAGA gear-wearing white boys surrounding a small group of Native elders and jeering at them.
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People of color are not “rushing to judgment” or having a “knee-jerk reaction.” They’re identifying something they’ve learned to identify through generations of experience.
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maga-boy-nativeamerican

Taken from the video.

There’s a reason the smug smirk on the featured MAGA boy’s face has instigated such a visceral reaction from everyone who is not white or male.
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Speaking from personal experience, every woman knows what that smug smirk means. Every woman knows what it means when a privileged white boy blocks your path and stands inches from your face with a smug smirk. Even most white men know, if they’re honest, the face of the smug, taunting bully. We have all been victimized by that boy, watched as the adults excused it, watched as their mothers lied– as this boy’s mother has apparently done— to make us the aggressors.
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To quote Ruth Graham from the Slate article I linked in the first paragraph:
“Anyone who knew the popular white boys in high school recognized it: the confident gaze, the eyes twinkling with menace, the smirk. The face of a boy who is not as smart as he thinks he is, but is exactly as powerful. The face that sneers, ‘What? I’m just standing here,’ if you flinch or cry or lash out. The face knows that no matter how you react, it wins.”
To the widespread knowledge of what entitled bullying looks like, add generations of racism and genocide against Native people. Add the daily grind of being a person of color in the US and having “TRUMP” shouted at you as a taunt as you’re just trying to go about your business, having “Trump is deporting all of you!” shouted as you as you’re walking down the street. Add generations of having to carefully scrutinize white behavior, learn its signs and symbols, merely as acts of self-preservation. White people, we have no evidence that people of color are “rushing to judgment” here, and plenty of reason to trust the judgment of people of color when they tell us that something is racist.
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Most importantly, no one is asking white people for a ruling on whether or not this is racism. That is not our role here. Our role is to ask ourselves what our level of complicity is in allowing this to happen and what we can actively do to ensure that it never happens again.

 

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Rashida Tlaib Shouldn’t Apologize. You Should for Your Sexist Double Standard.

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Congressional Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).   (Photo: Al Goldis/AP)

Oh, the horror! Newly sworn-in Congressional Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) attended a MoveOn event last Thursday evening during which she used some colorful language to refer to former reality TV personality and Russian mob-linked “real estate developer” Donald J. Trump. She stated that the new Democratic majority in the House was going to “impeach the motherfucker.”

Interestingly, few on either side of the aisle are complaining about the substance of Tlaib’s statement. Even Republicans are beginning to recognize that a line has been crossed when your POTUS, whose understanding of foreign affairs is limited to which foreign leader has the hottest wife and which nation’s bribes– sorry, “Trump Hotel bills“– are the largest, spouts obscure Kremlin propaganda on live television. No, what people are upset about is her use of the word “motherfucker.”

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How dare she

While Tlaib is surely not the first person to refer to Trump in such a way, this event is being treated as if it’s a National Scandal. If you ever needed an example of the sexist double standard in American politics, here it is.

Tlaib’s comment has launched 1000 hot takes about how “dangerous” or “divisive” her single f-bomb was, but when men use the same kind of language, they’re consistently portrayed as lovable scamps, “tough talkers,” or “real.”

Trump himself has used profanity hundreds of times publicly at his rallies, used profane insults in his tweets about fellow politicians and about NFL players, used profanity to brag about sexually assaulting women, used profanity to insult nations with Black populations, and that’s just off the top of my head.

In Beto O’Rourke’s concession speech last November, he said of his campaign team, “I’m so fucking proud of you guys,” and everyone found it charming– so charming, in fact,  someone is selling several T-shirt designs emblazoned with the quote. And don’t come at me with their different contexts; Tlaib is being slammed for her language, not for her sentiment, while Beto remains the Great White Hope of the Left.

Joe Biden’s profanity is considered charming earthiness, part of a roguish public persona that has served as the inspiration for hundreds of memes.

And in case you’re wondering whether race is playing a role here, I give you Kirsten Gillibrand’s use of “fuck” at NYU, June 2017.

Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Swearing is nothing new in American public life, yet when it’s done by a woman of color, suddenly it’s an unforgivable sin for which she should immediately apologize.

In many of the preposterous hot takes written from the Hypocrisy Fainting Couch, Tlaib is chastised for being “divisive” and for failing to understand that her profanity doesn’t “build bridges” to bipartisanship, as if all Mitch McConnell needs to repent his evil ways and lead his party to oust the Russian asset in the White House is a kind word and a smile.

Over and over, both in these op-eds and social media, I’ve seen people bloviating that Tlaib should apologize because “we expect more from women,” “women should adhere to a higher standard,” “we shouldn’t sink to their level.” What this means is that we have one standard for white men, wherein their profanity is winkingly categorized under “boys will be boys,” and another for everyone else, an impossibly high standard set up to ensure our failure before we even begin.

Tlaib’s moment of profanity isn’t nearly as destructive as the endless purity tests for women in politics.  Is she “likeable”? Pretty enough? Nice enough? Not shrill? Not too loud and demanding, but loud and demanding enough in a non-threatening way? Does she fight hard, but only about certain issues, not about, say, sexism? Is she thin enough? Does she dress well, but not too well? Does she defer to the men or does she treat them the way they treat her?

Has she ever made any mistake ever? Then she’s “unelectable” due to her “baggage,” a label we will cement to her name through dozens of articles “asking the question,” a stance that gives us plausible deniability even as we give the idea weight and importance.

When men make precisely the same mistakes, they’re forgiven, immediately, applauded for their half-assed “I apologize if I offended anyone,” if the incident is even given that much attention. In a nation where a child molester, a judge who protected a child rapist, an open white supremacist, an “acting Attorney General” who defrauded veterans and threatened those who complained, and an entire rogue’s gallery of grifters and grafters have all garnered the approval of Republicans at the highest levels of government, a woman of color is criticized by people on both the right and the left for uttering a single swear word in the fight for justice against that very criminality.

The problem we have is not that Tlaib said a naughty word. The problem is that our systemic sexism and racism holds women, especially women of color, to an impossibly high standard, and uses their failure to meet that impossible standard as evidence that they are unfit for power. “It’s not that she’s a woman,” the lie goes, “it’s that she did this thing”– “this thing” being something for which men are routinely forgiven– or even congratulated. The left laughs at Trump for saying Tlaib “dishonored” the country moments after using the same language himself, but our own hypocrisy is no better.

Tlaib herself, to her credit, is not apologizing, and has made an iron-clad case for impeachment in an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press. I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, but I will leave you with this quote:

“This is not just about Donald Trump. This is about all of us. What should we be as a nation? Who should we be as a people?”

We should, as a people, strive to treat woman and people of color with the same respect we treat white men. Those of us on the left, who claim we uphold diversity and equity as core principles, need to stop the devastating attacks on women and people of color while we wink and nod at white men for the same behavior.

 

 

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