Cornel West recently appeared on the Chris Hedges show to talk about how the black elite have became the “lumpen bourgeoisie” and how they have betrayed “the black prophetic tradition.”
He indicts the “black professional class” for becoming self-interested and forgetful of the collectivist civil rights tradition, saying “they have much less fire because they are much more tied to ruthless ambition than they are to moral conviction. They are much less tied to a “we” consciousness as opposed to just an “I” consciousness concerned about upward mobility. ”
Of course, he says, there is a “small slice” of black professionals who remain prophetic, but the majority of them are disconnected from the “energies of the black poor people”
As West talks I finding my head bobbing “yes” in agreement. Especially when he says the black bourgeoisie, of which he is a member, “not only keep a distance [from the black poor], but they can contribute to a callousness and the indifference toward the plight and predicament of the black poor and poor people across the board.”
Yet, at the same time, I find it ironic that West most often shares these deep conversations in white forums for the entertainment of white progressives (like those who lavish him with adoration through outlets like Alternet) rather than for the education of black people, and more specifically, for the black poor.
Yes, he recently was arrested in Ferguson in a great show of latter day activist theater. Undboubtably the take away is supposed to be he has street cred as an activist scholar. Still he has a bit too much vinegar for other black intellectuals, and a little too much love for the white lights for my tastes. The savage and needless way he labeled Te-Nahisi Coates “cowardly” should concern us all. We should expect more of our aging men of letters.
It’s a little sad that he has so much good political analysis to give freely to white progressives, and little charity left when approaching black folks.
I’m reminded of that one time when Sister Souljah said more in plain English about the reality of white supremacy in America than West has done in multiple books. And, ironically, she said it with prophetic black fire to him at a time when he was pushing accommodating programs along with black capitalist Tony Brown.
What if your entire school system was the racist monument that should come down?
The angry protestors are coming for public statues of historic Americans as diverse as Confederate traitors like Robert E. Lee and slave-owning American founders like George Washington.
But what do you do when a school building or an entire school system is the monument representing past wrongs? That might be more of a problem than you think.
Starting with a piece for Ed Week, Corey Mitchel notes a cluster of the nation’s public schools still bear the names of Confederates.
At the beginning of June 2020, at least 208 schools in 18 states were named for men with ties to the Confederacy, an Education Week analysis of federal data found. Since June 29, 5 of the Confederate-named schools have changed names. Currently, 56 schools are named for Lee and more than a dozen each honor General Stonewall Jackson and Sidney Lanier, a poet and private in the Confederate Army.
Countless other schools bear the names of individuals with racist histories, including 22 that are named after politicians who signed the Southern Manifesto opposing school integration after the 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision.
In the aftermath of a 2017 white-nationalist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Va., and the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist in 2015, dozens of schools shed their Confederate names. Several districts rebranded buildings to honor black Americans from the civil rights era or Barack Obama, the first black president.
Despite those changes, state laws or public support for the Confederacy has stymied efforts to rename schools across large swaths of the South. Almost all the Confederate-named schools are below the Mason-Dixon line, which prior to the Civil War was the nation’s dividing line between slave states and free states.
There are 100,000 schools in the U.S. so it could seem inconsequential that a tiny minority of them are named after the Confederate traitors who fought to preserve the savage bondage of human beings.
Still, does it bother you that black children, the descendants of those bound human beings who never received justice, are now are being schooled under the names of their past abusers without learning the details of the past abuse?
Just one student encountering that problem is too many for me.
Further, as today’s protest movement forces a larger reckoning with the American race record, it isn’t just the historic figures who were obviously on the wrong side of the so-called “Civil War” that deserve a dragging.
If you includes morally duplicitous slave owners who became presidents, statements, or local leaders the number of schools educating children under a problematic namesake grows. I don’t have an exact number, but you can imagine that broader criteria makes the problem more substantial.
And it isn’t just individual schools. It can be bigger networks of schools or districts.
My friend Beth Hawkins’ new piece details the story of John McDonogh, a wealthy slavery profiteer who left his estate to create a public school system in New Orleans.
Walter Stern, a New Orleans native and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who authored a biography of McDonogh, says the slaveholder’s legacy and the way it shaped the schools is a “perfect vehicle” for teaching about the city’s history. “He provides a window into showing both how deeply entrenched white supremacy and the subjugation of Black New Orleans has been,” says Stern, “as well as how Black New Orleanians have used the power available to them to create institutions that serve them.”
Among Louisiana plantation owners in the early 1800s, McDonogh was considered both odd and benevolent. A miser who had few friends, at one point he was the nation’s largest landowner, a feat he accomplished in part by renting houses to brothels and then, when well-heeled neighbors moved out, buying adjacent properties for a song. He sometimes allowed his slaves to buy their freedom, although he believed that once emancipated, they should be sent to Liberia.
McDonogh left half his estate to the city of New Orleans, to be used to open public schools for both Black and white children. He wanted the students to plant flowers around his grave on his birthday, leading to the creation of a holiday, Founder’s Day. It was celebrated each year until 1954, when Black New Orleanians — whose children were forced to wait in the heat until white children had placed their bouquets — protested and the holiday was eliminated.
There is no complete record of the schools opened in his name, though there have been at least 40. But contrary to McDonogh’s instructions, the city used his bequest at first to open schools only for white children. His money also was used to fund the Confederate Army’s defense of the city during the Civil War.
Now, don’t let me make too much of the names on schools. They are easy to change and over the years schools named after human figures has shrunk. My own kids’ schools are named after trees and their geographic location.
But, just because you remove the leaves of racism doesn’t mean you’ve disturbed the root of it.
My opponents to school reform love to talk about roots without examine their own. They suggest everything from school choice to charters schools (including the post-Katrina New Orleans schools) have racist roots. Conversely, defying all available evidence to the contrary, they put Vaseline on their lens to present traditional public education as the beacon of Dewey-esq real democracy.
I welcome them to a honest discussion about how the institution they hold so dearly is every bit as stained by racism as any other. If they are truly “educators” they won’t run that. They’ll confront it (and themselves) every bit as fiercely as they confront reformers.
That said, I don’t thing it’s their honest intent to defend a good system from hostile reformers. They draw their income, privilege, and pensions from the traditional racist system and don’t want anybody messing with their cash cow.
Excuse me if that sounds an awful like the Confederates and John McDonogh.
I don’t care if KIPP changes their slogan if they still get results
Good People, some of y’all keep asking me about the internal work the KIPP charter school network is doing to interrogate itself for racial justice concerns, which begins with them changing their well-known slogan”Work Hard, Be Nice.”
I’ve resisted commenting because I think it’s a phony problem.
But, since questions continue to come my way, here a few thoughts:
1. KIPP can change their slogan to whatever they think helps them meet their organizational objective. You don’t have to like it. Stay in you lane.
2. People from the Right love any facile news peg that allows them to belabor the case that “woke” is going too far. I’m sympathetic to their complaint, but notice they have ZERO to say about it when white supremacy goes too far…..ever. It’s way too convenient and I’m tired of that. To them I say: woke isn’t doing nearly the damage to our country and out culture that your president, your party, and you are doing. Clean your own toilet before inspecting others’.
3. So-called “Ed Reform” is full of self-important individuals with axes to grind for one reason or other. Sometimes it’s just straight up competition, sometimes it’s malignant jealousy, sometimes its egotism because they didn’t get a grant or one of their AMAZING criticisms wasn’t heard, or whatever. To them I say, focus on your own house people and shut up about what others are doing.
4. On the liberal side, there are school/reform leaders who blow with the wind and will swing to something like racial justice theology as a shrewd value-signaling move to save their position within the field. Their perfection of woke-speak is a shield meant to position them as “allies” against white supremacy even as they enjoy every privilege and benefit of it.
5. I don’t give a damn if KIPP changes their slogan from “Work Hard, Be Nice” to “Eat Healthy, Drink Water,” or “Say Nice Things To People,” or “Don’t Take Crap From People On The Internet” – just as long as they keep teaching kids to beat the odds in the classroom. As of this point I haven’t heard a single them from them that tells me they aren’t going to keep focusing intently on teaching, learning, and outcomes.
6. And, finally, no – telling kids to “Work Hard, Be Nice” is not telling them to be complicit or be a slave or be compliant to white masters. That is almost as stupid as saying changing the slogan it teaching kids that merit doesn’t matter. Both claims are so damn stupid I can’t imagine educated people aren’t embarrassed to make them.
In the end, I hope everyone can focus on education, focus on results, and focus on the opponents of our field.
Please people: pop open a can of Mind Your Damn Business and drink heavily.
Minneapolis has perfected progressive racism
Good people, it looks like the smoke rising from Minneapolis has inspired so many “allies” to ask: “what can we do to help.” And, as a matter of solidarity, folks have focused intently on defunding or reforming or lightly tapping the Minneapolis Police Department.
That is a fine goal if people are serious (hint: they aren’t).
Even if the over-policing problem in Minneapolis is meaningfully addressed, it won’t fix the racism problem in the Twin Cities because the structural oppression here involves so much more than one department.
In fact, we are home to one of the most finely tuned systems of “progressive” white supremacy in the country. The minds and bodies of nonwhite people are policed by public schools, the DFL political system, the nonprofit industry, and the business community. Taken together these systems offer people two choices: comply or die.
And, atop it all is the paternalism of philanthropy. The funders of Minneapolis are self-satisfied puppeteers who use money to control black minds and bodies, keeping everyone in their place by giving and taking away grants strategically and politically with the effect of creating a network of tokenized POC who are good so long as they say nothing that upsets the white power structure; and they shun black-balled activists who dared say the wrong thing (pro-black) to the wrong (white) person.
National funders play a part too. When they come to town they leave bags of money with the same few white people in white progressive organizations who then farm the money out to POC like crumbs from the Lord’s table so that they can convince their communities to do what they’re told.
I didn’t mention the unions. They’re part of this too. It’s convenient that they want to jump on the anti-police union bandwagon now (knowing that union has been racist AF for decades) but don’t let them fool you. They are masters of racial suppression. Along with white philanthropy and white nonprofit overseers and white police and the white political party that dominates the Twin Cities, the unions also raise up tokenized POC and work hard to prevent problematic negroes from gaining any power.
The bottom line is this: we’ve seen urgent and earnest appeals by the political and philanthropic class of Minneapolis only to be followed by business as usual. If any of them want to be true to their declared values of “equity” and social justice, then they will change the power relationships at every level.
White executive directors will stop sending POC letters asking how they can be better allies. Instead, they’ll resign their jobs and convince their boards to replace them with a person of color.
Big money foundations will stop sending press releases announcing their paltry sums they intend to invest in fixing the communities that they’ve broken. They will stop giving all their money to safe nonprofits and instead give money directly to activists – especially the ones that have been marginalized for speaking the truth too often – who are living on next to nothing but still fighting for the people.
That is, if all our “allies” are serious (hint: they aren’t).
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