August 9, 2020

If you think it takes a miracle for black kids to succeed in school, you’re racist

Can we talk about miracles for a moment?

To be clear, I’m not talking the Christmas miracle that is Rudolph, or the Christian miracle that is Christ, but the education miracle that lives in the videos and social media timelines depicting joyous black kids receiving college enrollment decisions.

We love to share those stories on Facebook. A lot.

As an example, there was the black 17-year-old from Houston who applied to 20 colleges and received offers for full-rides from all of them.

I shared that one. Made me proud.

Or, the black student with a 4.58 GPA who applied to every Ivy League school and was accepted by them all.

See here:

I mean, how proud his folks must be.

Or, finally, consider the so-called “beat the odds schools” with high-poverty, high-proficiency student bodies that mitigate the nihilism and threats to hope for educational progress.

Staff and parents in those schools must really feel blessed.

These stories give many of us life because for good reason: mass media is an interminable firehouse of negative portrayals and indecent stereotypes of black people.

The media hates us, especially our youth.

Given the dominant, gross, and hostile narratives told about our black beings – and because we KNOW these depictions disregard our brilliance, talent, and potential – it should be obvious why we want to counterbalance bad news with affirmations of our worth.

We want what all people: to be seen as human, not as a monotonous collection of faults and deficits – or somebody’s burden.

When a black student receives news they have been accepted into college or have accomplished something equally as pride-inducing, many of us can see our daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, cousins, and neighbors; We feel familial and share it as a communal victory.

But not everyone is moved. There are outsiders who find the success stories suspicious. Poor black kids “beating the odds,” unthinkable. They see their role to be the reasonable managers of our glee, and they set out to debunk rather than uplift.

Count Gary Rubenstein, a teacher at a publicly-funded New York high school that excludes black students using standardized testing, as a grand wizard of the education skeptics community. When schools that are heavily populated with black students in poverty score well on state tests, he’s first in line to playwith the numbers and find a lie.

I’ve challenged him before so I won’t rotate those tires again, but Stancil’s Atlantic piece returns me to this peevish inclination skeptics have for rebutting black achievement. For me it’s an unmistakable variant of scientific racism that evades scrutiny probably because the source is people who consider themselves to be “progressive.”

For background, Stancil was one of the first people to (rightfully) think something was amiss in a video circulated last year about college-bound students from a black private school in rural Louisiana. The T.M. Landry school was a sloppy hoax orchestrated by a husband and wife huckster team that helped students lie on applications to get into Ivy League colleges.

Those students ended up in a viral video reported by major news outlets that I shared with friends and family. It was a scam.

For Stancil, this I-told-you-so case of corruption was something more than a single case of a flimflammery. To him, it is an indictment on other heavily black schools that sell narratives of “miracle students” to the ignorant masses.

T. M. Landry shows how hungry our society is for what might be deemed “miracle students.” The Landrys are not the only ones to take advantage of this hunger…[m]any other schools implicitly offer the same miracle: students who have endured great hardship and succeeded beyond all expectations. An entire genre of charter schools, often called “no excuses” schools, have adopted a similar rhetorical tack. These schools, explicitly targeted at poor students of color, claim to fuse rigid discipline and intense expectations to achieve an academic transformation. Their advocates often imply that only such a crucible can produce poor and nonwhite college-ready students. Like T. M. Landry, these schools have attracted disproportionate attention from colleges, not to mention media and politicians.

In fairness, I presume Stancil’s intended point is to say fancy colleges can do more to liberalize admissions and make them fairer, but his vehicle to that argument has square wheels. The T.M. Landry School was a crap tornado but one wholly unrelated to the “entire genre of charter schools” who design educational programs getting kids in poverty to the low bar of proficiency.

What’s his motive for connecting an unquestionably corrupt black school to an entire sector of unrelated black schools?

I think you know.

The goal is to prove a common canard of school reform  – “demography isn’t destiny” – is a marketing ploy designed to ignore the desperate need for socialism, integration, or both in America.

If your goal is to prove kids in poverty cannot learn until there’s a transformation of the American economy, or until central planning has neatly rearranged all students by race into perfectly “balanced” school populations, stories to the contrary are a nuisance. You’ll have to commit yourself as skeptic to stepping on the joy of black folks repeatedly, and when challenged on it, as I did with Stancil today, the best you’ll be able to do is point to validating black people in your network who agree with you (cue the Nikole Hannah Jones talisman).

What “progressives” like Rubenstein and Stancil would never admit in a million years is how strikingly similar their debunking tactic (“hey, I’m just stating what the research says about poor black people“) is to those on the fringe right.

Consider this final case (from 2014): Kwasi Enin, a black student from New York was reported as having offers from 8 Ivy League schools.

Sounds good, right?

Not so fast. Conservative Debbie Schlussel came to challenge the math behind his ascension, and to debunk the media’s “gushing and slobbering” over his success story, saying:

In fact, Enin ranks number 11 in his class at William Floyd, a public school on Long Island. And he only scored in the 99th percentile of Blacks on the SATs, but not in that percentile, when he’s compared to everyone else. And that’s the thing. This guy is very smart, but he’s only a “genius” when he’s compared to other Black people. If there were no affirmative action–and he was compared to everyone else–he probably wouldn’t have gotten admitted into a single Ivy League school.

Clearly, black failure is the miracle whip for any camp that wants to prove (or disprove) something politically significant to their agenda.

We’ll do best to focus on achieving what we can, and realizing we have no friends – black nor white, purple or green, left or right – who dedicate themselves solely to condemning us to disability.

For the record, there is an entire YouTube genre featuring families receiving their college admissions decisions. They are happy videos highlighting the joy of people of different races and economic statuses.

To my knowledge, there is no dedicated effort to expose them as phony because that would be treating the joy of good people as if they were black and poor.

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