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.
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.
Teachers see black children as angry when they aren’t
From right to left, the story for why black children aren’t reaching their potential lives within the child. Or, their family. Their culutre. Their community.
If only they had two parents, better jobs, more time to read at home. It wouldn’t hurt if they had middle-class social benefits. Put those things together and there wouldn’t be a racialized gap in student achievement.
Ok. I won’t argue there. But lets set aside the condition of the child for a moment and consider this new study that finds teachers are less likely to accurately read the facial expression of black students. This only adds to the research I won’t stop talking about that shows black children are seen as less innocent, less capable, and older than they actually are.
When we talk about inequities in education, why don’t we talk about these things?
Eventually, we have to ask the question: “regardless of the condition of the child, aren’t their too many problems in the system that need fixing before blaming children for their own maltreatment?”
Read this from the study:
Prospective teachers are more likely to perceive Black than White elementary and middle-school students as angry, even when they’re not, according to new research published in Emotion. The findings suggest that Black children face a racialized anger bias in school.
“We know a lot about emotion and emotion expression, and we wanted to use our skills toward a question that really mattered and specifically, mattered for social justice,” said study author Shevaun D. Neupert, a professor at North Carolina State University and director of The Daily Well Being in Adulthood Lab.
For the study, 178 prospective teachers from three training programs in the Southeast were shown 72 short video clips of child actors’ facial expressions, and were asked to identify the emotion being displayed. The video clips included both Black and White students and male and female students.
“We hired child actors to display six different emotions and we had professionals who could make all six facial expressions on demand to work with the children until they were able to do so,” Neupert explained. “Then we took short video clips and we made sure that each expression was showing the desired emotion and only that emotion.”
Those emotions included happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise or disgust.
Overall, the researchers found that teachers were more accurate at identifying the facial expressions of girls than boys. The teachers’ emotional evaluations also tended to be more accurate for White girls than Black girls, while being more accurate for Black boys than for White boys.
We’re in trouble when a $4 sandwich matters more than a Black life
We know something has gone terribly wrong in our world when a $4 sandwich is worth more than a black life.
On April 23, 2009 scientists observed a gamma ray burst for 10 seconds which is “the most distant object of any kind and also the oldest known object in the universe.”
But let’s get to the important stuff. On that same day there was a near riot at Minnesota’s one Popeye’s Chicken franchise. The company had advertised an 8-piece meal for $4.99, but the local store was not honoring the deal. Cars backed up in the drive-thru, customers became angry inside the restaurant, and the police were called to stop a melee.
The great chicken riot of Minneapolis made the news.
A local reporter talking about the hubbub said “I haven’t seen people this passionate about something in a very long time.”
I made fun of this incident for years. Mostly because it conflicted with a truism I hear in community meetings all the time about how we aren’t showing up for school meetings or city planning meetings or policy debates because we’re busy working two jobs.
Marketing folks seem to generate a ton of passion in our communities when a dollar is involved. In this case chicken skirmishes have become such a mainstay that it’s created a genre of YouTube videos.
Enough to have videos titled “The Best of Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich Fights.”
The “best of,” really?
Lowbrow, but funny. I grew up on Popeye’s chicken. Loved it as a fat kid in New Orleans does. It took a long time (and some health concerns) to figure out it ain’t food as much as suicide.
Today, what was funny has turned serious. It popped up in my feed that a 28-year-old (the same age as my oldest son) was stabbed to death over a damn Popeye’s chicken sandwich.
Stabbed. To. Death.
Stories like this always make me think about how a person gets to the point in their life where they explode with anger over something trivial and then commit an act that irreversibly ruins their life and the lives of others.
What happened when that person was a teenager, a middle-schooler, or a baby?
There must be a story there. A traumatic one.
I can only imagine.
My guess is that when a child receives endless messages telling him he has little value, he comes to believe it. When he is told that his mind is immaterial, he either responds with anger because he knows it isn’t true (and that it is massive injustice to say it is), or he absorbs the critique and lives it out.
When he’s told he can’t read, he doesn’t. When he’s told he isn’t beautiful, he hates beauty. When he’s told injustice is equity and crooked is straight, as our society so often does to the people it wants to gaslight into a life of subservience, he becomes a violent truth that pays us back for our mannered delusions.
Our children know when the world has pushed them into an unjust corner. They are smart even when the tests they take in school doubt it.
Even as those of us in education activism harp on the idea that our kids aren’t learning, the truth is they are learning every day, but they are learning from our absenteeism and negligence and dedication to mass-consumerism rather than our values and love.
It doesn’t let us of the hook. Chicken fights, social absurdities, and moral laxity are explainable by our history and social conditions, and by our lack of access to the precursors to healthy development (such as home resources, healthcare, and education), but we are not the revolutionaries we think we are if we aren’t calling out and defeating the self-destructive behaviors endemic to our communities.
Every child is born with unsurpassable worth afforded to them by a mighty God. We fall short of our faith if we allow friends, families, or the broader society to rob our kids of that worth.
If they’re ever in a Popeye’s Chicken injuring others over a heart-attack, hypertension, and diabetes inducing sandwich, the trail of their tears leads back to us.
How are the children?
ACT NOW: What does this blog post mean? I could just be me making sense of the needless suffering in our world. It may not be profound. Yet, if forced to think of an action to take that would make this post more than a meaningless buffet of words, I’d ask you to…
…commit to a course of action today that changes our culture of neglect of children. Affirm every child you come into contact with by telling them “you are so amazing, I know you are going to do great things in life” – or something like that.
Or, as always, pray (here).
A short note about Kamala Harris’s integration opportunism
No one should discount the possibility that a little black girl or boy might succeed in life without bathing in whiteness.
Earlier this summer Kamala Harris and Joe Biden had a terse exchange about integration and public school busing.
An article in The Atlantic described it this way:
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” Harris told the former vice president, her voice quaking. “That little girl was me.” It was the defining line of the debate, inspiring the creation of a T-shirt Harris’s campaign is now selling for $29.99. The point Harris was highlighting was clear: When busing would have mattered most as a method of desegregating schools, in the 1970s, Biden didn’t enthusiastically support it.”
We love a good come-up story, especially when it invokes the morally superior virtues that define a beloved community.
I can almost feel the warmth of Harris’ torch for the power of white acceptance, and the disdain for Biden’s blue dog resistance.
And, I could tell you a very different story (that won’t sell T-shirts) about a little black boy who was once bussed three hours a day, away from neighborhood friends and familiar surroundings, to a white school in the hills where moneyed white students and their teachers dislike school busses and students invading “their” school.
That little boy was me.
I turned out ok. Even grew up to have children, who are multiracial like Harris, proving I ardently support integration.
But, I am here to constantly challenge the incessant and dangerous romantization of simple integration stories. While most people called the Harris/Biden tussle in favor of Harris, I still call her rehearsed passion play phony baloney.
Which is why I appreciate this Washington Post article that goes a long way to add context to the oversimplified “I was bussed therefore I am” claptrap that intoxicates the best of audiences.
Especially this part…
Kamala Harris wanted to go to a black school. That’s what black folks called Howard University in the early 1980s when Harris was a teenager considering her future.
Harris, she would say later, was seeking an experience wholly different from what she had long known. She’d attended majority-white schools her entire life — from elementary school in Berkeley, Calif., to high school in Montreal. Her parents’ professional lives and their personal story were bound up in majority-white institutions. Her father, an economist from Jamaica, was teaching at Stanford University. Her mother, a cancer researcher from India, had done her graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, where the couple had met and fallen in love. And Harris’s younger sister would eventually enroll at Stanford.
Harris wanted to be surrounded by black students, black culture and black traditions at the crown jewel of historically black colleges and universities.
In this we see something curious, but not uncommon, which is how sending children of color off to majority white schools can cause dissonance in the face of microagressions and culture stripping.
Maybe Harris wouldn’t admit that, but she wouldn’t be the first to see an HBCU as cultural finishing school for proper black people.
Indeed, the stories of black integrationists who are celebrated by white media are often punctuated by the fact that they only discovered their blackness in college and now they overemphasize it as the false currency they use in minstrel fashion to Afrocentricize white progressive ideals.
I name no names. I just admit what I’ve seen.
No one should discount the possibility that a little black girl or boy might succeed in life without bathing in whiteness.
Maybe a bus saved Harris, the daughter of privileged middle-class professionals.
Or, maybe, it’s just a good story to gather votes from an electorate that loves simplicity.
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