Monday, January 6, 2020

The Criminal Miseducation of Black Students in the LAUSD

Student presentation @ King-Drew Magnet

By Sikivu Hutchinson

If African American students in the Los Angeles Unified School District were a single district, that district would be the eleventh largest in California. This stat comes from a recent analysis of LAUSD test results that unsurprisingly confirms the district’s systemic failure of Black students. Over half of South L.A. schools with the largest concentration of Black students were rated “poor” in academic achievement. These schools received a red rating. By contrast, only fifteen schools were rated red for white students. Districtwide, only two out of ten African American students are proficient or on grade level in math, while only three out of ten are proficient in English. For Black students transitioning to college, the implications are dire.

Yet, where is the outrage??

Although African American high school graduation rates have increased, only half of Black LAUSD graduates have the grades and A-G (or college preparation) classes required for admission to UCs and CSUs. This combination of low access to college readiness resources, minimal access to college and guidance counselors, as well as high quality instruction, after school enrichment and tutoring programs, is informed by the systemic criminalization of African American students. While the LAUSD phased out willful defiance as an “offense” that students can be suspended for, Black students continue to be suspended at higher rates than non-black students. Moreover, widespread district practices such as random searches (which the board voted to phase out in July after community organizing by student activist coalitions like Students Deserve and the Students Not Suspects campaign) and over-policing by school resource officers further undermine student learning, safety, and engagement. The dwindling number of Black students at traditionally African American campuses is another factor. For the most part, faculty of all ethnicities are not trained to be culturally responsive to the needs and communities of Black students. Despite the millions poured into professional development training, faculty and administrators are not versed on how structures of segregation, institutional racism, state violence, sexual violence, and economic insecurity impact the psychological, emotional, and academic wellbeing of Black students.

In addition, Black “Generation Z” youth are more likely to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender, making them more vulnerable to bullying, harassment, and emotional abuse. Higher levels of LGBTQIA+ identification among Black youth defies mainstream, Eurocentric stereotypes about queer identity. It also dovetails with the rising number of queer Black parents who are raising children in communities where they are “invisibilized” by anti-queer public policies, conservative religious traditions, economic inequality, and minimal to nonexistent social services. While the district has developed some programming and outreach for high school age LGBTQIA+ students, there is little to no culturally responsive programming or professional development that addresses the lived experiences of queer, trans, and nonbinary African American students in grades K-8. Students in these grades are even more underserved because teachers and administrators may not have been trained to be conscious about or attentive to addressing homophobia and transphobia on their campuses.

Why is this relevant to achievement? Because it represents the many challenges confronting a district that is ill-equipped to address a changing student body and the intersectional issues it faces. As greater numbers of elementary and middle school African American students grapple with gender identity and sexuality in homophobic, transphobic school communities, it will have a profound impact on their academic outcomes.

In a district that is still steeped in rote learning and tracking, the social-emotional wellbeing of African American LAUSD students has always been given short shrift. Only a handful of elementary and middle schools have a fifty percent or higher rate of English proficiency for African American students. They include Open Charter Middle School, WISH Community Charter, 156th Street School, Kentwood Elementary, Palms Middle School, Open Charter Middle School, Cowan Magnet, Loyola Village Magnet, and Broadacres Magnet. This small handful of schools (with the exception of Palms) are the only ones in the district with a fifty percent or more math proficiency rate for Black students.

At the high school level, only King Drew Magnet High School, TEACH Tech Charter, USC Hybrid College Prep, Palisades High, Hollywood High, University High and CATCH Charter High have at least a fifty percent or higher rate of English proficiency for Black students.  According to the data, no high school has an African American student math proficiency rate of 50% or higher. Astoundingly, some Black “leaders” within the LAUSD say that increasing Black math proficiency to 5% per year is an acceptable goal.

What is the district’s response to these gross disparities? In April, the LAUSD School Board sponsored a resolution entitled “Closing the Opportunity and Achievement Gap for African American Students”. The resolution is the umpteenth district measure over a fifteen-year period that is designed to address “systemic inequities” faced by Black students. It calls for a “five-year plan” to increase the numbers of Black students in gifted and talented programs, honors classes, advanced placement classes, and early education programs.  As with all of the previous resolutions that were passed to supposedly improve conditions in LAUSD for Black students, this plan is big on ambition and short on accountability to the community for how it will be implemented and evaluated (backers of the resolution have floated the creation of “African American Family” groups to participate in its implementation, but the district has provided no specifics on how this would play out).

The district’s cluelessness on redressing math literacy is especially egregious. Veteran math educator Dr. Michael Batie analyzed math proficiency for a fifteen-year period in his publication the “Black Zero Index”. Dr. Batie views the district’s piecemeal efforts as akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. He has proposed creating a school district within Board District One, which has the largest Black student population in the LAUSD. Rather than emphasizing “how poorly Black students are doing”, these dismal performance stats should be a call to action and catalyst for forward-looking initiatives.

Of course, starting a breakaway district is no easy or overnight task. It requires a petition to the L.A. County Office of Education School District Reorganization Committee and the collection of fifteen thousand signatures. In the meantime, improving math achievement for Black students requires the kind of bold restructuring that George McKenna, the board’s sole African American member (who is running unopposed for reelection in March after challenger Tunette Powell was disqualified for allegedly not having enough signatures to qualify for the ballot), has steadfastly refused to pursue. Under McKenna’s watch, Black students have stagnated, victim of his empty bluster, bravado, and fiddling-while-Rome-burns posturing.

Batie believes the district should prioritize providing schools with math specialists at every level in order to improve math literacy and competency among elementary and middle school instructors who may be assigned to teach math with no math background. Connecting math to real world practice and application—instead of emphasizing rote instruction that simply has students look at numbers on the page without seeing patterns or context—incorporating games and practical exercises, contests, manipulatives, and building exercises encourages students to stay mentally focused and internalize basic math skills as a foundation for higher math in high school and college.

For Batie, providing parents with strategies that empower them to assist their child in math literacy is a top priority. These skills are critical for equipping parents with the tools from birth through high school to help youth develop the rigor required to achieve math proficiency.

Ultimately, the district’s failure of African American students in math and English has national implications for Black economic self-determination. If Black students continue to be cheated out of educational justice in public schools, more parents will retreat into independent charters and private schools, hastening a vicious cycle of divestment.  And if Black students remain underserved in math, science, and English, they will be unable to develop critical thinking and analysis skills, successfully complete college, or compete in STEM fields that have few Black faces. In a political climate where public education has been gutted by neoliberal forces of privatization and corporate control, the miseducation of Black students is a criminal enterprise that demands accountability from district “leaders” who continue to be asleep at the switch.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder of the Women’s Leadership Project program for South L.A. girls of color and co-facilitator of the Black LGBTQIA+ Parent and Family Group

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sleep Dystopias Podcast

A new short story, speculative fiction and sci fi podcast from the third rail.

Episode 1: A woman with fatal insomnia meets two time traveling strangers on the California I5 freeway in the wake of the U.S.' invasion of Grenada in 1983. Featuring Cydney Wayne Davis, Heather Aubry and Sikivu Hutchinson.

"There was a whole sub-industry of airplane part junkies looking for the crown jewels of a black box, a control wheel, and a radar display from doomed cockpits."

On Spotify, Podbean and on iTtunes

Original music composed and performed by Sikivu Hutchinson, produced at Maurock Studios.

Pleasant Dreams.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Justice for Atatiana, Abolish Police Domestic Terrorism

By Sikivu Hutchinson

She was a young, Black female professional and daughter with a vibrant life and blossoming career, cut down in four seconds in an act of domestic terrorism that has devastated a multi-generational family. This past Saturday morning, twenty eight year-old Atatiana Jefferson was murdered in cold blood in her home by a white Fort Worth, Texas police officer responding to a neighbor’s request for a “welfare check”.  The police officer yelled for Jefferson to put her hand up through a window, then fired his weapon four seconds later. Jefferson was playing video games with her eight year-old nephew. The murder of Jefferson comes on the heels of the conviction and puffball sentencing of white female police officer Amber Guyger for the senseless killing of Botham Jean in his Dallas home. Guyger received ten years for murdering Jean, then was the recipient of a stomach turning gesture of courtroom forgiveness from Jean’s brother and the Black female presiding judge. Like scores of innocent African American victims before them, Jefferson and Jean were slain in spaces that were ostensibly safe. In Jefferson’s case, the neighbor believed that they were contacting a “non-emergency” number which wouldn’t require law enforcement. Time and again, Black folks who reach out for “help” and “assistance” from the police either wind up dead themselves or inadvertently cause another Black person to be killed. The blind hope that law enforcement will protect or honor Black life and the sanctity of Black home space has proven lethal for Black folks. From Eulia Love (murdered by LAPD, 1979) to Eleanor Bumpurs (murdered by NYPD, 1984) to Amadou Diallo (murdered by NYPD, 1999) to Jean, Jefferson, and many others, domestic police terrorism has continued to be a toxic mental, emotional, and physical public health threat for communities of color.
Jefferson is the fifth person to have been murdered by Fort Worth police this year. A GoFundMe campaign has been established for her family with the following message:

"Before law enforcement goes about their pattern of villainizing this beautiful peaceful woman, turning her into a suspect, a silhouette, or threat, let me tell you about 28 y/o #AtatianaJefferson “Tay”. She was a Pre-med graduate of Xavier University. She was very close to her family. She was the auntie that stayed up on Friday night playing video games with her 8 year-old nephew. She worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales. Her mom had recently gotten very sick, so she was home taking care of the house and loving her life. There was no reason for her to be murdered. None. We must have justice." 

Folks who give to the GoFundMe should also push the Ft. Worth police commission, Mayor Betsy Price and Texas Governor Greg Abbott to fire and prosecute the officer who murdered Jefferson. After generations and centuries of state-sanctioned murder, bloodshed, and multi-billion dollar police state looting, there can be no more compelling evidence of the need to abolish the police.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Forthcoming 2020 Book: Humanists in the Hood: Unapologetically Black, Feminist, and Heretical

Feminism and atheism are “dirty words” which Americans across the political spectrum love to hate and debate. Throw them into a blender and you have a toxic brew that supposedly defies decency, respectability, and Americana. Add an “unapologetically” Black critique to the mix and it’s a deal breaking social taboo. In this groundbreaking volume, Black feminist writer Sikivu Hutchinson explores how the right wing conservative evangelical backlash in American public policy has inspired new generations of freethinkers, humanists, and atheists of color to challenge conventional gender politics, religious orthodoxy, and homophobic faith traditions. Putting gender at the center of the equation, progressive “Religious Nones” of color are spearheading an anti-racist, social justice humanism; disrupting the “colorblind” ethos of European American church-state separation focused atheist and humanist agendas. These critical interventions build on the lived experiences and social histories of segregated Black and Latinx communities which are increasingly under economic siege. Hutchinson argues that feminist politics, atheism, and humanistic world views offer a valuable and necessary context for social justice change in a polarized climate where Black women’s political power has become a galvanizing national force.

Pre-order @ Indiebound, Amazon and Barnes and Noble 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

White Picket Fence Apocalypse and "Negro Removal"

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Inglewood, circa the late seventies, and there are white kids on the swings and the jungle gyms, roving in the hallways, clutching their milk money all Dennis the Menace freckle faced and anxious, waiting for story time on the magic carpet in the second grade classroom of my elementary school.  Most of them have been bused in as part of a short-lived integration policy implemented by Inglewood Unified. The policy was an outlier. A Hail Mary pass to Kumbaya when there were still a significant number of white families in the westerly parts of a city which once boasted Klan rallies on its major thoroughfare in the 1920s. In this snapshot it is over a decade after the Watts Rebellion, the final catalyst for white flight from South L.A. Wormhole to 2019 and the kids of these reluctant colonists have descended in dog walking, baby strolling, cell phone clanking droves onto the ghettoes they once sneered at steaming warp speed down Manchester Avenue fortified with a ripe helping of Jimmy Buffett at the Forum escaping to the homey comforts of the 405.  Inglewood (once dubbed Ingle-Watts and now on the precipice of two new multi-billion dollar stadium developments that community activists have pushed back on), has become the new “jam” of Becky and Biff with 2.5 kids and a $500k starter home loan to burn on planting white picket fences in the hood.

In a county in which Black homelessness is the highest in the nation, the white picket fence resurgence is a whiplash glimpse into apocalypse for Black homeowners and renters. As Ron Daniels notes in the Institute of Black World Twenty First Century, “What is equally egregious are the attitudes of some of the newcomers whom residents of Black communities sometimes characterize as ‘invaders’ or ‘neo-colonialists.’ This is because some newcomers are not content to become a part of the community; they arrogantly attempt to change the rhythms, culture and character of the community.”  Nationwide, the Black homeownership rate is now lower than it was during the Jim Crow era. And the gap between white and Black homeownership is larger than when the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 (Black homeownership is 30.5% lower than whites).  Coming to L.A. during the Great Migration period in the early-to-mid twentieth century, African Americans were partly seduced by the so-called California Dream of single-family homeownership, a supposed antidote to Jim Crow apartheid. In the ensuing decades, Black homebuyers were run out of the Westmont neighborhood of South L.A., terrorized and swindled out of their 1920s resort property in Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, and blockbusted by angry white mobs in Baldwin Hills. Post Watts Rebellion, sunshine, endless sprawl, and exurban fortresses became the currency of white generational wealth and white supremacy.

Despite the insidious legacy of racially restrictive covenants, redlining, subprime and predatory lending, and outright white domestic terrorism, home ownership has always been the biggest source of generational wealth for African Americans. Sixty two percent of Black wealth is tied to home equity. Yet, Black home equity is hamstrung by institutionalized segregation which depresses home values in communities of color relative to those in predominantly white communities. Disproportionately low levels of Black equity are also impacted by low savings’ rates among African American homeowners.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, “The typical black family with a head of household working full time has less wealth than the typical white family whose head of household is unemployed.” This staggering disparity means that most Black households simply scramble to remain afloat. Savings (much less investment in stocks, bonds, and other high risk market investments) are often difficult to accumulate when folks are one paycheck away from eviction, foreclosure, and potential homelessness.

Hence, the threat of gentrification cuts to the heart of black self-determination in a community that has been hyper-segregated, demonized as crime-ridden, and sold to the highest bidder by Black politicians and white developers.

North of Inglewood, the Crenshaw District’s built environment has become dominated by perpetually clogged streets, epic lane closures, rogue construction, and unhoused folks crammed into campers, vans, cars, tents and sidewalks. Over the past several years, this part of the South L.A. community has been under siege from runaway development rammed down its throat with no grassroots input. One of the most egregious examples is the controversial proposal to erect a 75-foot, 577 unit apartment complex on the corner of Crenshaw and Obama Boulevards. The long vacant site was once home to a Ralph’s supermarket and was originally slated for retail store development.  The proposed “District Square” apartment complex was to be built by developer Arman Gabay. As has been widely reported, Gabay, who was recently indicted and arrested for bribing a County employee to secure a lease, had close ties with Councilman Herb Wesson. Gabay is also in default for millions of dollars in federal loans. The outrage of scofflaw Gabay being granted the contract for the development is not lost on residents who face foreclosure and homelessness due to predatory and subprime lending. Black folks don’t have the luxury or privilege to wrack up loan debt while fronting multi-million dollar residential developments. Gabay exemplifies the  leeway granted to corporate developers who were handed billions of dollars in loans under both the Obama and Trump administrations on the backs of American taxpayers.

At September’s South L.A. Planning Commission, Wesson withdrew his unqualified support for the development, backing an appeal initiated by the Crenshaw Subway Coalition’s Damien Goodmon and area residents. The appeal seeks to postpone the development in a push for affordable and supportive units.

The challenge to the District Square development comes on the heels of successful opposition to a neighboring complex on Brynhurst Avenue near Crenshaw. The complex would’ve been rammed into a single family residential block. The massive structure was widely opposed for being incompatible with the neighborhood, environmentally hazardous, and unaffordable.

At the other end of the spectrum, the L.A. City Council recently voted to table an ordinance that would have prohibited sleeping on sidewalks near schools, parks, and libraries. Community activists charged that the ordinance would criminalize the unhoused and lead to more racial profiling.  Given that the majority of the unhoused are African American, “selective” enforcement of the ordinance would exacerbate systemic over-policing of Black folks who have been forced onto the streets by astronomical rent and housing prices.  The city has filed a friend of the court brief challenging a 2018 “Boise Ruling” that bars local governments from prohibiting folks from sleeping on the streets if there aren’t enough shelters. The city’s shameful challenge comes as a recent City Controller’s audit on Measure HHH— which was supposed to be used to construct 10,000 supportive units for the unhoused—confirmed that no supportive housing units have been built with the fund.  According to the audit, only a little more than half of the projected 10,000 will be for permanent supportive housing.

The escalation of market rate development in historically Black South L.A. fuels the dispossession of unhoused Black folks. South L.A. and Inglewood homeowners report being besieged with calls and flyers from realtors and flippers looking to buy up housing stock in areas that only a decade earlier were branded “ghettoes”. Former Black strongholds like Harlem, D.C., Philadelphia, Seattle, Houston, Oakland, and Fillmore and Bay Point in San Francisco, have morphed into designer ghettoes greedily carved up by developers in imperial land grabs reminiscent of the twentieth century “urban renewal” or Negro removal schemes that ripped apart Black neighborhoods.  Last month, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition launched a series of “Summer of Resistance” townhall meetings that will continue into the end of the year with community actions against the neo-colonial forces of development in City Hall. November’s meetings will spotlight the potential displacement of thousands of Crenshaw residents, the fencing of Leimert Park and the Planning Commission’s complicity in the market rate boondoggle that is bleeding South L.A. dry. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

From Brexit to El Paso: The Geopolitics of White Hate

By Sikivu Hutchinson
On the bustling streets of Kensington in London last week, one of the Black women I asked to comment on the recent election of Boris Johnson (who has been branded as Donald Trump’s British mini-me) vehemently declined. “I wouldn’t be able to without cussing,” she said, her response encapsulating the rage and distress Johnson’s election has elicited for progressive people of color.
The backlash to Johnson’s ascent after the resignation of Tory Prime Minister Theresa May is reminiscent of Trumpian political turbulence. Johnson’s hard-line call for a “no deal” Brexit, or withdrawal from the European Union (EU), would further undermine social and economic justice in working class communities of color that are already suffering from massive unemployment rates, a grossly unaffordable housing market, educational disparities, and a criminalizing police presence.
Like Trump, Johnson sees himself as a redemptive figure for a first-world empire under siege. He has rightfully been branded a racist for famously ridiculing Black folks as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and likening Muslim women who wear burkas to letterboxes. Just as Trump has whipped up white supremacist, nativist, and nationalist sentiment in the US, so too has Johnson aroused Britain’s isolationist, hard-right conservatives who see “their” country being overrun by brown and black immigrants milking a welfare state steeped in a threatening multiculturalism. According to the Counter Extremism Project, “These far-right political parties have been able to unite ethno-nationalism with populism by propagating the notion that ethno-nationalism serves the average hardworking individual and the broader national identity.” In this narrative, the EU is the scourge of white nationalist independence and self-determination, sucking the economies of Britain, Italy, and Germany dry.
The young white male shooter who murdered twenty-two people and injured dozens more at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart on August 3 also vilified “race mixing,” Latinx immigrants, and white America’s inability to defend itself from the dark hordes. Indeed, the upsurge in American white nationalism is part of a larger global trend that has also gripped Europe and Canada. As Britain’s Guardian newspaper notes,
The targets of deadly attacks have included Muslim worshippers at mosques in Canada, Britain and New Zealand; black Americans…at a historic black church in South Carolina; Jewish Americans in synagogues across the United States; and leftwing politicians and activists in the US, UK, Greece and Norway.
In June of 2016, a week before the Brexit referendum passed, British MP and Brexit opponent Jo Cox was murdered by a white terrorist who screamed “This is for Britain!” and “Britain first!”
After Brexit passed, rising hate crimes and Islamophobia ripped open what writer Habiba Katsha characterizes as the myth that Black folks have it “easier” in the UK. In this distorted view, British institutional racism is supposedly less insidious than in the United States. Yet for so-called Brexiteers, leaving the EU has been fetishized as a swashbuckling panacea to European domination and control, Britain’s twenty-first-century version of Confederate secession. “Britain First,” like “America First,” has become a clarion call for white resistance. Not surprisingly, Brexit support is most robust in rural and small cities where white voters feel most imperiled by immigration. Opposition to Brexit is strongest in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London. Anti-Brexiteers believe the move will gut trade because the majority of Britain’s exports and foreign investment comes from Europe. Economic analysts predict that the pound will fall, trade at the Irish border will cease, and inflation will skyrocket. In anticipation of the withdrawal, major corporations like Airbus have threatened to leave Britain.
Blasting Johnson on the floor of Parliament, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that a no-deal Brexit was the “height of economic lunacy” and would lead to job cuts, decreased workers’ rights, and fewer environmental protections. “I note the climate change-denying [US] president has already dubbed him ‘Britain Trump’ and welcomed his plea to work with fascist, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage,” Corbyn observed, warning this “would make us a vassal state of Trump’s America.” Suggesting the disastrous impact leaving the EU will have on working-class people, one commentator likened it to a Ponzi scheme—a massive swindle promising unlimited returns based on lies and subterfuge. That the majority of white working-class Labour Party members voted to leave the EU highlights how race solidarity always eclipses class solidarity in nations like Britain and the US, where the wages of whiteness are key to national identity, economic stability, and community.
The Black and South Asian women I spoke to were infuriated by the British media’s soft-pedaling of Johnson as a “charming eccentric.” Londoner and world traveler Muksa railed against the normalization of Trump’s hate speech and its effect on Britain’s political climate, noting that “the outside world rarely hears from British people of color,” which leads to the false assumption that folks are complacent and invisible. In her view, this presumed invisibility is strongly connected to hate attacks against Muslim and ethnic communities. Sadia Hameed, a feminist activist, atheist, socialist, and member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, predicted that, “The poor will most certainly get poorer and, just as austerity impacted people of color in the worst way (women of color worst of all), in the same manner, Brexit will hit people of color doubly hard, harder than their white working-class counterparts.” Commenting on Johnson’s strategy, filmmaker Maria Ivienagbor of South London said, “I don’t think he has Black British folks in mind, and Brexit will probably be an ‘experiment’ on us. I’m worried for the future.”
This future is further clouded by the burgeoning global industry of hate fueled by a vast European infrastructure (anchored by training camps, social media, job networks, lecture circuits, and publication platforms) that attracts recruits from around the world to places like Russia and the UK for induction. Under the Trump administration, domestic terrorism efforts targeting white supremacist and nationalist groups have been squelched and funding gutted. With both the US and Britain hanging in the balance, mobilizing progressive communities for the 2020 election will be critical to ensuring that the destructive blight of global Trumpism doesn’t become a permanent human rights “experiment.”

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Liberatory Power of Toni Morrison's Pen

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Excerpted from The North Star

The universe that we’ve inherited from Toni Morrison is:
The pell mell swoon of Jazz and its , mysterious crazy in  love triangle set against the backdrop of the Great Migration of African Americans to NYC, caught up in its  golden glow and cruel tease; the Blue-eyed devastation of Pecola, dreaming her truth, against incest, in the grinding poverty of segregationist Ohio; The twisted bond and  ride or die Sula-passion between two dramatically different black women; one fuck-you mad, one respectable and maybe veering towards madness; The elusive thrum of Paradise in an all-black town pulsing in the terror of the Middle Passage where black women’s fight for self-determination, bodily autonomy, and the Beloved blasted the white gaze to bits.

On my desk, I have a picture of Morrison with one of her most famous quotes: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ...More @ The North Star