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Monday, March 23, 2015

Backdraft: Affirmative Action for White Men in the LAFD

By Sikivu Hutchinson

When conservatives condemn affirmative action they typically focus on mythical assumptions of merit, level playing fields and unlimited opportunity.  Affirmative action, as the cliché goes, is a road littered with white male victims cheated of their rightful place atop the hiring food chain by unqualified minorities.  Public sector employment, with its entitled multicultural workforce, greedy unions and overly generous benefits is supposed to be a prime example of the wrongheadedness of affirmative action.  Yet one of the most insidious ways that white male affirmative action is institutionalized is through hiring advantages in elite fields that have historically been hostile to people of color and white women.  White males in management groom, mentor and promote other white males, boosting their access to higher salaries, greater job stability, home ownership, retirement benefits and quality educations for their children.  

A prime example of this is the Los Angeles Fire Department, an elite enclave that remains a bastion of unchecked white male mobility.  For the past two years, the LAFD, poster child for public sector affirmative action for white men, has been embroiled in a cheating scandal around illegal access to hiring and promotional exams.  White male firefighters routinely circulated exam questions and answers to friends and relatives.  Company emails alerting relatives to strict submission guidelines were widely distributed while coaching sessions for relatives were even held at a city fire station.  As a result, the relatives of employees were more likely to score higher on the exams and be hired for these prestigious, highly paid positions.  The number of sons of long time employees in the department exceeded that of women firefighters overall by five times.  Twenty percent of new LAFD recruits have a relative in the department.   Criticizing the LAFD’s 2014 recruiting process political analyst Susan Estrich noted, “The Los Angeles Fire Department began training its first class of recruits in five years — 70 in all, 69 men and one woman. Sixty percent of the recruit class is white, compared to 29 percent of the city. Overall, the department has been 3 percent female since 1995.”  Citing personal reasons, the lone woman in the class ultimately dropped out.  In many departments women firefighters contend with a boy’s club culture of harassment, intimidation, belittlement, isolation and virtually non-existent paths to promotion.

In mainstream lore, firefighting jobs are typically portrayed as being the province of a small elite who demonstrate physical strength, courage, sound judgment and (that ever elusive and subjective quality) “character”.  From the all-American fireman snagging a child’s cat from a tree to the valiant he-men first responders glorified in the aftermath of 9/11, whiteness and heterosexual manliness have always been the implicit criteria for being firefighters.  Ensuring public safety is supposedly the prerogative and right of these stalwart examples of masculinity.  Yet the overwhelming majority of fire department service calls are for medical care—not rescue from burning buildings.

While law enforcement has made slow progress toward diversification, fire departments nationwide also remain stubbornly white and male, with women representing less than 4% of the workforce.  Six percent of women firefighters are African American (Teresa DeLoach-Reed of Oakland is the first black woman ever to lead a fire department.  The first documented black woman to serve as a firefighter was a slave named Molly Williams in New York City).  Similar to the LAFD, the “guild-like structure” in the firefighting profession overall has preserved the intergenerational succession of white male relatives. In addition, “Recruitment, training and leadership have helped to honor and preserve lineages that favor bigger, stronger firefighters.” 

Daryl Osby, the African American head of the L.A. County Fire Department, recently announced an anti-nepotism program to crack down on the number of relatives who get hired in the department, as well as reform favoritism in promotions and performance evaluations.

Despite these clear assaults on “meritocracy” there has been no backlash from the right wing.  Fox News and other staunch affirmative action opponents in the GOP have not descended on the LAFD decrying preferential treatment or the end of meritocracy as we know it.  True to Ronald Reagan’s old “faux pas” that “facts are stupid things”, empirical data have never fazed the GOP in its relentless demonization of affirmative action for people of color.  Documentation of the targeting of African Americans and Latinos by subprime and predatory mortgage lenders or the recent Department of Justice report on systemic discrimination against African Americans by the Ferguson police department never register in the GOP’s calculus because they contradict the white supremacist myth of the American dream.  The right wing’s destructive propaganda about bootstraps enterprise and rugged individualism is one of the greatest cancers on American public policy.  At every step of the way whites benefit from unearned advantages and privileges that people of color will never have access to.  Two major ways white working and middle class folk accumulate wealth is by capitalizing on the connections of family members in elite high-paying fields as well as by drawing on family/household wealth (i.e., property, small businesses, stocks/bonds, savings, retirement plans, 401Ks) through inheritance.  The decades’ long institutionalization of white supremacy in fire departments underscores how the racial wealth gap gets played out in the rhetoric of Americana public safety.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.  Twitter @sikivuhutch


Monday, February 9, 2015

Policing Our Girls

WLP Conference
By Sikivu Hutchinson
“Let them haul the little monster out of school and into jail”.  These were the words of a commenter on’s site responding to an article on the handcuffing of a six year-old black girl named Salecia Johnson at a Georgia elementary school in 2012.  Disproportionately targeted by zero tolerance discipline policies, black preschool and elementary school children have the highest rates of suspension and expulsion in the U.S.  While demonizing black children has always been a treasured American tradition, little black girls have never been included in white heterosexual gender norms of sugar and spice and everything nice.  From Topsy to Sambo to Buckwheat, the specter of the wild borderline criminal black pickaninny, destined to come to a violent end, helped frame narratives of white childhood innocence and American national identity from the 19th century to the present.  The hapless motherless Topsy, a black girl caricature featured in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was one of the first and most enduring minstrel images of black children under slavery.  In the book, Topsy is contrasted with the virginal angelic character of Little Eva, the white daughter of a “benevolent” slaveowner.  The fount of moral goodness, Eva forgives Topsy her thievery and “heathen” ways, making her promise that she will become a good Christian.  

Images of chaotic uncontrollable black femininity continue to influence the policing of black girls in public space.  The unique academic, social and emotional toll that criminalization takes on black girls is the subject of the African American Policy Forum’s (AAPF) new report “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected”.  Under the direction of legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, the AAPF has been at the forefront of challenging President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative to include girls of color.  Nationwide, black girls are suspended six times more than white girls.  In big city school districts like New York and Boston, black girls are a whopping 90% and 63% of girls who are suspended.  Rates of expulsion were even more strikingly disproportionate between black and white students, especially among girls.”  By contrast, black boys are suspended three times more than white boys.  Yet, much of the national discourse around school-to-prison pipelining either focuses exclusively on boys of color or shoehorns girls in as an afterthought.  The traditional racist/sexist marginalization of black girls’ lived experiences means they often fall through the cracks of culturally responsive intervention and prevention strategies that address state violence.  According to the report, “Black girls sometimes get less attention than their male counterparts early in their school careers (because they) are perceived to be more socially mature and self-reliant.”  As Crenshaw notes, the myth of black girls’ resiliency often precludes focus on the gendered and culturally specific ways black girls are targeted by disproportionate discipline policies.  Hence, “It’s important that (black girls’) resiliency not be used to cover real life burdens and obstacles.”
The myth of the strong, self-sufficient “everyone’s rock” black woman is legion within mainstream American culture, helping popularize and sustain a thousand neo-mammy images.  From a very young age black girls are taught to be mega-caregivers; self-sacrificing and devout, placing everyone else ahead of themselves, branded as unwomanly if they don’t toe the line of respectability politics.  When she was in her senior year “Victoria”—a former foster care youth and first generation college student—would routinely come to school three or four days a week.  Entrusted with taking care of her younger siblings, Victoria often fell behind on her schoolwork.  She was also a sexual abuse survivor living in a building where a female resident had been raped in the garage.  Now in her second year of college, Victoria’s experiences were common among the girls that I’ve worked with in my Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) gender justice program.  
While male students are generally not expected to shoulder the burdens of childcare and caregiving, these are routine expectations for girls of color.  In her 2002 teen girls’ of color anthology My Sister’s Voices, Iris Jacob (who was eighteen at the time) writes poignantly about the toll the unequal burden of caregiving takes on girls of color:
Girls of color have forever been caretakers.  That is what we are taught, from babysitting our siblings to cooking for our families.  Part of being a caretaker means defending men of color—our fathers, uncles, brothers…We have been trained to stand by them…We as females of color have been told that sexism does not exist for us or is not important.
WLP students report that caregiving, domestic responsibilities and supporting younger siblings are a tremendous source of stress, reducing time for self-care, schoolwork and college preparation.  Adding to this dynamic, black girls disproportionately experience sexual violence, intimate partner violence and trauma.  Many of the young women in WLP are abuse survivors.  As the report notes, because they live in an environment that normalizes anti-black anti-female violence girls may “act out” due to “untreated trauma”.  
Yet, even as they grapple with trauma and victimization, black girls across academic lines are saddled with the stereotype of being loud, unruly, “ghetto” and too outspoken.  While being inquisitive and assertive in the classroom is often encouraged in and expected of boys, these same qualities are tacitly discouraged and viewed as disruptive when exhibited by black girls.  As AAPF researcher Monique Morris notes: “There is an important point of departure between the conditions affecting Black females and males with respect to the role of discipline and educational attainment in the ‘pipeline’ between schools and carceral institutions…the behaviors for which Black females routinely experience disciplinary response are related to their nonconformity with notions of white middle class femininity, for example, by their dress, their profanity, or having tantrums in the classroom.”  Bucking white hetero-norms, black girls are often targeted and penalized for not being sufficiently “ladylike” or deferential to authority, a dynamic that is especially insidious when they’re hypersexualized by male peers.  The report notes that black girls are particularly vulnerable to being disciplined for defending themselves against sexual harassment, physical abuse or bullying on school campuses.  My former student “Victoria”, who is straight, was suspended for one day after she attempted to defend herself against a boy who hit her and called her a bitch.  “Jada” and “Megan”, 10th and 11th grade WLP students, were pushed by their school principal after getting into an argument with him about going to class. Getting suspended for fighting back against sexual harassment, physical abuse or bullying is also common for queer and trans girls of color who are may be viewed by school administrators as having provoked attacks by straight or cis students.  In 2002 Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles (a former WLP site) was the subject of a lawsuit partly as a result of over-disciplining LGBTQ students.  
Damned if they do and damned if they don’t, black girls who are pushed out of school are more likely to become incarcerated and pregnant at an early age.  Yet, there is no mainstream fascination with, nor celebration of, the untapped brilliance/dynamism of incarcerated “outlaw” black girls.  Ever infatuated with the “primitive” hyper-masculine ingenuity of black “thug” life and gangsta culture, mainstream America has no cultural space for black girls who’ve been incarcerated.  Indeed, the tabloid fetishization of young white female convicts—from Amy Fisher to Susan Smith to Jody Arias to Amanda Knox and Casey Anthony—humanizes them as privileged objects of sympathy, pity and cultural identification (while demonizing or marginalizing women like Marissa Alexander).  At opposite ends of the state violence spectrum, criminal white girls get framed as victims while slain black men get framed as either public enemies or martyred icons. 
Thus, when feminists of color argue that the criminalization of black girls demands a national policy focus we’re still confronted with the “all of the women are white and all of the blacks are men” regime.  As a publisher who recently rejected a book chapter I wrote on the policing of black girls in K-12 schools indicated, black boys “crises” should be our primary focus.  Pushing back against this rhetoric, the AAPF report emphasizes the need for disaggregated educational data that reflects race/gender disparities (for example, the U.S. Department of Education and most school districts do not provide discipline data that has been disaggregated by both race and gender).  It also stresses the importance of youth programming and curricula that address pushout intersectionally, taking into account the impact sexual violence, trauma, caregiving/parenting responsibilities, pregnancy and the educational opportunity gap have on black girls’ lives.  These are radical notions in a nation that preaches exceptionalism and profits from the violent policing of six year-old black girls.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder of the Women’s Leadership Project and author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.  Her novel White Nights, Black Paradise on the Jonestown massacre and Peoples Temple is due in fall 2015.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dissing DuVernay and the Lessons of Selma

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Every child in the U.S. should be required to see Selma for at least two reasons.  First, Ava DuVernay’s powerhouse film captures the political complexities and tactical ambiguities that informed civil rights movement organizing; from the behind-the-scenes factionalism among movement organizers to the FBI’s war on activists to the media’s influence on bringing black resistance to Southern terrorism straight into white Middle America’s living rooms.  Highlighting the contributions of black women activists and other lesser known unheralded organizers, the film reminds young people that historical change does not spring from the exceptional actions of visionary individuals but from collective action.  In this regard, Selma is an important antidote to mainstream portrayals that fixate on Martin Luther King as the sole impetus for the movement. 

Second, the lessons of Selma itself are relevant to DuVernay’s “omission” from the Academy Awards nomination for Best Director.  True to Frederick Douglass’ assertion that “power concedes nothing without demand” the snub of DuVernay is criminal but of course not unprecedented.  Just as sustained organized action brought down Southern apartheid so must sustained organized action be directed at Hollywood’s billion dollar White Boy’s club.  Each year, people of color flock to inane comedies and big budget action flicks in record numbers (Latinos have the highest film going rates and the lowest rates of representation in mainstream film).  In the few theater chains that deign to operate in the "ghetto", we watch white people play out themes of heroism, romance, swashbuckling, leadership and political intrigue underwritten by multinational corporations which rarely endorse people of color portrayals that don’t hinge on minstrelsy.  Given this, why would the Academy, helmed by a cabal of older white men like the Tea Party, give a brilliant fierce black woman like DuVernay its imprimatur for disrupting one of white supremacy’s most sacred preserves?  Shaming white Hollywood into “validating” a few token nominees of color every five years does nothing to address its apartheid structure; refusing to support its lily white fantasies at the local multiplex does.

In Selma, DuVernay alludes to the limits of dismantling de jure segregation vis-à-vis de facto segregation.  Toward the end of his life, King confronted economic injustice and the intractability of capitalist exploitation.  Moving from “reform to revolution”, his final push for the Poor People’s Campaign underscored the divide between ending Jim Crow voting rights restrictions versus redressing deeply embedded structural race and class inequities.  In some respects, DuVernay’s exclusion from the film industry’s white male director canon exemplifies the elusiveness of the latter.  While white Hollywood post-Charlie Hebdo recently patted itself on the back at the Golden Globes for supporting free speech and the increase in diverse portrayals of (white) women, conditions for women of color are still in neo-Aunt Jemima territory.  Critiquing this civil liberties’ love fest, black feminist writer Britney Cooper slammed white Hollywood’s empty activist rhetoric as it ignored the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Ripe for parody, liberal and progressive whites are obsessively fond of trotting out their savior on the cross allyship with downtrodden people of color.  To wit not one prominent white actor, actress, director or producer has spoken out about white supremacy in Hollywood greenlighting, financing, casting and decision-making.  But as Selma foreshadowed, the wages of whiteness are a far more insidious regime than segregated lunch counters.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Framing Black Queer Resistance: An Interview with Black Lives Matter L.A. Activist Povi-Tamu Bryant

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Last week, activists from the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles (BLMLA) coalition spearheaded the Occupy LAPD encampment, demanding a meeting with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck as well as the firing and prosecution of the officers who murdered Ezell Ford. The issue of black self-determination—queer, trans, disabled, undocumented—is at the forefront of this thriving mass movement, which not only challenges white supremacy but challenges the orthodoxies of mainstream patriarchal hetero-normative civil rights organizing.  On Tuesday I spoke to BLMLA activist Povi-Tamu Bryant, who was waiting to address the LAPD Commission after the dismantling of Occupy LAPD’s encampment and the arrest of fellow BLMLA organizers Sha Dixon and Dr. Melina Abdullah.  Dixon, Abdullah and Bryant, along with fierce black women BLM founders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, have brought an intersectional lens to the movement in an era where black youth of all genders and sexual orientations don’t see the complexity of their communities represented in hyper-segregated classrooms with apartheid curricula. Bryant’s comments on Ethnic Studies and the need for culturally responsive education were especially relevant in light of the recent implementation of a new California law banning suspensions for willful defiance in grades K-3. Willful defiance has long been used to target and criminalize “unruly” black children as early as preschool.  For children of color, criminalization at the preschool level is often the first phase in a path that leads to pushout in later grades and incarceration in adulthood.  It is also one of the most devastating tools in the destruction of culturally responsive education.  This partial victory is important in context of the growing leadership of community organizers who have waged daily resistance to police and state violence which has resulted in the stolen lives of black youth like Ford, Aiyanna Jones, Tamir Rice and Rekia Boyd

SH: Historically when we look at civil resistance to state violence there has been a lot of focus on black male leadership and black male victims, often to the exclusion of black women who’ve been murdered, as well as of black women activists who have been on the frontlines of movement organizing.  What motivated you to become involved with Black Lives Matter L.A.?

Bryant: I was motivated to become involved last year after the acquittal of George Zimmerman.  I realized in that moment again just how little black lives are valued, and it made me feel like it was important to be around black folks, to share my rage and grief with black folks and to be showing up for myself, my community and my family.  BLMLA has a particular frame around the value of all black lives mattering; showing that black trans lives matter, black women’s lives matter, black disabled lives matter and black immigrant lives matter.  Having that frame allowed me to show up as myself—as a black queer gender-bending woman—and it has allowed me to really be involved with lifting up the disparities that black communities face. 

SH: You mention the impact that state violence and dehumanization have on queer black women in particular and we know black trans women have high rates of physical abuse and criminalization.  How has that critical consciousness been factored into the emerging movement in terms of bringing forward activists that are doing intersectional work?

Bryant: With BLM we went from a hashtag to a movement.  We’ve tried to be super-intentional about creating space that lifts up the voices of folks that aren’t often lifted up when we think about black liberation and black struggle.  We come out of a very visible civil rights history in that a lot of the leaders that held up are often black men.  We see a lot of that happening today.  We’re trying to disrupt that narrative and flip the frame around what it means to do movement work to allow things like emotional labor be understood as movement work, to allow things like healing justice to be recognized as movement work.  We work with amazing orgs like the Trans Women of Color collective, who’ve been informing our thought process and dialogue and building our infrastructure around how do we make our space inclusive of trans women.  How do we make sure that the violence that’s experienced at super high rates by trans women is part of our narrative.

SH: There has been an increase in very frontal criminalization of black girls (both nationally and here in L.A.) which flies under the radar, especially with regards to national policy emphasis on young boys of color such as  President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.  How can we incorporate the intersectional work BLM is doing into high schools and middle schools when it comes to classroom engagement with young people?

Bryant: We’re thinking about all black lives, including black youth who have been at the forefront of our conversations.  I think there’s a way for empowerment.  I think that’s important to inform policymaking decisions and decisions about the use of funding.  We recently got Ethnic Studies passed – what are those curricula going to look like and how are they going to lift up the lives and leadership of black queer folk, black women, black youth and all of these folk who are at these marginalized intersections? How do they actually get folded into the conversation so that the students see themselves reflected in that curriculum?  Educators should be engaged in this dialogue around what it means to have an intersectional approach in the classroom.  I think there are tons of institutional barriers already, but to not even be able to see yourself in the classroom--that’s adding layers of trauma to what we’re already experiencing in the classroom.  There’s a part of me that thinks that’s the very least of what we can do.  I think that we have some people around the table in BLMLA and in BLM nationally who are thinking about these things.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

White Wealth & the Cult of White Victimhood

By Sikivu Hutchinson

When President Obama and other corporate Democrats approved the recent spending bill they thumbed their collective noses at working class communities of color.  Brought to us by Citigroup, JP Morgan and other robber baron banks who plunged thousands of homeowners of color into crippling debt, the new budget will phase out Dodd-Frank regulations that prevented banks from trading in “the risky derivatives that sparked the financial meltdown of 2008”.  It will also increase the amount wealthy donors can contribute to political parties and cut some multi-employer pensions. The financial meltdown disproportionately affected African American and Latino homeowners who were targeted by Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Countrywide and other big lenders for subprime and predatory home loans.  Although Obama is perfectly willing to engage in the optics of fake racial reconciliation on Ferguson and the Eric Garner case, his endorsement of the new bill further underscores his cynical disregard for the socioeconomic wellbeing of communities of color.

In black and Latino neighborhoods across the country the legacy of the mortgage debacle is vividly exemplified by months-old For Sale signs, “bank-owned property” notices on lawns and abandoned homes. CNN Money reports that “Between 2004 and 2010 blacks and Latinos lost nearly a quarter of their wealth, whereas whites lost nearly 1%”.  While the mortgage debacle gutted black and Latino wealth, the wages of whiteness have protected white working and middle class Americans from wholesale economic blight.  According to a recent Pew Report, “The Great Recession hit all Americans hard, but only whites have seen their wealth rise during the recent recovery…widening the already massive wealth gap between whites and other racial and ethnic groups to near record levels.”  Despite this fact, some whites still want to claim the ultimate victim status in the blue collar disenfranchisement sweepstakes. In their minds, poor whites are losing ground due to waves of job-stealing immigrants, reverse discrimination and affirmative action. According to this narrative, anti-white racism is the last acceptable preserve of bigotry and cops like Darren Wilson are themselves victims of a backlash against white males.

Clearly poor and white working class families were belted by the Recession.  However, the persistence of racialized wealth inequality eludes even the most progressive white “anti-Wall Street” policymakers. Although left-wing darlings Congressman Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren (who led the charge against the rollback of Dodd-Frank regulation) have been some of the most vocal opponents of the oligarchy class they’ve had relatively little to say about the role white supremacy and institutional racism play in wealth inequality. In a recent NPR interview about the midterms and his presidential aspirations Sanders was asked about racial disparities in job access and income.  He dismissed the question, implying that it was short-sighted if not petty.  Musing on why Democrats continue to lose white voters he maintained, “I am focusing on the fact that whether you're white or black or Hispanic or Asian, if you are in the working class, you are struggling to keep your heads above water.”  Sanders argued that Democrats fail to appeal to the economic interests of white working class voters but seemed willfully ignorant that the GOP’s appeal has always been based on white supremacy.  Simply put, some whites remain wedded to the GOP due to racism and race partisanship—as long as the Democrats represent big government spending and “handouts” to lazy blacks and undocumented Latinos “hostile” to American values, white working class people will continue to be beholden to the Republican Party for decades.
Sanders’ colorblind paternalism is all too common among white liberals and progressives.  When they trot out the mythic “working class” they frequently invoke images of heartland workers whose formerly unionized jobs have been decimated by globalization, destructive free trade and right-to-work policies.  Yet whites of all classes have been bolstered by the rebound in the stock market as well as rising rates of homeownership and increases in home equity.  While only 47.4% of people of color were homeowners in the last year, 73.9% of whites owned homes.  The bulk of black and Latino middle class wealth is concentrated in homes that are worth far less than those of working class whites.  Because homeowners of color are more likely to own houses in socioeconomically depressed segregated communities that have not rebounded from the recession their home equity is often minimal to nonexistent. 

For black women the nexus of income inequality and the wealth gap is even graver.  Although black women’s median wealth levels are among the lowest in the nation they have the highest workforce representation among all groups of American women.  Black women over sixty-five have the least wealth of any group in the U.S. and are less likely to have employer-funded pensions.  Because black women are more likely to work for poverty level wages right-to-work laws are especially devastating for black families.

Sanders and other liberal-progressive policymakers have long proposed creating a federal jobs program to redress income inequality. But a federal jobs program will not remedy decades-long segregation in the U.S. housing market nor bridge the gargantuan race/gender wealth gap.  It will not improve a K-12 school system which disproportionately criminalizes youth of color while shutting them out of college.  Neoliberalism and capitalism thrive on and exploit disparities in race, gender, sexual orientation and geography; a fact that has always worked to white America’s advantage.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Teaching Against Terrorism

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Now that the grand jury in Staten Island has desecrated Eric Garner’s dying breath and re-confirmed fascism in the U.S. what Black person has confidence in the justice system?  What descendent of slaves has “faith” that speechifying, praying, and pleading for the system to recognize Black life will have any demonstrable impact on the United Terrorists of America?  Who believes that the rule of law means anything other than a jack boot and a lynch rope around the neck of African-descent people who built this country brick by brick? 

As progressive educators many of us enter the classroom every day with fierce expectations of change and redress.  Working against textbooks that obliterate poor and working class people of color, we teach our students about social history to enlighten, inspire, transform and enable them to think critically about the similarities and differences between past and present.  Even among those of us who push back against grand narratives that pimp the obscenity of Western exceptionalism there is an implicit assumption about progress; a secular faith in “advancement” despite the face of insidious institutional racism. 

Today, we go into the classroom with that secular faith blown to bits yet again. Today, some of us will tell our students that the Garner decision makes it important to amplify that people of color have always fought terrorism on this soil.  Some of us will say that the U.S. has a history of using the Orwellian language of freedom and justice to vilify the non-Western other while waging terrorist war against its own.  During World War II black activists fought the hypocrisy of the U.S.’ campaign against fascism in Europe.  These interventions were the legacy of 18th century revolutionary war era protests and legal resistance that free and enslaved Africans mounted against the tyranny of “democratic” empire.  Social justice pedagogy is designed to empower young people to critique, question and ultimately organize against these contradictions.  When we teach we try and lift up these brutal contradictions and show how they inform the present.  In an age of wall-to-wall corporate media it’s one of the last bastions of decolonization for youth of color who are told that race is no barrier but see white supremacy at work every day.  But in the cold light of unrelenting state criminality and savage indifference to black life it’s difficult to remain hopeful.
Discussing racism and discrimination with South Los Angeles students in a new multiracial leadership group before the Ferguson decision, some were initially hesitant to unpack their experiences.  Yet in the same school students reported that some teachers divide their classrooms by seating “smart” Latino students on one side and “underachieving” African American students on the other.  In the same school black boys are led away in handcuffs by school police every week.  In the same school “out of control” students of all genders are physically restrained.  In the same school, and in schools just like it across the district, black students are grossly under-represented in Advanced Placement and Honors classes but pack special education classes and detention halls.  Unlike the murder of Eric Garner, these are the routine, everyday acts of state violence that are never captured on videotape but also signal that breathing while black remains a punishable, lethal offense.  Our challenge as activist teachers and mentors is to keep pushing students to see that the system doesn’t want them to see these terrorist violations as the same.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"No Rights Which a White Man Was Bound to Respect" -- Slavocracy 2014

In 1857 Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney uttered these defining words in the Dred Scott decision which further embedded black dehumanization and non-citizenship into U.S. slavocracy.  In 2014 killer cop Darren Wilson walks free after being cleared of the lynching of unarmed teen Mike Brown by a white supremacist grand jury which endorsed Wilson's characterization of Brown as a subhuman "demon".  One hundred and fifty eight years later Blacks are not citizens, not human, not "legible" within the regime of white innocence.

Fill the streets. Teach-in, talk to every child about the importance of this criminal obscenity against human rights and Black humanity.  Join people of conscience around the world in mobilizing against state violence and law enforcement impunity in mass resistance to apartheid Amerikkkan style: