Thursday, October 29, 2009

It Was Racist


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I was reluctant about today's class going in.
We read Mary Waters Ethnic Options and her book Black Identity. I reviewed
Black Identity which focuses on the process
of West Indian Americans
coming to identify
or avoiding identifying as Black.

The book contained lot's of qualitative interview's with West Indian
folks talking about why they don't like African Americans,
why they are Black, but not like Black Americans, that Black Americans
are lazy, expect handouts etc.

I had no idea how the class was going to react to this.

Fascinating stuff, though, right?

Especially when you look at the presence of African
Americans vs. West
Indian Americans on four year
college campuses and in graduate,
law and business school in the North East.

The book is awesome in how it gets at how first generation
verses second
generation West Indian immigrants deal with
assimilation, with proving
their they are not Black and also with
identifying as Black. The most
fascinating part for me was learning that women
who worked as teachers
and nurses in Jamaica, came to the
Brooklyn, worked as teacher and
nurses yet, class wise
their lives were not the same.

The material difference is the on their salary in Jamaica, they
were middle class,
so they could afford nannies and house keepers,
and their housing was more
spacious and safer.
In the US, housing was more expensive, there was more
for jobs and education for their children but the housing dollar
go very far.

Which brings me to my classmate.

Jamaica's system is based on the British system, which means that children

are tested and tracked at a very young age. They either go into vocational
track or academic track.

Apparently Germany and much of Europe is the same way.

My Black classmate said, that he agrees with this.

I responded saying that standardized tests are measures of familial wealth

not student aptitude. And the aptitude of a four year old cannot be measured

because they have only been on the earth 48 months. He responded saying
that the British system is better because it separates the
students early
and that there are some who shouldn't be in school, college.

I said that this was racist. We do not know what children are capable of at 4.

I asked him how he reconciled his approval of early testing and prediction
with the fact that standardized tests measure familial wealth not student

He responded saying "Yeah, tests are culturally biased but math isn't."

My eyes rolled. That did NOT refute nor address my argument.

Another classmate, a white woman who is in marketing asked, "Isn't it

better for us to asses the children at 4 rather than at 12 so that they
don't languish
in the system."

I responded no. The issue isn't when they are assessed the issue is
a system that serves their interests not the interests of school
administrators or corporations. We need to move out of binary
modes of thinking and ask ourselves whose interests are served by

She said aren't all children about the same at four? I said no, all children are not the
same. Each child's education attainment is related to how much money her parents
earn and how much how much social capital her parents have and lastly
how much intergenerational wealth a family has.

It isn't lost on me that these people will be future professors,
bureaucrats, marketers, political advisers, researchers etc.

I see it as my job to say something.

I was proud of my self for calling a spade a spade, at least I was earlier,
this evening. As the night has warn on I am tired. School is awesome,
but in some ways the more I learn the more it appears that
racism is manifested on a civilizational level.

I only wish that I asked them, "What would you do if your child
tests into the vocational track at 4?" I imagine, I hope the responses
would have been more compassionate. But

In some ways, this experience showed me the racism runs on
a deep civilization level. I take this term from the paper "Coloring
Epistemologies: Are Our Research Epistemologies Racially Biased?"

In the paper, James Sheurich and Michelle Young lay out three levels of racism.
I list them below:
The first is institutional racism, which exists when instituitons or ogranizations
have standard operating procedures, intended or unintended, hurt members
of one or more races in relation to members of the dominant race.

The second is societal racism exist when prevailing societal or cultural assumptions
or norms, concepts or habits favor on race over one or more other races. For
example, the OJ trial revealed societal racism.

The third is epistemologoical racism comes from or emerges out of
what we have labeled the civilizational level, the deepest, most primary level
of a culture of people. The civilizational level is the the level that emcompasses he
deepest, most primary assumptions about the nature of reality (ontology)...
On one level these experiences remind me of just how privilaged
I am, and have been, on another it reminds me of how other children
get screwed by burecrats on the reg.

It reminds me of how the teachers who stepped into my life when my city,
Oakland, and my family were both submerged by the crack epidemic.
It reminds me of how these angels saved my academic life.

I hope I can be an angel for someone else.

The social costs of being a model minority, of being a Black women are taxing.

I hope I don't go crazy trying to make sense of it all.

Pray for me.


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