Tag Archives: social justice

Reflections on race 4/3: current progress

9 May

I realize that part 3 of my series hasn’t been written yet, but I had a few quick thoughts that I wanted to write as a wrap-up of the series.

To be fair to Duke… actually I can’t really finish that sentence.  Via this series I’ve been engaged with a number of Duke alumni (and my spouse is an alum), who care about social justice issues and press Duke to move forward on progressive fronts, and the school has done things like raise its minimum wage (except for contract workers…)  I can’t claim my alma mater is much better. Here’s a quote from that article:

“This is what happens every day in America,” she added. “These things are unfortunate, they’re disappointing, they’re disheartening, but they’re not shocking anymore.”

But something I find heartening is how much we hear about these events- that they’re dubbed newsworthy at all.  I remember when #MeToo came out, an actress said that she was not amazed that so many people had experienced harassment; she was amazed that anyone cared.  I confess I felt the same way- I just thought that most people have been harassed or assaulted, and that patriarchy and misogyny are just facts like the sky is blue.  Suddenly there was an avalanche of sexual assault stories, and people were reading them and listening and caring and a dialogue was happening!  And then real consequences started happening to perpetrator’s careers!  Yowza!  Yes, people want more consequences, but the fact that ANYTHING has happened is astonishing and encouraging to me.

I feel a similar way about racism- this stuff has always happened.  The difference now is that, for some reason, the media cares, and people read and interact with the media in different, interesting ways now.  There have always been readers and letters to the editor, but now there are hot takes and bloggers (oh hey!) and tweeters and virality.  Bob said this at that first panel- in the decades he’s been involved with activism, he’s never seen such a large, engaged and passionate base.  So I hope that these racist incidents and subsequent conversations are part of a slow, steady, sea change and reckoning of America with its deep seated inequities.  And yes, there will be pushback and backlash, but that’s how change happens.

One counterargument to my hopeful idea is that 24-hour cycles of journalism are now just irresponsible and building echo chambers of ideas.  For instance, Twitter user Osita Nwavenu found this story of a school in Ottawa which cancelled a yoga class once. The cancellation was maybe connected to a single student’s complaint about appropriation.

So yes, it’s absolutely true that this kind of predatory media “fake outrage” turning into real outrage amplifies discord in our conversations.  (Another example: “snowflake” students.  How many students really go to these elite colleges that I’m blogging about?)  But at least we’re having conversations, even if some people are yelling nonsense.  And I think that’s progress.

Honestly, linguistics is a big reason why I have hope and faith.  When I was in high school, “gay” was used as a pejorative all the time.  It still is, but not to the same extent.  Similar with “retarded”, which is being eradicated as part of an incredibly organized and dedicated effort (check out this op-ed from 2008 by Maria Shriver!).  In the fall of 2010 I learned about “The Other” in a sex and genders studies course.  Now I hear “othering” as a verb all the time.  The concept of “privilege” is now so widespread that people who don’t believe in it still have to engage with it and defend those beliefs.  “Intersectional”! “Non-binary gender”! Even “transgender”!  This stuff has left academia and is now in the wide world of radio DJs and Facebook mom groups (yes, these are the main ways I interact with people who do not live in my house).

My pregnancy last year was not great, and having a newborn is also difficult.  A year ago today I was struggling to finish my dissertation and TA a course with a six week old, and was hyperfocused on just my small life.  Now that the baby is sleeping and I have more of my brain back, I’m feeling more engaged and hopeful and excited and energized about our society instead of cynical and defeated and apathetically hopeless.

The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.  We will win.

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School Segregation part 2b

26 Mar

I hang out on Twitter a lot, and I saw Courtney Gibbons wrote this great tweet:

Inspired by her, I wrote a letter to the Charlotte Observer after reading an article about how Charlotte Mecklenberg schools are segregated.  I don’t think they published it, but I was so wound up that I wrote an entire op-ed piece about matching PTA donations.  Which was also not published!  So I’m putting it here!  And then today I read a longer, better piece about the same thing in the Washington Post.

[I]t released a report about parental contributions to school finances that noted that PTO revenue had reached more than $425 million in 2010 but was concentrated in affluent schools. This resulted in “considerable advantages for a small portion of already advantaged students,” the report said.

So here’s my take on this!

Opt In to Charlotte

Last week, I attended a silent auction fundraiser for our three year old’s preschool.  I bought two paintings and movie tickets and some ice cream gift cards, which cost $300.  But actually it set us back $600, because we pledged that for every dollar we donated to our school, we would donate a dollar to The Learning Collaborative, which provides tuition free preschool with hot food and transportation to low-income, single caregiver toddlers from at-risk neighborhoods.  It’s our small way of investing in Charlotte and fighting inequity.

According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school’s “Breaking the Link” report, which was mentioned in the article reporting Charlotte-Mecklenberg as the most segregated in North Carolina, in 2013 Charlotte ranked 50th in economic mobility out of the 50 most populous cities in the US.  In terms of opportunity and the American dream, we place dead last.  If parents, community members, and government leaders want our rank to rise, we all need to invest in public schools, which are the greatest incubator for social change.

School choice is a personal family decision, and I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t choose private schools.  But they should consider public schools, instead of immediately dismissing them, as I have heard many parents do when the high-income Dilworth and lower-income Sedgefield zones merged.  Joining a higher-income with a lower-income school is one way to more equitably distribute resources.

Of course, merging schools is up to CMS, and it’s difficult–Those zones are right next to each other, while other high income schools are surrounded by other high income zones.  We parents can pair higher income and lower income schools in another way, without government intervention—via the Parent Teacher Associations.

Families in both private and public schools invest further in their children’s educations by donating to their PTAs.  We can opt in to Charlotte by matching our PTA donations—for every dollar we spend on our child’s school, we can donate an equal dollar to a higher need school.  We can do this on an individual basis or civic-minded higher-income PTAs can set an example of community building and investment by pairing up with lower-income schools.

PTAs are direct lines to the needs of a community.  They pay for books, playground or sports equipment, classroom upgrades, or whatever else a particular school needs.  Through the PTA, we can invest in Charlotte by investing in the city’s children.

Since high income families donate to high income schools, our PTA donations exacerbate inequity.  “In some instances, equity means giving those with less more,” the report says.  But PTA money does the exact opposite, giving more to those kids who already have more.  Donating to other PTAs can help give more to those with less.

Matching PTA donations is not a viable long-term strategy to fight structural inequity. One public high school student told me that half of his freshman year teachers had left his school by senior year, and he had had four guidance counselors in as many years—some had fled to South Carolina for better pay.  CMS needs to pay teachers and guidance counselors more.  Donating PTA money won’t solve inequity, but it is a concrete and easy action we can take while waiting for them to find solutions.

There’s one other concrete thing parents can do: advocate for mixed-income and affordable housing.  Charlotte’s lauded goal of building 5000 affordable housing units within three years is great, but those units need to go somewhere in the city.  Many fret about property values if affordable housing units moves into the neighborhood.  We can rise above that and say, if not here, where?  If not now, when?  And if not us, who will help make Charlotte a place where every child has the opportunities they deserve?

 

 

School segregation, pt 2: mitigating the effects/what we can do

20 Oct

The hardest post of this series will be part 3, delving into the problems that I ran into when thinking about where to buy a house without perpetuating systemic inequality by focusing on “good” schools, and also the problem of “safe” as a coded word to mean “predominantly white” when describing neighborhoods.  But this is part 2, which are small solutions to the as-yet-undefined problems.

Income disparities and property taxes mean unequal funding for schools.  I can live in a less-desired neighborhood (which I won’t do, because I want my short commute times and walkability and access to grocery stores etc. and I am unwilling to sacrifice those things for my ideals), or I can advocate for mixed-income housing on a local level, and be a YIMBY (yes! In my backyard!)  Especially in Charlotte, where the city has agreed to add 5000 affordable housing units within the next few years- but where?  We were looking at Cherry, a historically black neighborhood (literally where the black servants of the rich white people lived)- the builders there are building some number of subsidized houses along with the expensive fancy houses (as in this program).  What’s nice is that it’s the same builder, so you can’t really tell from outside who has the fancy expensive house and who has the subsidized house across the street (and everyone gets new houses!).  So we can be like the neighbors there and advocate for mixed-income housing, or we can be NIMBYs like in this story and say that affordable houses will “hurt our property values.”  If you find yourself saying “I’m worried that X will hurt my property values,” you may be part of the problem.

PTA “dark money” keeps “good” public schools “good” when state budgets are cut.  Rich people who do opt to send their kids to public school often give lots of money to the PTA- there’s some amazing examples in this Atlantic article (Taylor Swift ticket auction vs. bake sale?!) Of course you aren’t going to stop giving money to your kids’ schools so they can have better playground equipment or science equipment or books etc.  So one thing that we can do is match our PTA donations- for every $1 we spend at our local school, we can send $1 to the PTA of a needier school in the city.  It’s a small, band-aid solution, but when you’re not a policy-maker you do the best you can.

Shouldn’t these problems be addressed at the policy level?  What can I do as an individual?  Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose NYT magazine piece really started my spouse and I on this journey, stated it well in an NPR interview:

“It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

If you’re a podcast listener, Hannah-Jones also appears on this episode of This American Life talking about the same issue.  (She also just won the Macarthur so she is no lightweight).  So do the things I list in this post!

School rankings on real estate sites mostly show you how rich and white a school is. They use Greatschools.org info, which relies on standardized test scores.  So if you’re like my spouse and filter your real estate search by school scores, you’re just filtering for the white neighborhoods.  From this Washington Post article:

As research has found, school factors explain only about 20 percent of achievement scores — about a third of what student and family background characteristics explain. Consequently, test scores often tell us much more about demography than about schools.

Instead of relying only on a number, try visiting the schools and talking to the people there about your own kids’ needs.  My kids are very young, but based on the evidence we have we’ll want a school with some gifted and talented programs, and light on homework, and a lot of emphasis on social learning/getting along with others (I have a shy guy toddler).  So a high-power, worksheet and results focused school is probably not for us.

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.  Corollary: naming a problem can make you feel defensive, like these Seattle white progressive parents .  Try not go be like them.  As I noted in a previous post, people don’t like being called racist- people didn’t even like it when I called myself racist!  Let’s try to quell our knee-jerk reactions to the problem of school segregation and think about what we can do.  To be clear, I am writing from a huge position of privilege.  You know what correlates strongly with kids’ academic achievement?  Their mothers’ education level.  My kids are maxed out on that.  So I can talk about these issues and freely decide what schools to send my kids to, and they’ll be fine pretty much anywhere they go.  Other people don’t have such advantages.  Here’s an anonymous quote that I loved about this topic, to finish off the post:

We have to balance many variables in making our choices. But there are others too–and they concern not only who we want our child to be, but the society we want our child to live in.

If you want to read more about the topic of school segregation, I suggest googling Nikole Hannah-Jones and checking out this great Facebook page (LA-centric), Integrated Schools.

 

 

School segregation, pt 1: grappling with our racism

26 Jul

I’ve been trying to get this post out for a month and finally have decided that I’ll break it up into mini-posts in order to publish anything at all.  Yes, I finished my thesis and packed my house, but my mom was here to help with the kids during that time.  Now that thesis is done, mom is back in California, and it’s just me and kids and house-selling.  Mostly the kids part is what takes up my time and energy.  But they’re so cute!  Here’s a pic of me and baby napping on an air mattress during a trip to my brothers’ house.IMG_3825

We went on a house hunting trip to Charlotte, NC, where we’re moving at the end of the summer.  When my spouse was in high school there, Charlotte public schools were still integrated.  But in 2001, mandatory busing was ruled down, and now Charlotte schools are again segregated neighborhood schools (because housing is segregated/there are segregated neighborhoods): here’s the article summing this up.  As we looked at houses, we also looked at what schools they were zoned into, and the makeup of those schools.  I was amazed looking at greatschools.com how very close to 100% black and 100% white schools there are.  Public schooling is really important to us (we both went to public schools, and ideologically we believe in them), but when we consider school zones when choosing a house, are we being racist?  By which I mean, are we perpetuating structural inequalities based on race?  I think so!

We read the NYT Magazine article a few years ago about choosing a school in a segregated city, and the following quote is from a follow-up NPR interview:

 “It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

There’s a new, controversial book out called Dream Hoarders, which has as a thesis that the top 20% of Americans by income “hoard” resources etc. for their children and hence hurt the American Dream of upward mobility for anyone.  They also made a cute little game explaining it, here.  And here’s an excerpt from the book if you want more.

An excerpt from the excerpt:

There is clear danger of a vicious cycle developing here. As inequality between the upper middle class and the rest grows, parents will become more determined to ensure their children stay near the top. We will work hard to put a “glass floor” under them, to prevent them from falling down the chutes. Inequality and immobility thus become self-reinforcing.

Downward mobility is not a wildly popular idea, to say the least. But it is a stubborn mathematical fact that, at any given time, the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population. Relative intergenerational mobility is necessarily a zero-sum game. For one person to move up the ladder, somebody else must move down. Sometimes that will have to be one of our own children. Otherwise the glass floor protecting affluent kids from falling acts also as a glass ceiling, blocking upward mobility for those born on a lower rung of the ladder. The problem we face is not just class separation, but class perpetuation.

So so far we have two different but very related topics that are affected by my individual choice of where to buy a house and send my kids to school: perpetuating class inequality, and perpetuating racial segregation.  When it comes down to it, of  course we try to choose the “best” fit for our kids, but we need to really explore and come to terms with what we mean by “best.”  Do we mean best test scores?  Because those correlate with family income.  Do we mean best teachers?  How do we put a metric on teachers?  How do we put a metric on schools at all?

In this series I’ll write posts about how we address the two topics (sneak peak: we will do so by trying to mitigate our effects as gentrifiers in the neighborhoods we choose).  And I’ll post pictures of my kids!

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