Skool Haze: Part 2

Image by twobee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by twobee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just how does a white teacher communicate identity and belonging to a black child or teen? Is their legitimate concern enough? Are a set of classroom guidelines and good intent enough to fill in the chasm of “who am I in relation to what you are?” Is the fact that they’re there enough? If a child doesn’t understand the power and pain of their skin color, how will a white teacher assist with this? How can a white teacher provide a young black male with the tools to survive when that teacher has no concept of the child’s reality and/or destiny?

See where I’m going with these questions? White people can’t teach identity to black people regardless of what their intent is. Nope, can’t be done. So it isn’t a question of is harm being done to our kids, it’s more a question of how do we mitigate the damage? What do those white eyes see when they look at our black children? Are they peering across the great divide of privilege and looking at blacks like they think they will never amount to anything?

I can say from the truth of my own life that white teachers give up on black kids, and they do it routinely. Sometimes it’s because they are unable to recognize intellect in any other population other than their own, and sometimes it’s because they can’t comprehend the import of being entrusted with black children. They look at their students and quietly categorize them and then funnel them to whatever they believe their potential to be. Simply because one chooses to teach or feels they have the aptitude doesn’t mean they have the skill to work with populations other than their own.

Mr. Hagen was a good white teacher, for good white kids. But for his black students, he was sorely lacking in empathy and understanding. These traits can only be cultivated in a teacher who is intellectually curious and courageous enough to step outside of their whiteness to see the true challenges of all of their students. It’s clear there will never be enough black teachers, but there is no end to bad white teachers. This is a sad and inexcusable deficit, and the response to this should be in keeping with the need. The fact is white teachers have a hard time understanding their kids of color, and this is a lack of knowledge and experience we can’t afford. These teachers should be exposed to as many aspects of the student’s life as possible.

I’ve met many people who were well-meaning, but who were singularly unqualified to do the jobs that were gifted to them through privilege. Teachers, social workers, doctors, lawyers and politicians – all horrendously bad at their jobs but are well protected by their skin color – ensconced in a strata of unearned benefits. This is the sad mirage of social good: People get so caught up in helping, they forget that working with these populations takes training and the willingness to be introspective. To teach and to help, one must be absolutely ready to learn.

Immersing young black kids in a white cultural experience they will never have full access to is an unavoidable and abusive act. It sets these kids up to think they will never be good enough because they aren’t white. America’s prisons are filled with men who thought that they weren’t good enough either. They were systematically taught to live up to no expectations.

But in the end, you know what scares me more than white teachers? White social workers who work in tandem with them and who collectively think that the key to balancing a social ill is a program or a guilt-laden vocabulary that will have no effect on anyone who doesn’t innately care anyway. The unconscious analyses of whites scare me, because privilege is so easy to forget if it’s the sea you swim in.

There’s nothing more dangerous than people who think they know what they’re doing simply because they care.

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The chains of black history

Image by David Castillo Dominici | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by David Castillo Dominici | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

From my perspective as an African American, the month of February can be enlightening, inspiring and painful at the same time. I’m not sure if I understand the words “black history?” When I say them, they evoke feelings of separateness from the totality of human truth. It’s carved out and deliberate but only special in terms of its place on the calendar.

For me to review black history is not only an acknowledgement that African Americans helped build this country with many great contributions, but that some of those courageous efforts were soaked in bloody oppression. I don’t want to dwell on this stuff, but it always floats to the top if one looks honestly.

When I look at black history, I see a struggle that is linked from the chained slaves aboard slave ships to the modern day African American who is supposed to be “free” – who may get up and look at themselves in the mirror and think they have it better than the generations before them. But deep down, they still see the commonality between themselves and their chained forebears, people that were fastened to their station in life with little to no hope of escape.

From that point of view, I see a history littered with civil rights icons and people that have struggled even to their very deaths to see justice. And so I ask, why have many of the people recognized in black history month had to be tempered in the hot oven of oppression? Why? I keep asking myself this, but whatever answer I come up with is wholly unsatisfying because it ends with more questions.

My thought is, don’t separate black history from human truth, because the fact is history isn’t clean, and can’t be. We learn by seeing the totality of the picture, not just a portion or what we feel is acceptable. Make no mistake, if we digress from honesty we fool ourselves into thinking past events are far removed from the present, and we doom ourselves to struggle and mediocrity.

Black history can’t exist without white history and how they have played against each other. If we don’t accept our shared history of privilege and oppression, we will never know ourselves as a community, nor will we end poverty. We can’t look at black history without examining the connections to the white world around us, its beauty, sacrifice and brutality.  February is black and white history month, right?

Upcoming #BlackLivesMatter events

#BlackLivesMatter, Hands Up Don't Shoot, Standing with FergusonSolid Ground is committed to supporting the ongoing anti-racism struggle to end police violence against communities of color. From Ferguson to New York to Seattle, we support the call that #BlackLivesMatter, and for justice for Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and the many other African Americans who are killed every 28 hours by law enforcement.

This fall, Solid Ground staff formed a Ferguson Solidarity Committee, and we have already raised over $1,000 to support grassroots community organizations fighting police brutality in Ferguson. Our committee decided this week to compile a weekly list of #BlackLivesMatter events in Seattle and distribute it to encourage our staff, volunteers, clients, donors and supporters to get involved in the local movement to end the epidemic of police violence against African Americans. Here are the #BlackLivesMatter events that we have heard about in Seattle this week; please let us know if you hear of any other events that we should add to this list.

Stop Police Brutality: Time to Build a Mass Movement

Date: Wednesday 12/17
Time: 7:30 pm
Location: Africatown Center, 3100 S Alaska St, Seattle, WA 98108
Description: Since Officers Darren Wilson, Daniel Pantaleo and Adley Shepherd were not indicted, protests have erupted against the violence regularly inflicted on black communities by police. The anger, grief and desire for a better world are palpable among young people and communities of color. We need to build these protests into a sustained mass movement strong enough to pressure elected representatives to address the racist police violence and brutal economic inequality experienced by people of color and working-class people every day.

What are the most effective tactics at our protests? What concrete demands should we and City Councilmember Sawant fight for together? How can we uproot the underlying system that breeds police brutality, institutionalized racism and inequality?
Bring friends and add your voice to this important discussion!

Speakers:
– Sheley Seacrest, NAACP Seattle leader
– Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant
– Devan Rogers, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC)
– Celia Berk, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC)
– Dr. Will Washington, activist against community violence

Healing Justice for Black Lives Matter Thursday

On Thursday, December 18, radical healers from across North America and beyond will donate funds raised from our services to the Black Lives Matter Ferguson Bail and Support Fund. Together, we will send the movement a huge donation for Winter Solstice, feeding the Black Queer Feminist Movement that is dreaming freedom into being right now. Join the Healing Justice effort to raise funds from healing services for the Black Lives Matter Ferguson Bail and Support Fund on December 18.

Visioning Creative Resistance: A Call & Response to Black & POC Artists Everywhere

Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014 at Velocity Dance Center, 1621 12th Ave, Suite 100, Seattle, WA 98122

Why a healing and visioning event? Healing because the reality we live in is traumatizing. Healing, because we have a right to be whole despite our collective circumstance and the power in our hands to be wholly healthy human beings. Healing, because we need to be wholly healthy human beings to envision the kind of world we want to be responsible for creating. Healing, because the vision of the world we want to be responsible for creating should be born out of our highest selves, not just out of a response to our oppression. Visioning, because we are wholly powerful and creative beings. To imagine and create a world that nurtures us is our birthright.

Call For Black/POC Artists & Community support of #blacklivesmatter #blackfriday & #shutitdown: You are invited to become part of this. Live Art, poetry/spoken word, music, art exhibit/projections, DJ/hiphop, dance, Youth Speakout, Speakers Corner, reiki, video/film/photography & & &. This is a community event, $5 – 25 donation at the door (no one turned away for lack of funds). Funds raised will be donated to Hands Up United. All are welcomed to attend and dialogue.

For more information on the #BlackLivesMatter movement, please check out the BlackLivesMatter website.

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