Saturday, November 25, 2017

That Which Unites Divides

I read this article about Vallejo, California yesterday and thought it made the most salient points about race and community that I have read in quite some time, if ever.  I have frequently said that if you allow diversity to happen organically through shared community and not by forced obligation it will happen in its own time and its own pace and it can happen.  It just means making efforts few are willing or want to do.

We love to speak of diversity but as one from Seattle I used to find that hollow as the city is so divided by money now that in turn it segregates and divides by both class and race.  It is now the perfect Southern city as I have come to learn.  It is class/money that divides not race.  WHAT! Yes.

In Seattle the largest division was of course Black and White and yet this is a city with a diverse African, Asian diaspora, including a strong American Samoan cohort, some American Indian and growing Hispanic population.   The push of the latter has led many Seattle Black Residents to be pushed out into the regions of King County and in turn the once largely black district, the Central District, gentrifying quickly thanks to the expanding Amazon.  The adjacent International District, which is the Asian section of town is also finding itself squeezed and in turn altering its tone as in color with the rising tides of green that is now defining Seattle.

Seattle has always struggled with defining race and the relations that the good liberal highly educated white professionals do when proving they are not racist.   The last and only black Mayor came and went without so much as a scandal let alone future presence on the political scene.  Few if any Mayors do.  The last attempt to demonstrate equality led to the election of the first Gay Mayor who left tainted under the scandal of child molester.  At least Seattle was ahead of the curve on that and like the recent elections went with a Woman who is also a Lesbian to ensure that Seattle is still the liberal haven it claims to be.   True the waters in the Sound are green and Seattle was never that blue but on paper it came out that way.  And in turn may policies have reflected this including attempting to raise an Income Tax.  But I want to point out the first city in Washington State to raise wages to $15/hr was not Seattle but Sea-Tac the adjacent town to the airport where a large minority base lives and works, servicing the airport.   Seattle loves to take credit for many things that have long been established elsewhere, Starbucks anyone?

 I always thought that Seattle and its relationship to race was like anywhere else, awkward and ham fisted but with good intent.  I lived in San Francisco that had none and was largely a Gay Mecca that live let live sort of dominated the area with the respective areas in the region that covered the basics when it came to race.  Oakland was the chocolate section of the city and even that too seems to be changing as its proximity to the city and costs of housing has led the enclave of true liberalism, Berkley, to extend its limits.  I lived in Berkeley and that was also a faux community of division that money and white privilege cannot be ignored.

When I worked at the World School for a month in Seattle with so many faces and languages that at one point I wanted to believe this was the future and then I saw the shoddy education and crappy Teaching and realized that once again this is Seattle's version of white privilege.  I spoke to a long term Instructional Aide and to a Teacher from a school that shared space with them for two years and said that they had nothing but problems with the World School, the staff and students that did not make me feel better just confirmed my worst.  I am reading a book about a Teacher in Denver who in a mainstream High School teaches English to the newly arrived Immigrants with passion and dedication that is impressive.  I think all of us would like one half of that passion and in turn he does so without any more resources but with massive support and that is the difference.  I felt abandoned and dumped in the World School for the month I was there, I had no experience, training nor credentials in bilingual education, none in math and in turn a rotating crew of aides who where there one to two days or one or two periods, multiple languages, troubled kids and not one ounce of tools I needed to teach either Math or English.  I was planning not to return after spring break as I could not take it and then one of the Muslim men who I had repeated runs ins for failing to help me with the kids complained so I was out.   I knew it was both cultural and personal and I hated him as he was useless and in turn it was reciprocal.  I do not hide my loathing and I have learned that is a problem.

So when the email came from the Principal in the morning that I would not be welcome back I was relieved.  I tossed the few books I bought, the lessons I had copied for the week ahead and "corrected" the papers I had but tossing them. I let the remaining classes pretty much do whatever and that included rifling through the garbage to get all that I had tossed, leading me to in turn put it under my desk and take it to the dumpster myself.   This is how troubled these kids are, they were truly disturbing to watch.  So by the end of the day I put whatever "grades" in that I had, which were largely none so I made them up.  It was that bad but when you don't care you don't.  I never went back there and in turn the Principal was "promoted" at year end and another troubled Principal with a history of issues was put in her place.  She had helmed a school that ended up under litigation, a bomb threat and possible closure so at one point you have to ask what it is about Education that makes it so fucked up? I think it is the projection and concept of doing good versus just Teaching. When you confuse the boundaries and ideas you cannot teach.  You need to stick to the subject matter in which you are trained.  Even those dual endorsed and multi degreed struggle with what that means.  You should only teach Math, only teach Science, one subject is enough and in Seattle they stupidly felt that one Teacher two subjects and in turn be super White person who understands the dynamics of every child from everywhere regardless of where that was.  And in turn the students were not the only ones who struggled.  It again is a set up for failure. 

And of this I sit now and realize was training for Nashville.  And again another book and another confirmation of what I see and experience every day.  I realize now that I need to transcend to writing soon.  I cannot walk into a classroom again and not hate myself just a little for not caring.  There are those faces of kids that do mean something and when you meet them and see them it is impossible to not.  But it is a system too destroyed and too dysfunctional for anyone to truly achieve anything. It is a set up for failure much like my stay in the World School.  That was when I should have been a grown up and said no but the consistent money, the faces of kids who offer so hope are hard to use. But these children come so damaged it is near impossible and challenging to face them and overcome this alone.

I read that 40 plus Teachers walked out in Pennsylvania walked out due to feeling unsafe, the same number here in Antioch that began last year with a student walk (but also a school with sexual conduct issues among others)  out and in Highline District in Seattle that did so two years ago. And these are all by Educators committed and experienced and willing to do the heavy lifting.  It is about race and it is not because it is about children and community and when one doesn't feel safe you don't think color you think about you, period.  If you cannot do your job because you are not allowed to then you need to find a place where you can or a job you can do.

When I moved to Nashville and it changed me in ways that I least suspected and that was with regards to my relationship with race.  What I was well aware of and quite conscious of working in the public schools, I actually began to question who I was and what kind of person I was becoming since moving here.  My encounters with those of color truly changed.  I have met more damaged and troubled black children here than I met in the years I taught in Seattle.  The schools that housed the most troubled children were well known.  When I walked in I was one of many who walked out as frankly at some point the ubiquitous race card would be tossed and you would find yourself defending or explaining yourself to someone of color about your response towards them.  I heard this, experienced it and got sick of it.  This is what was learned and taught repeatedly throughout Seattle as a way of coping and it goes on today.  I thought it was because those faces of color had it so bad that they just lashed out to those they thought did not.   I never heard it from White faces, Latin faces, Muslim faces, or any other faces of color as they had it bad too but they did not have the history of America's racism that in turn colored their relationships with white people.

This is all cold comfort and shows there are problems with race and in turn poverty as much of the current push towards restorative justice was done in response to the excessive discipline and suspension rates that disproportionately affected black students.   But on Friday at Overton high 14 kids were suspended over a fight allegedly over gang beefs, the students were Mexican and Kurdish.  This shows that poverty, race and this idea of assimilation are problems that are newest members to the community struggle with.  I had a gig there for Monday and promptly canceled it as after the long weekend and the ability to sit and stew on it means that Police presence and elevated blood pressure are two things I want nothing to do with.

The issue is the concept of zero tolerance and in turn having within schools appropriate discipline tracks, trained educators, additional supplemental staff to assist in classrooms and schools and in turn parental engagement and involvement.  Well that all costs a color of green.

I spent the better part of a year negotiating and debating with myself about race and my experiences with children of color.  I spend little time with Adults and regardless of their color they are not much better so again that idea of cold comfort is not helping.  Here in Nashville I never hear the race card mentioned and only once an inference by an Assistant Principal at Pearl Cohn a school with a history of troubles, so I took it as an excuse to blame the victim, a normal state of affairs in Nashville. They do that here regardless.  So race and the idea of it is not a dish served here it is ignored here. I throw the race card down by far more often so go figure.

The race card is a game that I find truly disturbing and one that I want no part of it. But as in cards they say "call a spade a spade" oh wait that is a racist epithet.  See what I mean you cannot escape it.

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