Adventures in Southern Hospitality: Blatant Racism

I am an immigrant to the South. I wasn’t particularly excited to move here from the bountiful northeastern seaboard, but there was money involved at the time, so here I am.

Since moving here, I’ve found myself compelled to get involved with all sorts of social justice-y things. Mostly, I was inspired by the Occupy protests. as much as I think the tents are a smooth, eye-catching feature of the movement, there is more work to be done than what Occupy has dedicated itself to. Corporate greed, and the government’s pacified position towards it, is the main artery we have to slice with the Sword of Justice in order to defeat the final boss. That’s somewhere on the 20th level of Global Revolution: Fight The Man, a game where America currently on like, level 5. We keep replaying the damn women’s rights and racial equality levels, and some asshole started unplugging the game system after Barack Obama got elected.

By the way, I looked at France’s game save, and they’re totally kicking our ass.

Anyway, I’m involved in food justice, the creation of jobs, racial equality, women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ issues, supporting labor unions (this is on the test, so remember that one), educational reform, healthcare reform, decriminalizing marijuana (yup) and mortgage reform… just to name a few.

Dr. Howard Fuller said recently that in every movement there are several layers of people supporting it. In the center, there are people who are willing to wage war and actually fight the battle. Then in a circle around the people fighting the battle, are the folks who are willing to hold the coats of those who fight, but aren’t particularly interested in fighting anyone. Then, lastly, there are the people who cheer only for the people who hold the coats. They’re not picking up any smelly coats, but they’re perfectly comfortable with cheering on those who will.

I’m one of the brave, opinionated women who is fighting the battle directly. Somebody! Come hold my coat and my earrings, because it’s on!

You can't stop an idea... or general badassery.

One of the orgizations that I’m in the trenches with is BAEO, aka the Black Alliance for Educational Options. They support public charter schools, home schooling (y’all know I was home schooled, right?), school vouchers and basically anything that gives Black parents an option other than their local public school. Basically, if you’re rich, you have all sorts of choices for where to send your kid to school. You can send them to a private school, a Catholic or other religious-based school or even just move to a better school district. Most Black families are not rich, and likely can’t afford to make those kinds of decisions.

I also support reform in our existing school districts. Things like smaller class sizes, better training for new teachers, a focus on teaching children critical thinking rather than teaching to the tests are all crucial and I want them for the kids in my community. However, these things are not the focus of this organization. I’m trying my damndest to help organize parents, grandparents and other citizens concerned about other aspects of public education, but right now the battle is about public charter school legislation, so that’s what I’m fighting for.

Anyway, in the commonwealth of Kentucky, charter school legislation is currently being considered by the state house and senate. There’s some fierce debate going on, and the other night really needed one of y’all to hold my fucking coat and earrings.

So the other night, BAEO held its usual bi-monthly meeting in my neighborhood. The room was filled with Black people who are advocates for educational reform, and want options for their children’s education. To create a fair dialogue, the organizer of the event scheduled a forum panel, including some charter school law opponents to speak about their side of the arugment.

So this guy, who represents the teacher’s union was there. His name is Brent McKim and I’m posting his name because he wrote something a couple of weeks ago that really got my goat. In an article he wrote for the Louisville Courier Journal, called “The Many Problems of Charter Schools.” I read that article the day after it was published, and one bullet point pissed me off so badly that there was steam coming out of my ears, ass and nostrils. When Mr. McKim showed up, I honestly got a little excited, because I would have an opportunity to confront him about the fuckery he wrote in the paper. I didn’t have it with me though, so I couldn’t quote him.

Then! Y’all! He did the work for me! We all had a little packet provided by BAEO, and once he realized we didn’t have anything opposing charter schools in that packet, Mr. McKim asked to have copies made of his article and a volunteer passed it out. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

In this Southern newspaper read by mostly old white folks, he authored this alarmist, ignorant and downright racist statement. Here’s the bullet point in all of its low-brow pandering:

Charter schools are segregating our schools and undermining democracy. Public education has been a pillar of our democracy, allowing students to understand the diversity they will experience as adults. Learners interact with others of different races, religions, beliefs and income levels. However, studies have found that charters are segregating our public schools. Many serve only Black, or only Muslim, or only Asian, or only affluent children. This should concern anyone who cares about the ability of the members of our diverse society to be able to get along well with one another and value the rich diversity found in our democracy.

Can y’all hold my coat & earrings while I recount what happened at this panel?

Girl, hold my earrings. They're real, don't drop 'em.

When the time came to ask panelists questions, I raised my hand and brought his article up to the podium. I thanked the fourm panelists from both sides for speaking at the event, and offering us their insight. Then I told Mr. McKim that I read his article that was published in the paper. I read the snippet from the article I pasted above.

I then said that I was home schooled, and did not need to sit next to a child of a different race to be prepared for the realities of life. I mentioned that charter schools are an option which parents can select. If white families feel as though an all-Black school is a product of segregation, or they want to integrate their white child into that school, they can apply to the lottery for that school and have as much of an opportunity to attend that school as anyone else. Then, I asked Mr. McKim to define what segregation is, and what self-selection is.

Hoo, girl.

What he did was read a statement issued by the NAACP about why they think charter schools are bad. Thanks for the assumption that the NAACP, an organization founded by Caucasian people (look it up), represents all Black people.

Nope. Not at all.

Self-selection and segregation are two completely separate things, and it is outrageous for anyone to compare them in equal scope.

Anyway, I’m a fighter, and I’m hoping that some of you might be willing to fight with me, hold the earrings of my fellow fighters, or at the very least, encourage the folks holding our earrings.

By Pam Newman

Black, intelligent and awesome are three adjectives Pam Newman uses to describe herself. Other adjectives that others use to describe her include: bold, compassionate, geeky and rockin'.

Pam has a tattoo that says, "Everything in life is done because of love or the lack there of." She later learned that thereof is a word, and regrets nothing.

15 replies on “Adventures in Southern Hospitality: Blatant Racism”

I would actually like to know what statement this fellow read from the NAACP.  Was it actually relevant?  It sounds as though it wasn’t actually answering your question, and therefore some sort of canned response to “prove” he wasn’t racist because he was using a quote from the NAACP.

I agree that self-selecting and segregation aren’t the same, as far as intent and outcome go, but I do believe that they appear similar when viewed from the outside.  Those unfamiliar with the differences require more education.

As for the idea of having more options for parents of children who are under-served RIGHT NOW, I agree with the notion, but am skeptical about the implementation.  I hesitate to even temporarily align with folks who are suggesting vouchers as a way of further eroding public education.  Will this set a precedent for privatizing education?  Or will it spark a revolution in the style and form of public education into something that will better serve all children?  It’s a scary thing to look at when so far it doesn’t seem like anyone is ready to have the bigger conversation about how our entire system needs to be overhauled.

My issues with charters has to do with disability justice perspectives.

In places that implement charters, the better schools tend to end up with fewer students with disabilities and ESPECIALLY fewer students with significant disabilities. On the other hand, we have schools where students with disabilities are herded to as other programs attempt to exclude  by trying to convince parents- young parents and poor parents in particular- that their child’s needs won’t be served in their environment.

Inclusion is not only possible, but needed. Give me a few days and I’ll get you some disability justice link spam to back me up on this. (I personally focus more on housing/community living issues right now- woot Olmstead!- but I’ve a friend who adores education policy who could re-find my links faster than I could.)

I’m…going to hesitantly disagree here. Hesitantly because I’m comparing British data to American data and different school types to one another (though they seem in my eyes to be somewhat analogued) but the experience that a lot of private schools and selective schools (faith schools come to mind) in the UK have put across is that discrimination against other minority groups increases both in private schools and in selective state schools, sometimes with a strong faith contingent.

The strongest example of this is really Stonewall’s study into LGBT discrimination in British schools circa 2005, which while fairly old has been a benchmark for educational legislation and LGBT school policy here in the UK, so I feel it’s worth citing. They had two big findings that were significant to me; one – that faith schools have a much, much higher rate of homophobic bullying, and two – that schools with a strong policy of policing homophobic language saw rates of homophobic violence drop by as much as 90% (though the effect was only correlative, so it’s possible the kids influence the school as much as the school influences the kids – though still being a schoolchild myself I find that a little rich; behaviour policies strongly enforced have a huge effect, and I’ve seen that having run the gamut of state to private schools).

The problem of homophobia in religious schools is so strong that it was part of a central plank of last year’s NUT (National Union of Teachers) conference. As of September 2011, free schools – an initiative by our current Conservative coalition – have begun to be established, and of the 11 lined up to open immediately, four were religious. The other seven free schools were private citizen’s initiatives to open schools based on the ethic of whatever the citizens in question felt was important in a school. You can understand pretty much how bemused a lot of opponents of the measure were.

Having gone to a private school for three years of my life, I can vouch for the catastrophic effect of removing certain requirements on “freer” schools. The way that my school dealt with bullying, with mental illness and with homophobia, was (to put it bluntly) cockgobblingly bad. There were no defined protocols, no way of ensuring child welfare (particularly of the many girls who were self-harming and went ignored) and the answer to something serious (read; self-harm to a dangerous degree) was to send them home to mummy and daddy, who would look after them. This might not have been that bad, except that social services here have no real jurisdiction over private school kids – if the school is free enough, the child can go under the radar educationally (and miss the three key entry points where you’re picked up by local services – year 1, year 7 and sixth form).

The other effect that happens is that the morality of a place shrinks. I was lucky I went to a liberal Methodist private school and I was mostly passively supported in bringing up LGBT issues. At least, at a teacher level. At an administration level they wouldn;t touch it, and there was no power I had to circumvent the system, and there was no oversight.

This, fundamentally, is my problem with more private schools. Private schools, free schools, charter schools, they can produce great results and I’m actually not arguing with your point that self-selection isn’t segregation. What I am arguing with is that that makes charter schools OK, or that schools that aren’t regulated by the government are a good thing. Schools need oversight. Because schooling is not just schooling – for many social services, it’s the only way of reliably tracking kids, and education is not the most important part of looking after a child – the child’s welfare, physical and mental, comes first. Deregulating schools is fashionable at the moment because it lowers costs, but it also gives schools carte blanche to establish their own protocols without any oversight. I’d like to believe that every school will do this with respect to the child, but the experience here in the UK is that schools privately established often produce insular, discriminatory and in some cases downright harmful environments.
To conclude; no free schools without strong oversight at least of child welfare services, and at most of anti-discrimination drives. Which isn’t really very free in he end, but that’s the point – in my opinion (as a student right now, albeit in my last couple of years) schools need regulation. Because their power over their students is massive.

I have to respectfully disagree with your view on charter schools, but I do see how you’ve come to the conclusions you have about the union rep’s statement.

Charter schools can be and frequently are interesting and innovative, and many of them have shown success in neighborhoods where the public schools have not performed as well as the community needed them to. On a whole, recent research (which finally has a significant amount of data to track) shows that charter schools perform about the same as public schools, and across the same socioeconomic and demographic lines as public schools. (The most glaring example, charter and public high schools are both doing a terrible job preparing poor and working class Black and Hispanic boys and young men for a diploma track and post-HS education/training.)

The idea of charter schools is not actually new. Several large, urban, public school districts have been creating magnet schools, which have by and large been hugely successful by any possible measure, from test scores to parental approval to long-term success of former students. Magnet schools have the freedom to push boundaries, but are still able to avail themselves of of the benefits of a larger system — transportation, meal services, maintenance work, buying power, staff training and management, etc. Ultimately, I don’t think it will be any moral argument for or against charters that will make them less trendy, it will be transportation costs and sports.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever lived in a neighborhood that very nearly revolved around HS sports, but I have. I can’t see my contemporaries giving up football and basketball traditions that go back for generations. Even and perhaps especially for the sake of “better education.”

The purest goal of the American education system, and one that sets us apart from many countries that outperform us on paper, is that we promise every child an education. Charter schools, with a few notable exceptions, can’t do this. We can’t even tell if they’re trying, most of the time, because the number of special needs students in a typical charter school is too small to be measured as a statistically significant group, same with students who are learning English as an additional language.

The difference between parochial and private schools and charter schools is that the tuition in the first two is paid by the parents, in the third, it’s taken from the already strapped budgets of the public school districts. A large urban district I know of has lost over $100 million over the past decade in cuts and students lost to charters.

Charter schools aren’t silver bullets, there aren’t any silver bullets in education. The US public education system is complex, noble, bold and flawed, and it certainly needs some work. The way to fix it, which nobody seems to get at all, isn’t to take away resources and the students of families who care passionately about good schools.

We have the power of oversight for public schools, by electing representatives to our local school boards who are willing to fight for education. There is no such public oversight of charter schools, even though they’re funded by the same tax money that funds public schools.

In short, the main idea of my manifesto above is that like everything else, there is more to charter schools than meets the eye, and the money being thrown at them could probably facilitate a lot of good in the public schools, where everyone can benefit.


I like this, too. I am so interested in what everyone is saying! I feel like we need a round table or a link bomb article with all the most interesting and informative articles about public education, mostly just for my benefit.

I think I agree with your reasoning–it has been my inclination in the past, but I am hesitant to say that specific parents should suffer through having their specific kids at shitty schools just because they can’t afford private alternatives.

Those parents can be part of the reason the shitty school turns around, though. In my experience, it takes three critical elements to make a great school:

1. A strong principal with clear goals, an honest relationship with staff and parents, and at least five to ten years of classroom experience.

2. Strong parental involvement through PTA/PTO, volunteering, an open door policy, excellent home/school communication and lots of opportunities to bring the school to the community and the community to the school.

3. Peer-to-peer staff development and mentoring and an effective, consistent curriculum.

When a school can pull these three things together, the rest of it all falls in place. The parents who have the resources, the initiative and the wherewithall to make it through the charter application/lottery system are just the people we need fighting to make neighborhood schools better.

Honestly, I was really trying not to write an article about charter schools, but more give background about why I was mad about what that dude said.

I don’t think charter schools are a magic bullet. I am well versed in the background of charters, and I’m originally from a state that has charter schools, and an entire county that’s presently bankrupt… with a huge charter school in it.

I know they’re not a solution to the huge, enormous gaps in our educational system, especially for the actual achievement gap between white kids and kids of color.

It’s also the middle of the night and I have lots of opinions which I’m sure I will be able to better articulate after I’ve rested.

Thanks for the amazingly thought out comment, though!

Very well said. Most of my friends here in Florida are public school teachers, but one is at a charter school, and they all have the same problems – not enough money, resources, and support. Dividing up is not the answer when there isn’t enough to divide no matter how you slice it.

I am actually, in general, pretty anti-charter schools and school vouchers, but this is a side of that argument I hadn’t considered before, so this will be really useful.

I believe strongly that public school education needs to be of high quality — that is, it needs to be good enough for all students — in this country so that everyone is succeeding. And it seems to me that the parents who have the resources and time and energy to pull their kids out are the very parents most likely to agitate for necessary change in their local public schools (should they have to? no, not necessarily, but that’s another problem with our system right now). The students left behind in the public schools are losing funds and infrastructure and good teachers to these “better options” and end up with less, which is the opposite of the long-term goal, even if any given parent’s short-term goal is to give the best success to his or her personal children.

But of course the fact that wealthier families are pulling their kids out for private schools and we have this problem anyway, leaving less affluent families to shoulder the burden of public school change on their own, is something that I need to consider about my view. I’ve seen some really interesting and engaging charter schools (in person and metaphorically, by reading/hearing about them), so of course I have minorly mixed feelings about my stance basically being against the innovative, cool work happening at them. But overall, tentatively, I think the long-term push needs to be for more centralized educational oversight, so that schools with effective innovations and experiments can share those on a larger scale with their districts and their states and the country, rather than it being luck of the draw where your parents can afford a house what kind of school options you have.

Lots to consider, so thanks!

For what it’s worth, I was homeschooled and don’t plan on having kids, and I still feel strongly and am willing to at least be an earrings-and-coat holder for change and improvement in schools and school funding.  Not disagreeing with anything you say, just trying to give you some hope that at least some of those who aren’t directly invested in the public school system still care and are invested.

Good point. I don’t necessarily mean that I doubt that, but if you just remove the families with the highest focus on education from the problem schools/districts, then you remove a lot of incentive to help solve the systemic problems. I know my parents care a ton about education but when the schools my sister and I were zoned for didn’t even offer honors classes, they just sent us to a private school instead. No interaction whatsoever with the public school, and no agitation for more honors classes. Which is certainly fair and reasonable for any given parent, but is a problem on the systemic level. We can’t count on unaffiliated community members to do it all!

This was a really interesting read, thank you. I am going to have to read it through again (Middlemarch Madness and tiredness have addled my brain).

I then said that I was home schooled, and did not need to sit next to a child of a different race to be prepared for the realities of life.

This struck a chord with me. It’s not the same, but I’m very, very aware of having gone to schools which were entirely white (at least, as far as my memory can recall) but that it isn’t the be all and end all of being “prepared” for life. Gosh, that feels utterly rambled – apologies – again, I’m going to have to re-read your article, but thank you for sharing.

This quote struck me too.  I’m a white girl who was homeschooled in a conservative white county, but thanks to my parents, my friends, my church, my family, and so much more, I was still prepared for the realities of life, and would venture that I am actually more prepared to engage in social justice struggles than most of the kids who went to the tiny, 100% white (seriously, there was a Peruvian exchange student at the school for a year that we knew, and she was literally the only non-white person there) public school in my district.

Well, let me try and give you a little background on what is going on in jefferson county, so you have some more clarity to why I said that.

Louisville forces integration. Kids don’t go to their neighborhood schools. Black kids are bussed out of their neighborhoods 10 years out of 12, and white kids are bussed 4-5 years out of their neighborhoods. So what that implies, to me, is that the ky school board thinks that black kids need to attend a school with white kids in order to  learn better… or that forced integration is the only way white kids are ever gonna interact with a black child… which might very well be the case, but who benefits from that? Not the black kid, and they start out disadvantaged anyway.

The fact of the matter is that most schools these kids are being bussed to still have a huge achievement gap– meaning that white kids are performing at better rates than black kids. And that’s a systematic thing. A member of the school board here actually said that some kids just can’t learn, which is bullshit. Racist teachers, 2-4 hours of bussing daily and a culture of subjegation and a classroom where the children feel less-than all contribute to this gap.

The bussing is also incredibly detremental to the ability for the kids to learn because most poor/black kids are leaving home for school at 5am, so they can get on a bus for literally, two hours, to get their free/reduced meal in the morning. It’s really crazy.

Anyway, specifically for black people, I don’t feel like this society really needs for any black child to sit next to a white kid in order to get a dose of the fact that, honestly? White people run shit in america. You adapt or you get bum-rushed, basically, lol.

It’s on tv, it’s in advertising, it’s in the way people talk to you when you’re not white.

That’s what I was getting at.

Maybe it is different for a white kid to attend an all white school, because privelige et al and not having to actually interact with children of color keeps folks ignorant? Idk.

And yeah, I was homeschooled…  my mom had me involved in lots of activities like girl scouts, karate, educational programs and the like. I got to meet lots of kids of lots of different races, and I experienced people who came from different cultures. In regards to my  basic education? None of us need a child of another race sitting next to us in order to excel.

I don’t know if ANY of what I jsut wrote makes the least bit of sense, and I’m sorry, lol. It is 4am and I had a caffinated beverage a few hours ago, and my body is awake but this brain is sleepy. Okay, I’m going to stop writing before things get any weirder.

It sounds like the forced integration isn’t working, but I can understand why they started the program. I grew up in a town in Texas with two high schools. One was predominantly white and the other was predominantly black. Your school was based solely on the location of your residence.

There was no forced integration, but the money was doled out based on educational performances on the state mandated test. Guess who got all the money and who was always poor? Guess who had to win a damn state-championship in highschool football before the town and the school board would do ANYTHING about the gross gap in funding? The situation is still pretty bad, as I understand it.

My point, I guess, is that quick fixes don’t fix anything. Forced integration or not forced integration, racism wins out when the white racists are the only ones sitting on the school board.

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