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Category: anti-racism

Celebrate and Critique / Critical Race Theory and Juneteenth

Yesterday, I celebrated Juneteenth partially by marching in POP’s (People’s Organization for Progress) annual march and rally for reparations, partially by volunteering to sort books for the Rotary Club of Newark’s Read 4 Life initiative, partially by coming through Nat Turner Park to support my sister-friend Sheila Montague’s business venture, and partially by living and breathing as my unapologetic blackwomanteacher self. Because we weren’t meant to survive, let alone thrive, every day that we do is a testimony to our humanity. I keep that at the forefront.

Standing on the street outside of Newark City Hall, I snapped a few pictures as the steps became populated with signs and t-shirts representing the many organizations that co-sponsored the event. Our attention was brought to the podium, the speaker and mic carried by Larry Hamm from the Lincoln statue on Springfield Ave and W Market Street no longer leading us in the call-and-response chants of “They stole us! They sold us! They owe us!” I looked for and spotted the newly installed statue of George Floyd to the right of the steps. At the same time this event acknowledged my power, it also triggered that critical voice in my mind. Why aren’t there at least double the amount of people out here considering the number of organizations being represented? Who’s going to be doing what, if anything, tomorrow to bring an end to this struggle? Are you here because it’s “the place to be”? And where are the children?

My best friend Millie sent me this TikTok video Friday night and I was like “Yaaaaassss!! All of this!” Lynae Vanee (@_lyneezy) breaks Juneteenth down, moving past what is now a national narrative of Union Army soldiers riding into Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 to inform the Black people there they were no longer enslaved. She instructs her audience on the underlying motivations of Abraham Lincoln and the Union–that taking away institutionalized slavery was the way to end the Civil War, since the Confederates did not accept a truce offered months earlier that would have allowed them to keep slavery. (Yup, watch the video ↑)

How do politics, policy, and law have an impact on our lived experiences? It’s understanding history and contemporary life through this lens (and others) that keeps me vigilant to the many ways people are oppressed and the many ways I can actively work toward liberation, particularly through teaching current and future teachers. To quote Eve Ewing on a podcast about examining freedom, “What are the tools I want to give people to look at contemporary life differently?”

One of these tools is critical race theory, which is under attack in one of the latest battles in the culture wars over public education. I say culture wars because, in agreement with others, many opponents of critical race theory tend to be misinformed about the concept itself and are instead responding to a threat to the ideology of White supremacy (read this NEPC newsletter and watch Marc Lamont Hill conduct this interview).

Critical race theory has roots in the legal field in the late 70s and was later applied in other disciplines, one example being education and namely by scholar Gloria Ladson-Bilings as one of the first in this field. Critical social theories look to explain power structures and differentials in society; critical race theory does this as well as looks to transform inequality, thus having an activist nature that other theories do not carry. It allows for an illumination, an adjustment of the light so that we can see in places we had previously found dark. Critical race theory supports an analysis like the one provided by Lynae Vanee. I used it in my dissertation to illuminate actions/behaviors of myself and others during the decade of organizing I chronicle for the purpose of drawing implications for creating a critical democratc public education.

Besides laws being proposed and passed not to teach critical race theory in public schools, states and districts are responding to the conversation in other ways. The Randolph Board of Education voted to remove all holiday names from the district calendar, instead just writing “Day Off,” after community members of the affluent NJ town packed the board meeting in protest to removing Columbus Day as a name on the district calendar. The board’s rationale for removing all the names was that it did not want to exclude or offend anyone. This action literally erases history and is akin to colorblindness–if we say we don’t see it then it’ll disappear. The atrocities at the foundation of the United States need to be acknowledged and addressed. We can move in a new direction by centering BIPoC’s histories and by enacting policies that will provide reparations for the harms done as well as create critical equity. Erasing history does not put different groups of people on the same starting grounds.

Dr. Greg Carr offers an authoritative critique of critical race theory. In a recent episode on In Class with Carr, with host Karen Hunter, Dr. Carr points out a severe limitation of critical race theory and why he doesn’t practice it–because the focus is on asking the dominant social structure to acknowledge your humanity:

And I get that. I’m not concerned with success within the dominant power structure–my own or others’. How would that be transformational? That reminds me of a critique I have of charter schools. The corporate charter school movement likens itself to the civil rights movement and preaches that it brings equality of opportunity to disenfranchised communities through education. But opportunity is still delivered within the system of the United States, within the system of White supremacy. How many charter schools center African “governance and ways of knowing,” as Dr. Carr would say?

Dr. Carr further critiques critical race theory as being bound by time and space–the contemporary and the United States–when the goal of liberation must be a function of knowledges that come before and outside of these boundaries imposed by Whiteness. He points out how even the 1619 Project starts “at the water,” as though Black people did not exist before slavery in the United States: 

The global imperialist social structure is threatened not by critical race theory itself but by a disruption to its hegemony, the threat of its power being overturned and rightfully restored to the melanated people of this planet. Again, I agree with Dr. Carr; critical race theory does center the United States and its history. If our work is to liberate humanity, we must have a broader perspective on anti-Blackness.

Studying Sylvia Winter’s work is helping me to broaden my perspective. Reading her work is not for the faint at heart, but once you pick up her rhythm, you can visualize the figures dancing in space before you. While I am thankful for critical race theory because it created an entry point for my understanding of our material condition as a result of war, enslavement, dispossession, violence, and the like, I am confident there are more places to look for each of us to discover the human condition as it has come to be and, more important, how to be an intervention in the current trajectory.

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Politics of Respectability: Who Has the Ear of the Newark School Board?

We persist in our call for the resignation of Board President Josephine Garcia and tonight’s meeting provides further evidence as to why this demand should be met.

I applaud aspects of the Program & Instruction report–I’m looking forward to the “forthcoming” information on the teaching and learning presentation and, yes, tracking the strategic plan is a responsibility of the board, though that is not a new idea and should long have been a priority of every committee of this board. However, the Governance report underscores how this board falls short of authentic, critical civic participation.

NEED was an invited guest of the Governance committee, and several other board members made time to meet with this group as private citizens–though that’s a fine line to be walking when the purpose of the meeting is to discuss what is at least tangentially board business. Meanwhile, several other community organizations and individuals also took the time to express input to appointing a board member to a vacancy, not only after the board took action, but BEFORE the appointment was made. Not ONE of the individuals who submitted official letters of interest for the vacant seat was invited to speak to a committee or to the board.

Further, these same community organizations and individuals followed up their requests and comments at board meetings in written form to board members. One or two received a response; the vast majority were ignored. No one was invited to discuss their concerns or ideas further. No one was publicly thanked for illuminating how the public education system is rooted in oppression and inequity and for how our contributions are a reminder of how we must all actively fight oppression.

Even teachers are ignored. Nicole Sanderson has come before this board numerous times this school year with the simple request of turning on students’ access to Gmail so that teachers can communicate with students through Google Classroom, thus improving their learning conditions. Tonight, we finally heard something. But how many months later? No acknowledgement. No follow-up. No response. ALL teachers, residents, parents, and students deserve responses.

The praise from board members for NEED’s work around a proposed board vacancy policy plays into respectability politics in that you’ll respond to certain folx but not others as a function of the approach used and the relation of the people to the board members. NEED is constituted by folx who are not bringing a critical or abolitionist approach to education and who are intimately tied to the charter school sector and Teach for America through its political arm, Leadership for Educational Equity. Members also have personal relationships with board members.

I urge you to reflect on your actions and not intentionally or unintentionally pit members of the community against each other because some did it “the right way,” or position the participation of young people as a shield against justifiable critique of your silence regarding President Garcia calling public participation “bullshit.” It’s both/and–accountability and transformative policy.

The call for Josephine Garcia’s resignation is a call to open up a space for the transformative leadership needed for this school board.

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Oppression Will Not Be Tolerated by the Newark Board

TRANSCRIPT

My remarks tonight are all about what occurred at the Jan 28th meeting.

I’m not into #cancelculture. It contributes to the project of dehumanization and doesn’t allow for learning or what I refer to as re-constitution.

But I do believe in accountability and transformative leadership–and for those practices, I echo calls for you, President Garcia, to step down, preferably off the board but minimally removed from the chair position allowing Dawn Haynes to lead the board.

All that occurred on Jan 28th was not just a mistake or your legal right. It was a clear demonstration of how you’ve allowed yourself to be a tool of oppression. And it’s a pattern of behavior, some of which I experienced during my time as a board member.

From day one, you’ve led with a sense of entitlement. At the April 2018 meeting, you were nominated for president; I was nominated for president. At the call of general counsel, I spoke to my ability and character; you said nothing. And were elected.

Six months in, at the Oct 2018 meeting at Science Park, Student Rep Andre Ferreira spoke passionately about critical issues, including suicide as a problem in our schools and racism at Science Park. He called on us to “listen” and “acknowledge.” Your response was to tell him: “inform yourself more with the district’s website” along with a list of other things he needed to do; you said: “… and we are listening…you just got here…communicate…email us.” You were both defensive and dismissive.

Two plus years later at last December’s meeting: the same kind of response–feeling personally attacked and chastising board members for not “communicating” with you. Following your logic, I should have received a direct communication from you; I was a speaker on that list you had in front of you. I’m not requesting an apology, just pointing out how you fail to even follow your own logic.

The board, under your leadership, has resulted in short, shallow meetings. The January Retreat is a prime example with the (lack of) discussion on equity. I was left wondering, have you read the strategic plan? How did that conversation not lead with the equity statement?

Other board members: I, and many others, were in the WebEx. We saw your responses; your nonresponse is a response. Silence is consent. You don’t have to condemn anyone. You can say what you stand for to provide a distinction.

In conclusion, local control is not doing the minimum, not doing what you, personally, think is best. That is demonstrating strains of privatization–where your personal ideas rank while others’ don’t, discounting voices that you believe don’t matter.

We fought for a collective process, NOT to be oppressed by our own reflection, NOT to have to fight our own school board.

Public participation is indispensable and requisite to local control. We–actual parents and community parents, students, education workers, education advocates and activists–we bring perspectives you don’t have, we ask questions you don’t ask. We are, in effect, the 10th board member.

Good evening.

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Amanda Gorman, #talkback, & Anti-racist Pedagogy

January 2021 will be one of the most memorable months in my lifetime and I wonder ten years from now, what will the textbooks say about this moment in U.S. history? Who will determine the curriculum and who will write the narrative? Questions like these keep me thinking about yesterday, today, and tomorrow all at once for there is not much distinction among these time markers beyond the arrangement of numbers. Today is tomorrow’s yesterday and yesterday’s tomorrow.

Why will it be memorable? Amanda Gorman. Gorman’s poetry performance at the inauguration was inspiring and profound, crafted to #talkback to the insurrection orchestrated to stop the certification of November’s presidential election as well as the ideology of White supremacy on the whole . A line that struck me:

But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.

Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

Democracy is an ideal, a social project hundreds of years in the making. It’s alive, and like any being it must be nurtured, care has to be taken. White supremacy is a constant threat to democracy and we must protect against it at all costs. One way this country purports to do this is through public education. The dominant narrative recited today about the purpose of public education is to prepare students for college and career. A historical perspective shows us preparing students for citizenship, and thus leadership, was just, if not more, important (albeit for a select class of people).

As teachers prepare lessons both today and tomorrow, they need to be prepared through the critical lenses of democracy and anti-racism–they the lessons AND they the teachers. An article shared on Facebook, “Wilmington 1898: When white supremacists overthrew a US government,” taught me about another coup led by White supremacists which was much more successful at enacting terror and thwarting democracy. This history is important to know as a singular event as well as part of a pattern of occurrences that brought us to our present. The day that teacher education centers study of history from a critical lens is the day that we’ll be in the position to prepare students to lead this world toward a just society.

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