Posted tagged ‘racism’

Blaming Racism for the Achievement Gap in Our Schools is a Dangerous Road to Take

November 2, 2009

Race and racism are complicated issues in our society that too many people try to simplify; which I believe to be a dangerous road with perilous consequences.

A recent article published by The News Tribune, a Seattle-Tacoma area newspaper, brings up the issue of race and the American educational system. The author, Patrick Welsh, apparently is a high school teacher in Alexandria, Virginia with a high African American population.

The author cites arguments made by educators that the “achievement gap” between white and black students (as if Latino, Asian, and other ethnic students don’t count) is caused by an education system that treats black kids unfairly, which allows white kids to flourish when their darker pigmented peers lag behind.

Calling this problem a “civil rights violation” is a convenient argument, especially when one looks at the numbers. If it is true that white students generally speaking get better grades than black students, playing the race card is definitely a tempting road to take. But Welsh argues that parenting should be more to blame.

He argues that his students weren’t achieving much in the classroom because “their parents just weren’t there for them – at least not in the same way that parents of kids who were doing well tended to be.”

I agree with the writer that blaming this problem on race alone is misleading, counterproductive, and downright dangerous. Children are impressionable; a fact that is true of children of all racial/cultural/ethnic backgrounds. Imagine the message this sends to our young ones; that the reason why certain kids don’t do well in school is because s/he is black, or the reason why s/he is going to college is because s/he is white.

If kids are exposed to this kind of thinking at a young age, it will develop into deep-engrained stereotypes that will eventually come back to haunt us. If black children grow up believing they can’t do well in school because of the color of their skin, that is just as racist as any of the unjust laws civil rights leaders fought against 50 years ago.

Likewise, if white students grow up believing their whiteness will guarantee them a better chance in life than darker skinned students, imagine the racist attitudes that could be borne out of that scenario. Scary, n’est-ce pas?

 It makes logical sense that exclusively playing the race card in this situation can create more problems than it can solve. If the “educational system” is racist, who then is to blame? Teachers? Administrators? The federal government? Students themselves? The list goes on.

If my understanding of American society is correct, public school teachers are some of the most liberal folks in our country. Teachers’ unions fight for liberal causes. A federally-funded public school system is itself a big-government cause. The argument that educators are at their heart creating a racist system holds very little water.

 Racism and race in America are too complicated of topics to generalize like that. There were those who were foolish enough to believe that the election of Barack Obama to the presidency would signal an end of an era in race-relations in our country. That could not be further from the truth. While it is good to see an African American ascend to our nation’s highest office, this is no guarantee that our demons with racism will magically go away. I argued against such naivety shortly after the election and so far I am proven to be right.

Conservatives call this arguing “race baiting” by the left in an effort by liberals to ignore the real questions. I would not go that far, but I do feel they are slightly on to something. Playing the race card is, in my opinion, a tactic that is way overused by certain people, and only further destroys the debate by watering down the meanings of the words “racism,” “prejudice,” and “bigotry.”

We should not blame racism for our problems unless we are completely certain that racism is in fact the cause of whatever problem is being discussed. I do believe that crying “racism” all the time is similar to the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. If we see racism everywhere (in schools, in church, in the media, in our neighborhoods, in our government, in businesses, in our politics, in homes, at work, etc.) and pinpoint every social ill we have on racism, eventually people will stop caring. If we’re all racists, what’s the point of doing anything to stop it?

And, of course, when a truly racist thing does happen, no one will blink an eye because they’ve already been there, done that. It is genuinely the Boy Who Cried Wolf, except it’s the Bleeding-Heart Liberal Who Cried Racism. We should be careful before using the dreaded “R” word.

But far right conservatives are wrong about the notion that racism is a dead horse. Racial prejudice is quite alive in our country; it just takes different shapes than it has before. Blaming racism in our discussion of public education might be one of those examples.

By saying over and over again that black kids are doomed to perform academically at lower levels than white kids, is that not a racist notion in itself? Does that imply that black kids are unable to overcome obstacles imposed upon them by our nation’s history? Isn’t it racist to pound into our children’s minds that their teachers are hateful bigots because test scores tend to be skewed? Isn’t it racist to say that Obama’s white heritage is the only reason he has become so successful? Sounds like it to me.

And what about Asian American children, like I once was? Well, I still am Asian American, I’m just not a child anymore. In many parts of the country, East Asian, Indian, and Arab American students are very successful in the classroom. Especially children of recently naturalized immigrants. Their parents worked hard to come into this country, so they have been taught at an early age to work hard in school so that they can live out the American dream. I suppose parenting does play a part in all this.

 If the system works against minority students, how do you explain the success of a good number of Asian American kids? Dumb luck? Maybe their culture of hard work has something to do with it.

Parents who had to fight hard to come into this country are more likely to teach discipline and the importance of an education to their children because they know how hard it is to succeed in life. Welsh is right that absent parents play a much larger role in the educational “achievement gap” than most people are willing to admit. Will making the school days longer, as President Obama recently argued, make our kids get better grades? I doubt it. We don’t need to urgently fix our schools. We need to fix our culture.

We need to bring back to our kids a sense of urgency at getting a good education. We need to teach them not nothing in life comes free, and that your race should never be an excuse for performing well or poorly. We need to bring back the “culture of learning” where reading books and enlightening ourselves are more important than watching reality television and other trashy pop culture garbage.

It all starts in the homes, not the classrooms. Teachers try the best that they can (at least most of them do). No teacher wants their students to fail. So why should be put all the blame on them? Besides, if racism truly is the problem in our schools, how do you propose we fix that? Should we require our educators to attend more “racial tolerance” seminars? Should we ignore all white students and focus more on minority students hoping that will somehow make our problems go away? Not bloody likely.

If any of you can successfully convince me that racism is the sole cause of our school system’s “achievement gap,” please inform, counter-argue, and persuade me and I will definitely write a blog post recanting everything I have said here. If not, then maybe we should tackle our larger problems instead of making up our own ones.

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Hate Groups Are Wise to Support “Lone Nuts”

June 18, 2009

Lone nuts are a funny thing. They commit aberrant acts of violence that defy any notions of decency, morality, or common sense. They act under the guidance of only one person: themselves. They follow no orders except for what they decide to do. They are easy to ignore because they represent no larger cause. But we should be cautious about feeling this way.

A few weeks ago controversial abortionist doctor George Tiller was gunned down at church allegedly by a man named Scott Roeder, an adamant pro-life (or is it anti-abortion?) believer who militantly carried out his angry ideology. Even more recently an 88-year-old man named James Von Brunn stormed into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and killed Stephen Tyrone Johns, an African American security guard.

None of these killings are officially tied to any organized crime. Though a devout anti-Semitic and white supremist, Von Brunn acted alone and not with the explicit help with any Neo-Nazi group. The news media have discussed these two cases extensively within the past few weeks and have talked about how far we have left to go in creating a truly egalitarian and tolerant society.

But even more disturbing is how these organizations function. They do not officially support terrorism or acts of violence. They “denounce” such violence when they do occur. When the media ask them what they think about “lone nuts” who kill in the name of white supremacy or any other cause, they claim they renounce violence and instead embrace “nonviolent” political action and open dialogue. Many pro-life organizations do truly reject violence and instead use the political system to make change. Others do not.

Talking heads on television have discussed whether these organizations and the conservative media are to blame for Roeder and Von Brunn’s horrific actions. It is true that leaders of the white supremist movement are very vocal about their hateful beliefs. It is true some of their speech borders on incitement. But incitement is a very difficult crime to prove.

Vocal conservative voices like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh are very adamant that their audience know how they feel about certain issues. Lou Dobbs on CNN is infamously a very strong anti-illegal immigration voice. Their opinions, as so-called “journalists,” are well-known by people everywhere. When right-winged pundits and others compare Dr. Tiller to Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, calling abortion a crime similar to the Holocaust, it is understandable that one would put blame on them for murders to people like Tiller.

But that argument can lead to calls for censorship and media redaction, a slippery slope that no one wants to go down. As a strong First Amendment advocate, I strongly believe only speech that causes direct, imminent, and lawless action should be censored. And that should be a rare case. Accusing any speech of incitement, and therefore censorable, can eventually lead to the suppression of ideas and tyranny of the masses.

No one likes racist and hateful speech like that delivered by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, but in America, such speech should be allowed. We cannot let the masses, even if the masses are right, to dictate what speech is allowed and what is not. Living in a free society means allowing all people to speak their minds. Even people we don’t like. But enough about defending free speech.

The really interesting aspect to all this is the concept of being a “lone wolf.” Hate groups are smart (if such a description can be given to them) to not officially condone violence or take part in organizing violence. When they do that, they become not just hate groups, but terrorist organizations. That is the fine line between the two.

When a hate group commits no act of violence, and therefore do not break any laws, the government can take no action against them. The FBI cannot crack down on Aryan Nations or KKK meetings because of what happened at the Holocaust museum. They have no direct connection to the shooter. If there is proof that madmen like Von Brunn are officially sponsored by these groups, then the U.S. can take all the legal action necessary to bring them down.

And hate groups do not want that. If they want to continue to survive, they must remain law abiding. And in this age of the Internet and social networking, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to track down exactly who is responsible for what. So when shootings at Dr. Tiller’s church and the Holocaust museum take place, they can make their token statements where they reject violence and are praying for the victim’s families. They don’t fear being pursued by the police because, on the surface at least, they have done nothing wrong.

But secretly, they are loving what has happened. The museum slaying has other Jewish organizations fearing for their safety. African American security guards and police officers are now looking over their shoulder more often. The fears for the safety of President Obama, America’s first African American president, have increased. With these pairs of killings, these hate groups have achieved a small victory: the installment of fear into people.

Then again, we should be cautious to clump the anti-abortion and anti-Semitic followers into a single group. They are very different in their beliefs and should not be seen as one and the same. I’m sure there were many pro-life folks who genuinely hated seeing a man killed because someone disagreed with what he did. Lone nuts like Roeder do nothing to legimatize their cause. They only make them appear more out of the mainstream and out of touch with reality. Not all pro-life people are killers. But people will be less convinced of that after this incident.

Returning to the original point, racist and hate groups are not on the NSA’s terror watch list because they have not been proven to organize terrorist actions. The KKK or the Aryan Nations are not like al Qaeda or Hezbollah because they keep away from organizing shootings like that which took the life of Mr. Johns. If there is any proof of connections between these organizations and “lone nuts,” then they are no longer considered lone nuts, but agents. And agents can be prosecuted along with their “commanders.”

This is not to say that hate groups did not give direct support to Von Brunn and people like him. As mentioned before, online social networking is so complex that anything is possible. Law enforcement agencies will have to work even harder to prove a conspiracy. If the government could not prove that Lee Harvey Oswald acted under orders, how can they do the same in this age of Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter?

For now, we are left to being more vigilant and countering racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry not with police action, but with more grassroots awareness action. Love cannot be enforced. Love must be taught. We must make other people aware of the humanity in all of us, regardless of race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, creed, or physical abilities. This requires people to lead by example and to be open to criticism and difficult discussions. Ending hate will not happen if people are passive. Hate will end when acceptance becomes the norm.

Men like Roeder and Von Brunn may be lone nuts, but their actions affect us all in some form or fashion. Lone nuts are a funny thing. They may act alone, but their deeds speak to us all.

Sonia Sotomayor, Racism, and the Problems with Liberals and Conservatives in America

June 11, 2009
Sonia Sotomayor has unfairly become a rallying cry for race-related debate by liberals and conservatives.

Sonia Sotomayor has unfairly become a rallying cry for race-related debate by liberals and conservatives.

There’s that dreaded subject again. Race. Race, racism, racial progress, racial prejudice, racial tolerance, it all boils down to one thing: controversy.

Race is a painful, taboo topic of discussion that always seems to turn its ugly head again and again. Especially in these United States, with our long history of racial injustice, talking about race can be an activity that makes people either run away or hide under their desks. That was true fifty years ago, it’s still true today.

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency last fall seemed like a step in the right direction. America had finally elected its first African American president. A country with a long history of slavery, race-inspired lynching, and segregation can partially bury its demons from the past with this historic election. Race will still be a problem in this country, but one memorable election certainly couldn’t hurt.

But the recent nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court by President Obama has stirred race-related discussions that expose two hard hitting facts about race in America: Some people cannot let go of the past and some people cannot embrace a new future.

Supporters of Sotomayor argue it is important for the Supreme Court to have a Latino woman on the bench. The Supreme Court, historically dominated by old white men, is the highest court in the nation. They determine the supreme law of the land. They decide how Americans can and cannot live. This is indeed a big deal.

Most of the discussion surrounding Sotomayor has nothing to do with her judicial beliefs or legal philosophy. Seen by a few Constitutional law experts as a center-left justice cut from the same cloth as the soon-to-retire David Souter, if confirmed, she will most likely make decisions that appease Obama’s liberal base while occasionally deciding in favor of conservatives.

Instead, talk about Sotomayor in the media mostly revolves around her ethnicity and a controversial statement she made on a few occasions, but most famously at a 2001 speech to the University of California, Berkley, School of Law entitled “A Latina Judge’s Voice.” Her quote is as follows:

“First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Conservatives argue this line of thinking implies that her ethnicity and cultural background alone qualifies her to serve on the bench. They fear her rulings will be biased toward racial minorities and that she will marginalized Caucasians if a race-related case comes before the Court. They also argue this statement is “reverse racist” because she implies her race and background is superior to that of a white man.

Former Speaker of the House and possible 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and outspoken radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh both called this statement racist and called Sotomayor a racist. Interestingly, Gingrich has since apologized for his condemnation of Sotomayor while Limbaugh has said he may support her confirmation. This proves one’s gut reaction should not be said publicly until you’ve had time to talk about it.

Ideally, a judge should be impartial, unbiased, and completely fair toward all people in court. In Harper Lee’s famous 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch tells Scout that “The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow.” Liberals argue Sotomayor’s Latina background will give her a better perspective when dealing with cases involving the common people, minorities, and women. Conservatives argue that that’s the problem. Her perspective should be objective and removed from outside influences, not unapologetically formulated by it.

What this debate illustrates is that liberals, or at least politically-minded liberals, cannot let go of the past. To them, every sin of the past must be made up by progressives of the present and future. Remember segregation? We must elect a black man to the presidency to cleanse us of those sins. Remember how we denied women the right to vote, have an abortion, and get paid equally to men in the workplace? We need to support a woman to join the Supreme Court if we are to let go of that dreadful past.

This, of course, is not how all liberals feel. Just those who have this perception that they have some guilt to relieve. Liberal bloggers and political pundits see the negative reaction to Sotomayor’s statement as signs that racism still exists in this country. Indeed it does, but perhaps they are ignoring the larger picture of equality. The fact that Sotomayor’s past life is coming back to haunt her is proof that women, to a certain degree, have made huge strides in becoming equal to men.

All politicians have dirt on them. All lawyers have dirt on them (there are a million lawyer jokes to back me up on this). When John Roberts and Samuel Alito were being confirmed to the Court during the Bush era, liberals were harsh on them and grilled them for hours before a congressional confirmation panel. Every memo, every paper, every legal statement they made were put under a microscope and analyzed to death. This happens when you are deciding whether to confirm someone to a life long appointment on the nation’s highest bench.

Liberals should not be surprised that such a statement would be considered controversial. Even a few left-leaning political columnists agree that she may have been a tad unwise to say something so controversial. Saying anything about “a white male who hasn’t lived that life” is guaranteed to turn heads. If Sotomayor had known she would later in life to considered for the Supreme Court, it can be guaranteed that she would have said something different.

However, the anger pouring out against her is proof that even though she is a minority woman, she will not get a free pass at attaining high positions of power. She will have to earn it. And in order to earn it, she has to explain herself and justify her beliefs. Roberts and Alito had to justify their beliefs before a skeptical congressional panel. The fact that Sotomayor has to do the same thing proves a certain degree of equality has been attained.

Assuming every attack on Sotomayor, or even skeptical remark, is fueled by racism is a way to silence critics and assure her confirmation. Not everything is related to race. Maybe I am less perceptive than other people, but most white Americans in 21st century America don’t look at a minority as just a minority. That might be part of their internal social mental description, but that is certainly not everything. Not everything is about race.

Conservatives become defensive about race because they feel liberals hark on them about it all the time. Conservatives and Republicans definitely did not help in ending slavery or Jim Crow laws. Ultra-right winged radicals were the ones who lynched blacks in the South and most recently murdered abortionist doctor George Tiller. While this is all true, conservatives fear threatened that every time they criticize someone of color, they will automatically be branded a racist. This is why Republicans are cautious to criticize Obama’s policies. They don’t want to be known as a “hater” and be voted out in the next election.

One of the reasons why racism still exists is because there are people who refuse to let it go. They dwell in the past instead of living in the present. I believe that every schoolchild should learn about America’s horrific past with racism. The history of slavery, abolitionism, segregation, and the Civil Rights movement should be taught to every child in the United States. But after that, we should learn from the past so that we don’t commit the same crimes in the future. Continuously returning to the past and unburying the skeletons in the closet will only further alienate people from the discussion and make them bitter. Real progress cannot happen if people insist on dwelling on the sins of those long gone.

Conservatives, on the other hand, fear for the future. They are guilty of fearing what a diverse and egalitarian America will look like. They fear that having women in positions of power will strip down the “old boys club” and make it that their wives, girlfriends, mothers, and daughters can have authority over them. Such a horrible thought.

It is no mystery that conservatives value tradition and keeping things the way they are. Hence, they want to “conserve” the status quo. But if that means maintaining a system where rich white men have all the control, then we have a problem. Women and minorities deserve a chance at making it big. They deserve to have their voices heard and their needs considered. That is why we live in a democratic system. We are government of the people, for the people, and by the people. And women and minorities are people.

Perhaps conservatives fear that a pseudo “melting pot” America will destroy what it means to be “American.” Instead of having a clean cut white Christian family be the face of America, it might be a black Muslim family. Or a Buddhist Chinese family. Or an atheistic Latino family. Or a gay family. Such thoughts keep conservatives up at night.

Once again, I say “conservatives” to mean those who are far to the right, like a Rush Limbaugh or a Bill O’Reilly. Most normal or moderate conservatives have no fear of white men sharing power. They just fear Big Government and socialized healthcare. But that is a whole other sack of potatoes.

For conservatives, talking about “race” is all about how evil conservatism is and how Big Government should be authorized to tell people how to live, work, and interact. What they don’t understand is that most moderate liberals think of race in terms of improving society, not demonizing the white man. Only the radicals are bent on destroying the system. Moderates/pragmatists just want to live in peace.

In short, this is the conclusions one can make regarding how race is discussed and viewed in America. One can go on for hours about the little nuances of race-related issues, but that is for later. What Sonia Sotomayor represents is a larger discussion about how women and minorities are treated in this country. And that is not fair to her. She is an individual who should be treated as an individual. She is smart, independent, and her own woman. Framing her as “a sign of progress” dehumanizes her and makes her a symbol of “equality.”

If I can fault both liberals and conservatives about one thing, it’s that most of this discussion should be about Sotomayor’s qualifications as a judge, not her race or gender. For liberals to make her a rallying point for egalitarianism and for conservatives to make her an example of “reverse racial discrimination” devalues her as a human being and forces her to be a battleground for an age old war that she does not deserve to be a part of.

Please, those on the left and right, focus on her judicial philosophy and not your own race-related social agenda. This should be about deciding who gets to determine our country’s laws, not about your own personal biases. Sonia Sotomayor, though she is a Latina woman, should be treated as a human being, not a political symbol.

If you cannot do that, then you should take a long look at yourself in the mirror and reconsider what you really value in life.