Combatting ‘Passive Progressiveness’ in Seattle Public Schools

Combatting ‘Passive Progressiveness’ in Seattle Public Schools

By Stephan Blanford

A couple years ago, near the end of my term on the Seattle School Board, I used the term, “passive progressivism” to answer a question about why our racial achievement gaps actually got larger every year of my board service. I noted that nearly every person I engaged with while campaigning strongly agreed with my platform, but once in office, I faced stiff resistance from many of these same stakeholders, anytime we were grappling with a racial equity issue.

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Catching systemic racism in the act in Seattle Public Schools

Catching systemic racism in the act in Seattle Public Schools

By Matt Halvorson

Systemic racism is often hard to see in action.

It’s easy to look back and wonder, how did we get here? How do we have such deep-rooted opportunity gaps in our schools? How do we have so few Black teachers? How can there be such a thing as a “school-to-prison” pipeline? How do we have so few women of color in positions of elected leadership?

These systemic issues are not necessarily carried out by people of malicious intent. They are carried out by all of us every day as we make seemingly reasonable decisions, and through polices and processes that masquerade as neutral.

We are in the eleventh hour of one such process, but it’s not too late! Today — this very evening — we have a chance to catch the system in the act. So let’s do it.

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KUOW: Seattle Indian Health Board could shutter weekend clinic, cut treatment beds in half if shutdown continues

KUOW: Seattle Indian Health Board could shutter weekend clinic, cut treatment beds in half if shutdown continues

It's important to note that our most marginalized communities are first and most deeply affected by our government's acts of white supremacy.

It's not enough, though, just to take note of this. Noticing is only the beginning? What can we do? What will you do?

It is usually too late if we only wait to react. We must begin actively dismantling the structures and systems that create and enable this kind of violent inequity in order to prevent it happening over and over again in the future. This begins by examining your own role and participation.

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The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

Welcome one and all to the first semi-annual, fully manual Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards. Thank you for being here, wherever that may be.

These awards were created by me as a way to recognize a handful of Washingtonians who deserve a few extra hand-claps for the way their work and their way of life contributed to positive change in 2017.

The judging process was stringent and unscientific. I created the categories to suit my fancies, and I’ve awarded fake awards to whatever number of people I please. By the end, I’ll have failed to mention just about everyone, so if you find you've been omitted, don’t despair. The pool of nominees was limited to people I know about and managed to think of while writing this, and as a periodic shut-in, that’s not as long a list of names as you might think. For instance, I only finally discovered a few months ago that Chance the Rapper is amazing, if that gives you some idea. So, if you or someone you know has been egregiously overlooked, please get in touch with me and I’m sure I’d be happy to make up some new awards in the near future.

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An Eckstein Middle School parent asks: 'What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?'

An Eckstein Middle School parent asks: 'What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?'

"This sounds a lot like nitpicking from the sidelines. It’s all too easy and all too common for folks to stand by, knowing something is unjust -- such as the unjustified and unpunished murders of Black men and women by police officers, or the violent danger that comes with branding Black teenagers as criminals, or the unfair treatment Black kids are receiving in our schools and courtrooms -- and then judge the particulars of the people who chose to take action.

Supporting Black Lives Matter helps all gaps because it acknowledges injustice and seeks to change it. Nitpicking Black Lives Matter supports injustice by taking the side of the oppressor.

Remember, there is nothing violent hidden in the phrase 'Black Lives Matter.' There is nothing inherently threatening about it. It doesn’t suggest that Black Lives Matter more than any other lives, or that they matter at anyone’s expense."

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Why does skin color matter, asks a white Laurelhurst Elementary parent. Let's discuss.

KUOW’s Isolde Raftery wrote something recently that Seattle needs to hear. Maybe all “liberals” need to hear it.

Please just give it a quick read. I’ll wait.

 

 

Done? Thanks.

So, you just read Raftery describing the backlash in some of Seattle’s “whitest, most affluent corners” to the day last fall when a couple thousand of the city’s teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school. She shares snippets of emails from parents expressing fear and anger to their school leaders, and it paints a pretty intense picture of what is actually happening inside the minds of so many “good” liberal parents.

Seattle is plagued by the privileged white moderate, the wolf in liberal clothing who has all the right yard signs and claims all the most inclusive beliefs, but whose actions reflect fear, privilege and an urgent need to not feel upset. Stephan Blanford, the only true voice for equity on the Seattle school board, calls it “Seattle’s passive progressiveness.”

“We vote the right way on issues,” Blanford told Raftery. “We believe the right way. But the second you challenge their privilege, you see the response.”

Honestly, reading the emails, most of these parents just sound scared and confused. They genuinely don’t understand the impetus and the meaning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I’m going to do my best to answer their questions, starting today with this one:

 

Wrote a parent at Laurelhurst Elementary: “Can you please address … why skin color is so important? I remember a guy that had a dream. Do you remember that too? I doubt it. Please show me the content of your character if you do.”

 

Dear Laurelhurst Parent,

Skin color is important because our weird society -- yours and mine -- has made it so. People who cannot pass for white, which is itself a social construct and not an actual race, have always been treated differently in America. Always, up to and including today. Slavery was replaced by Jim Crow, which was replaced after the Civil Rights Movement by the War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of our Black brothers and sisters.

Did you know that Native Americans were not legally allowed to practice their traditional religious ceremonies in the U.S. until the ‘80s? We’ve been doing our best as a nation to eradicate their culture from this land as well as their bodies, from the genocide of “manifest destiny” to the shame of our state-sanctioned brutality at Standing Rock.

We have a president now who is encouraging hate and discrimination against immigrants of any origin, but especially against Mexicans and Muslims. Did you know that a mass grave filled with bodies of immigrants was found in Texas a few miles from the Mexico border? The state said it found “no evidence” of wrongdoing.

On a level that is super local to you, Seattle Public Schools discipline Black students at a disproportionate rate -- so much so that the federal government had to come down on them a few years back. The district still shamefully boasts the nation’s fifth-worst achievement gap between Black and white students, and similar gaps exist for all non-white student populations as well as for low-income students regardless of race.

The Black Lives Matter movement started after a teenage boy named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a white guy for the crime of wearing a hoodie while Black. It has been sustained by continued police violence against innocent Black men and women, with police officers continually acquitted.

So, because it sure seems like our society doesn’t actually believe that Black Lives Matter, people felt the need to say it. It’s not that white lives don’t matter. America already obviously values white lives. White lives and white safety are not particularly at stake here. Black Lives Matter mentions color because it has to.

The next time you invoke Martin Luther King, Jr., I suggest you better familiarize yourself with his beliefs and his non-whitewashed legacy. Start here: Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Have you ever read it?

Please do. If you have anything you’d like me to read up on, please pass it along. Then let’s talk. What do you say?

 

Best,

Matt

 

Up next, from Eckstein Middle School in Wedgwood:

“What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?”

Stay tuned.

8 Key Insights from 'The Only Black Man on the Seattle School Board'

8 Key Insights from 'The Only Black Man on the Seattle School Board'

Stephan Blanford is the outgoing school board rep for District 5, and as he leaves the post, we bid farewell to our strongest, most consistent voice for equity on the otherwise disastrous Seattle School Board.

Stephan talked with KUOW's Ann Dornfeld for about half an hour recently: "On being the only black man on the Seattle school board." They touched on race and equity in Seattle's schools from just about every angle. The entire conversation is absolutely worth listening to. I can't possibly share every detail here, as much as I wish I could. Still, here are eight key insights from their chat (I originally planned to do five, but I couldn't contain myself).

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Seattle School Board VP Harris delivered the definition of a microagression to a student guest

During the Seattle School Board meeting on Jan. 18 of this year, Board VP Leslie Harris thanked a student guest and said she was "extremely articulate."

Let's take this opportunity to understand why this is a microaggression and not a compliment.

First, watch here:

 

The student in question was a young woman of color who attends West Seattle High School. She updated the board on the MLK Day assembly, then discussed her school's lack of diversity among staff and teachers, shortages in science funding, and ways to help students of color not only find success, but find pathways to the becoming teachers as well.

 

She was certainly articulate. So, what's the problem?

Let's start by turning to an excellent article from KUOW producer Jeannie Yandel, "'You're So Articulate': Why Microaggressions Wear People Down."

According to Yandel's article, a microaggression is "an everyday slight, putdown or insult toward marginalized groups. Often, these come from well-intentioned individuals who are unaware they are saying anything offensive. Such seemingly small comments are the morphing of overt racism in America into a much more subtle form of bias."

Microaggressions are a nuanced form of prejudice, which can make them easy to miss -- and to dismiss. But they take a huge toll over time, in no small part because they are so difficult to combat that they are often just absorbed silently.

More from Yandel:

If the recipient, like Sue, takes offense, he could be perceived as misreading the intent of the comment or being too sensitive. “It is very difficult for them to understand the hidden meaning of their microaggression," he said.
Microaggressions aren’t just in offhand comments – they can be nonverbal too.
An example: a white woman clutching her purse a little tighter near a black male. Sue said assumptions of dangerousness and criminality are characteristic of the microaggressions black people receive.
Each small gesture might seem trivial, but for the person who receives them, they can accumulate over years – especially if the recipient has been subjected to different microaggressions several times a day.
“All our research on microaggressions reveal that microaggressions take a tremendous psychological and physical toll on the marginalized group member,” which can take the form of loss of productivity at school and work or a decrease in subjective well-being, Sue said.
Combating microaggressions can be tricky. Sue said recipients of microaggressions find themselves in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
“We found that the majority of people of color did not do anything, were told not to do anything, but by that decision what happened was that it took a psychological toll on them," Sue said. "They sat there and seethed away with anger and frustration. But they were also very hard on themselves by saying, ‘I’m a coward. Why didn’t I at least do something about it?"

 

Of course, as the article goes on to discuss, it's usually easier said than done to "do something" about a microaggression. Imagine this young woman interrupting a well-intentioned-but-ignorant school board member to try to explain why the intended compliment was actually an insult and a projection of implicit bias.

And the thing is, she shouldn't have to. She shouldn't have to hear it in the first place, and she definitely shouldn't be the one stuck defending herself and educating her oppressors.

So, Director Harris, take it from me instead: choosing to describe this student as "extremely articulate" -- and nothing else -- is problematic. It's a microaggression. A slight. And it's yet another reflection of our school board's sad lack of racial awareness.

(See also: Let's unpack SPS Board Director Rick Burke's understanding of integrationPlease help our kids get the school board leadership they deserveSeattle School Board VP Harris should resign after using term 'ghetto school', and A grassroots coalition just stopped the Seattle School Board from adding $11 million to the deficit.)

All of our students deserve better.

I am officially raising my hand and requesting that the Seattle School Board undergo some intensive DEI (short for diversity, equity and inclusion) work. This board does not constitute safe, productive leadership for our kids.

We should also, as a so-called sanctuary city, consider taking protective measures for the kids who already live here as well as those who don't. Let's make implicit bias testing mandatory for anyone working in our public school system. Now.