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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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.

Please help our kids get the school board leadership they deserve

I'd like to point your attention toward the dysfunction of the Seattle School Board. Many of the directors on the board have consistently shown a troubling lack of racial awareness, and it's been having a seriously negative impact on the kids in our district for many years.

Dir. Leslie Harris described a Cedar Park school full of low-income students of color as "a ghetto school."

It's time for things to change.

I wrote a blog post Sunday about Dir. Leslie Harris, the recently appointed board vice president who used the term "ghetto school" during a board meeting last November. It sparked a particularly inspiring response from one former principal.

This earlier post also gives some more background on the problematic dynamics on the board:

 

A grassroots coalition just stopped the Seattle School Board from adding $11 million to the deficit

 

These are just a couple examples, of course. I'll also be writing this week about Dir. Rick Burke's troubling take on integration and about more racially sleepy comments from Dir. Harris.

Seattle Public Schools has documented problems with disproportionate discipline of Black students, and the district is home to the fifth-worst opportunity gap in the nation. These are more than just politically incorrect slips of the tongue from a well-intentioned board of directors. Each microagression and each offensive phrase represents the pattern of thinking that still guides our schools. 

The West Coast is leading the resistance against the Trump-led Republicans, and Washington State has been at the forefront of that movement in a very real way. On a local level, however, we still have elected officials making oppressive decisions -- especially when it comes to education. It's time that our local politics better reflect our bold commitment to equity.

If you have more stories illustrating our problematic school board in Seattle -- and I'm sure you do -- please share them with me. We need the voters in our city to know who is representing their kids and their schools.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for everything you're doing to create better schools and a better world for our kids. They need us to rise up now more than ever.