Searching for the intersections in layers of oppressed identities

Searching for the intersections in layers of oppressed identities

THINX, a company that designs menstrual hygiene products, has teamed up with the nonprofit PERIOD to call on school leaders and local elected officials in 10 cities across the country (including Seattle and Portland) to provide students with free menstrual hygiene products.

This is a powerful example of why we need to think in terms of intersectionality. Systems of oppression overlap, and folks at the intersection of multiple non-dominant culture/oppressed identities have worse outcomes for a reason.

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SOAR Academy in Tacoma ‘blows the roof off the myths’ about charter schools

SOAR Dancers Get Up
SOAR Academy students get up and get down during Erricka Turner's dance class in September 2017.

SOAR Academy students get up and get down during Erricka Turner's dance class in September 2017.

Walk through the front doors of SOAR Academy these days and you’ll find the building teeming with life and energy, like a dream realized.

In many ways, that’s what the public elementary school in Tacoma represents: the manifestation of a set of beliefs and ideas about what’s possible in public education.

SOAR Academy’s founders sought from the outset to design a public school that would reach students being neglected by the larger system, those who are typically on the wrong end of the opportunity and achievement gaps. 

Just two years after first opening its doors to students, those ideas have become a way of life at SOAR Academy, and the dreams of a nurturing, equitable school open to all have become reality for an engaged, grateful community of students and families.

“Here at SOAR we’ve seen tremendous growth and a fulfillment of the whole concept and vision of the alternatives and options that charter schools can provide in a publicly funded setting,” said Dr. Thelma Jackson, chair of the SOAR Academy Board of Directors. “Those of us that have been with SOAR from the very beginning, we’re just pleased as punch to see the school, to see the full classrooms, the waiting list. As I was driving up, just the smiles on the children’s and parents’ faces — they’re glad to be here! They’re here by choice.”

In many ways and from many angles, that’s the key word here: choice.

More than 70 percent of SOAR students identify as students of color, and Black students make up 56 percent of the student body. Fourteen percent receive special education services, and at least 12 percent are homeless or housing insecure. They all chose SOAR Academy, and they did so despite the hyper-political climate that surrounds the charter school sector.

School choice can be an especially foggy issue in Washington, where propaganda and repeated legal attacks led by the Washington Education Association — the state’s teachers union — have attempted to undermine the ability of schools like SOAR to work hard and innovate in an earnest effort to close the gaps created by our traditional public school system. In spite of that, many parents are seeing SOAR for what it is: an ambitious, free, public alternative that just might work for their student where other schools have fallen short.

“We’ve been up against so much ‘fake news’ about what charters are and aren’t, and we’re defying all of that,” Jackson said. “Anytime they say, ‘Oh, they won’t take kids of color; oh, they won’t take special needs kids; oh, they’ll cream the crop,’ [SOAR Academy] just blows the roof off of all those myths. And against all those odds, SOAR is thriving. The kids are thriving.”

Far from creaming, SOAR’S school leader Jessica Stryczek readily acknowledges that many of the school’s students arrived having already experienced such significant trauma as abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Yet thanks to a trauma-informed approach to restorative justice, not a single SOAR student was suspended or expelled last year.

In Seattle Public Schools, on the other hand, disproportionate discipline rates show up from the very beginning, as even kindergarteners of color are suspended and expelled (yes, expelled from kindergarten!) at a rate far beyond their white peers.

Seventy-seven percent of the student body at SOAR is eligible for free or reduced lunch as well, so community meals are available to all students through the community eligibility pool.

SOAR’s staff, meanwhile, reflects the diversity of its student body. More than half the staff at SOAR are people of color, Jackson says, upending yet another myth.

“The traditional line is, ‘Oh, we’d like to hire them, but we can’t find them.’ So, where are the charter schools finding [teachers of color]?” Jackson asks. “And again, they are here by choice. They’re not here through involuntary transfers and the dance of the lemons and all that stuff.”

Enough people have chosen SOAR now that the school’s journey from vision to reality is all but complete, and the early results are showing that the young charter school is delivering on its promise.

In addition to a joyful atmosphere in a building full of well-cared-for elementary students, the school is home to impressive academic rigor as well. Just last year, more than 70 percent of students showed accelerated growth, testing beyond national grade-level expectations on the STAR Early Literacy assessment.

“The concept has taken on a life of its own,” Jackson said. “The proof is in the pudding.”

Guest Post: I Was a Racist Teacher and I Didn’t Even Know It

Guest Post: I Was a Racist Teacher and I Didn’t Even Know It

"I was a racist teacher and I didn’t recognize it.

At the time that I taught, I would have argued that I was the opposite. I was a progressive, a Democrat. I campaigned in my progressive town in Western North Carolina for the first Black man to run for the U.S. Senate against a notorious racist from our state, Jesse Helms. I voted for Obama, even volunteered in his office during the 2008 campaign."

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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.

Yesterday Trump honored the racist Bryan Adams lookalike Obama tried to leave behind

Donald Trump laid a wreath on the grave of former President Andrew Jackson yesterday on what would have been Jackson's 250th birthday.

It turns out Trump is the latest in a long line of presidents who have paid homage to Jackson. Reagan, Lyndon Johnson and Teddy Roosevelt, among others, all visited Jackson's home and adorned their predecessor's grave while in office.

But why the persistent interest in Old Hickory? (Evidently that was Jackson's nickname, by the way -- Old Hickory. As a one-time ballplayer, I'm jealous. Anybody called Old Hickory could probably hit like the dickens.)

Well, for one thing, he was a white man in America, which means that his thoughts, words and deeds were and continue to be considered inherently more important and more valuable than those of most people around him.

Further, like many of his similarly heralded colleagues, Jackson was a sanctimonious slaveowner who was directly responsible for the murder of many, many indigenous people, and for the forced relocation of many more. He rests on the same prickly laurels as Washington and Jefferson and our other most star-spangled heroes.

Even Barack Obama paid Jackson some (un)love. Barry made an effort during his time in the Oval Office to have Jackson's likeness removed from the $20 bill, paying his subtle respect to Jackson through the "any publicity is good publicity" avenue. I'm told that effort fell short, but I haven't seen a bill the size of Jackson's in years now.

It should probably be no surprise that Jackson -- and his views on race -- remain relevant. Our country has shown time and again that oppression and violence against people who aren't white men is enough to keep you celebrated for centuries. But in Jackson's case, there may be more to the story -- a conspiracy worthy of Doc Brown's DeLorean.

I don't believe any of these presidents are visiting the grave of Andrew Jackson. They are visiting Andrew Jackson himself.

Don't believe me?

Then how did Andrew Jackson release a piano-pop album as "Bryan Adams" more than 200 years after his "death?"

I don't know.

What I do know is that Wikipedia credits "Bryan Adams" with the following on Reckless

Bryan Adams – lead vocals, guitars, piano, harmonica, hand claps, foot stomping

"Hand claps, foot stomping." That's very weird... just like everything I've written here. Coincidence? Bryan Adams thinks so.

Anyway, you know what else is weird? It's hard to look at who our country chooses to honor and who it chooses to forget (for instance, honoring Jackson on the $20 bill and forgetting every person of color and most women) without thinking we are intentionally working to maintain the racial hierarchy Trump is being so honest about.

We can't forget that Andrew Jackson is the founding legacy of the Democratic Party, but we can stop treasuring his memory.

We shouldn't forget the legacy of oppression and destruction left by Old Hickory and his white-power brethren, but until we stop considering them emblems of patriotic morality, I fear we are doomed to perpetuate the shadows of our past.

It's time to be brave enough to build a future that doesn't build on the oppressive values of its founders. It's time to recognize new standard-bearers and hold them to a higher moral standard, as Reckless as that might seem.

And it's time to take Bryan Adams off the $20 bill.

The Privilege of Ignoring Race

A year ago today, I was out in Ferguson.

Two years ago today, Michael Brown had been dead for a day, murdered on Aug. 9, 2014. A few weeks later, I wrote this. This seemed like a good time to take a second look at it.


I have read and heard and seen a lot of people saying a lot of different things about race in the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy — some compassionate, some ambivalent, some ignorant. This is something true:

I took this picture this morning. Then Lindsay told Julian about Michael Brown, about who he was and what happened to him. She told him about how most police officers are people to trust, but that sometimes they make mistakes. She told Julian that it isn’t fair, but that sometimes he will need to be extra careful as he gets older because of the way he looks — that he will have to be that much more careful to stay out of trouble, to stay away from what looks like trouble, to stay in after dark, because it’s a matter of safety. She told him about having called to check in with his uncle Spencer a few days earlier, about asking Spencer if he was safe in L.A. and if he was being careful. She asked him if he understood. Julian asked a question or two, Lindsay answered, and then it was done.

This is what all this means to me:

Some have argued that the Michael Brown shooting isn’t about race. Many others have at least wondered. As you may know, I am white. I can tell you from experience that it is a privilege to ignore race. It is a privilege to be able to wonder whether or not this tragedy is a racial issue. It is a privilege to not have to start poking tiny holes in your six-year-old son’s bubble of innocence and sweetness in the days before he starts kindergarten.

We had conversations about race in my family when I was very young, too, and most of them were also very direct. Most of them even acknowledged the presence of danger and the possibility of violence. I vividly remember getting a version from my dad in elementary school of what his dad had told him as a kid: that there aren’t many good reasons to fight, but that if he heard anyone using the N-word at school — or using any other slur, or using anyone’s race or gender to hurt them or make them feel small — he had better step in and put a stop to it or come home with a bloody nose for having tried. That might not exactly fit with Dr. King’s belief in non-violence, but the message was clear: This is important. Not only do we not tolerate hate or racism, we will actively fight it. It’s a family value.

There is a subtle-but-important difference between these two sets of conversations, though. My parents (also white, coincidentally) chose to have these conversations with me and my siblings. They encouraged us to choose to stand up against blatant racism and hate. But I was not the target in the hypotheticals. I was on the sidelines. The guns wouldn’t have been aimed at me, so the conversation was different.

Lindsay and I talked with Julian this morning because he won’t have a choice. Julian needs to hear this, because he cannot choose out of his skin color or his black heritage. I can choose into the conversation, choose to step into the conflict. Julian does not have that privilege. He is about to start attending public school in a district that has recently been under scrutiny for disciplining black boys much more frequently than any other group. He will be stereotyped, he will too often be seen and heard through a racial lens, and he cannot avoid it. He cannot choose a different path. Before long, he will be, say, 10 years old and tall for his age. Soon after he will be a teenage boy of color living in a major city. He won’t have the privilege of staying on the sidelines when a police car drives past the park where he’s hanging out with his friends after dark. He won’t have the privilege of deciding it’s not about race when he makes a mistake and gets caught. And Lindsay and I, as parents, don’t have the privilege of giving him an option. We don’t get to decide whether or not he’s ready, because he has to be ready, because he has to stay safe. Because someone will call him a horrible name, and someone will treat him differently — probably unintentionally — because of how he looks, and because at some point, someone will view this sweet, loving kid as more of a threat, and he needs to understand what’s happening if he’s going to stay safe. He has no other choice.