A space to share notes, information, and lessons across issues and books for this summer's social justice book clubs.
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On 7/5, we met for the first time, and after reading the introduction, by editors Bree Picower and Edwin Mayorga, and chapters 1 and 2, by Wayne Au and David Stovall, we all agreed on the fact that this text, written both critically and accessibly, gives us useful language to talk about – to name – what we couldn’t before, and this is powerful. We discussed the strategies that we could use to get all people to read this book –and talked about the importance of language in terms of persuasiveness. In other words, what are the benefits and drawbacks of calling the “hydra” like we see it – calling White supremacy what it is in order to undermine it, as opposed to using language that might be “safer” for people – especially White people who have not engaged in productive or critical discussions about race and racism before. In the end, we agreed that this book might provide a good way to find a common language – it gives us clear cut examples around which we can talk about racial capitalism (as Au’s chapter on testing does, for instance). We also discussed the viability of electoral politics for solving deeply entrenched social/historical/structural problems, since Stovall broaches this topic in his chapter about mayoral control – can you game the system while participating in it?
Meeting 2 – 7/22Despite a small turnout, we delved deeply into chapters 3, 4, and 5, written by Pauline Lipman, Brian Jones, and Ujju Aggarwal respectively.Lipman uses David Harvey’s idea of accumulation by dispossession to theorize the ways in which school closings are a strategic and racialized gentrification strategy, negatively impacting predominantly Black and Brown students. We discussed the ways in which, in this case, we see the assumption operating that if the State has (or in this case, public schools, have) “failed” then the free market – or the private sector – automatically becomes the default. This logic makes no sense in other realms of public service, noted Shaw (e.g. “you don’t just get rid of SEPTA if it’s not working”). This, however, has not been the logic for school closures, which represent blatant disinvestment in and destabilization of predominantly Black and Brown, poor and working class communities in cities in the United States. We talked about the explicit connections between ostensibly “colorblind” or “objective” test scores, enrollment rates, school closures and community control. In the end, we stop believing that we are capable of leading ourselves and consent to be dominated by a corporate class of reformers. Yet, promises Lipman, there is hope in grassroots movements. We were especially taken with Brian Jones’ chapter, since this one deals explicitly with social justice/social movement unionism. Jones fleshes out two central paradoxes: 1) The paradox of reformers using the language of anti-racism to turn parents against unions and for choice – and 2) The paradox of the young, White teachers who often hold the proverbial (and literal) “keys to the schoolhouse” may be winners in the current landscape of urban schools –as they are after recruited and hired, but may be losers in the long run since they, too, stand to lose from the absence of a union that could protect them. As we discussed in the first social justice unionism ITAG over a year ago, unions have to work to forge genuine solidarity with students, parents and communities, and also need to deal with their own skeletons in the closet – for example histories of institutionalized and overt racism, and a lack of solidarity with communities. Aggarwal’s chapter reminds us that policy is always articulated through people. We talked about the parallels between the decision in Brown II in 1955, and more recent examples: legislation that allows gay marriage in the United States and legislation that lowered the confederate flag in South Carolina. Policy, we said, cannot dictate human behavior, although over time, it might represent or signal a shift in ideology or practice in real time. How, we wondered, looking across all three of these chapters, can we undo Whiteness as property? Clearly this will take more than policy and legislation. A daunting task, but each of these chapters does give some hint or idea of resistance. We left looking forward to our next meeting on 8/5, where we’ll discuss the last chapters of the book.
Meeting 3 - 8/5Tonight’s meeting of the What’s Race group began with editor Edwin Mayorga sharing a bit about the book’s inception – it came out of a study group called What’s Race Got to Do With It, and co-editors Edwin and Bree wanted to keep the general gist of the braided nature of race and class (in Bree’s words, “clace”), as well as the metaphor of the hydra, as they asked authors to contribute. Activism, Edwin added, was also important – the editors wanted each author to consider modes of resistance in his or her chapter. Our discussion was broad, and as we talked about Terrenda White’s conception of how deficit discourse relates to charter schools, we touched on connections to the gentrification of Fishtown, around Amy’s house, where our meeting was held. We tied this into the idea that certain bodies seem to “count” while others are seen as disposable – in urban school “reform” efforts as well as in instances of gentrification. This is always affected by structures of race and class. Despite what may be the best of intentions – again, with both shifts in neighborhood demographics and school “reforms”, White elite interests tend to prevail. There’s a certain way in which the knowledge of those in power is constructed as superior. We began to think about how teachers could work to undermine that by acting as liaisons between students, parents, communities and policymakers. As Edwin said (drawing on Cedric Robinson): “It isn’t not about developing credentials, it’s about developing consciousness”. We still mulled over what inspires some people to develop critical consciousness and not others, especially as we talked about the fabulously done “This American Life” podcast from this week called “The Problem We All Live With”. The podcast discusses, through the lens of the segregated school that Michael Brown attended, the fight that White parents put up in the area when students from the predominantly Black school district were going to be bussed to the White school district in 2013. While these parents never explicitly mentioned race, and in fact, denied that their resistance to their White children going to school with Black children was about race at all, it was clear that their fury was clearly due to their investment in maintaining their own White privilege through segregation. Towards the end of the meeting, we began to think about action steps we could take that might help us to envision and work towards an alternative - perhaps a monthly dinner meeting in which we shared moments of resistance to race and class oppression in our classrooms, or perhaps helping Edwin and Bree to come up with a discussion guide geared to teachers for the book. We plan to revisit this at our meeting in two weeks.