Thursday, June 01, 2006

Seattle Public Schools and Racism

The Seattle Public Schools just bought themselves a heap of controversy by attempting to define racism. Their definition is laughably racist itself.
The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). The subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society."
Only whites are racist. They don't even recognize the possibility that preferring one race above another could involve seeking to elevate Blacks or Latinos over whites. Couldn't they have just used the dictionary? If so, they would have found a defintion that wouldn't have been so, er, race-based, such as this one.
The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
They then get themselves into more trouble by trying to give examples of various types of racism. Doing any of the following is considered racist.
Cultural Racism:

Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.
See, only white people can be racist so every definition centers around them.

What is having a "future time orientation?" Is that implying that only white people plan ahead, meet deadlines, save for retirement? The mind boggles.

And why is individualism racist? Why do we need a "more collective ideology?" Do they know anything about American history? Or is that too racist for them? Do they have any idea of the ideals on which this country was founded? Or would that be racist because those were white men? Collective ideology is not the foundation of our country.

And why is English no longer have a standard form? Can you imagine what this means for their curriculum in English in Seattle? Can teachers correct students' grammar anymore? Are spelling rules just a construct of the white overclass?

And, as Eugene Volokh points out, if you define great composers as only white men, that would be racist, but having a list of great composers that only includes white men would not in of itself be racist, depending on your definition of great music.

This whole exercise to give examples of racism by defining it through what white people might do is so racist in itself and the Seattle Public Schools got so much ridicule when they came up with this definition and posted it on their website that they have since deleted it and they have issued this statement instead.
In response to the numerous concerns voiced regarding definitions posted on the Equity & Race website, we have decided to revise our website in a way that will hopefully provide more context to readers around the work that Seattle Public Schools is doing to address institutional racism. The intended purpose of our work in the area of race and social justice is to bring communities together through open dialogue and honest reflection around what is meant by racism and the impact is has on our society and more specifically, our students. Our intention is not to put up additional barriers or develop an “us against them” mindset, nor is it to continue to hold onto unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality. It is our hope that we can explore the work of leading scholars in the areas of race and social justice issues to help us understand the dynamics and realities of how racism permeate throughout our society and use their knowledge to help us create meaningful change. This difficult work is vital to the success of our students and families. Thank you for sharing your concerns.

Warm regards,

Caprice D. Hollins, Psy.D.
Director of Equity & Race Relations

Seattle Public Schools
Why their school even needs a Director of Equity and Race Relations is beyond me? I've never heard of any such thing, but I admittedly have always tried to spend as little time as possible with the administration of large school districts.

And this whole explanation leaves the question open of how they are going to provide more context for their controversial definition. If their intent is to bring students closer together in an "open dialogue" it might help them to realize that their definition itself was racist and betrays a desire to re-educate white children that they have been racist every since they picked up a supposedly "flesh-colored" crayon to color in a picture.

The fact that the Seattle School District would even come up with such a definition and post it without anyone seeing a problem with it betrays what they truly think of whites. Now they are going to try to backtrack and provide "context." But their mindset is clear.

Andrew Coulson argues that the answer to such biased thinking is to have more school choice.
Under such a choice-based system, those wanting to promote their own cultural and political philosophies could hang out a shingle and offer their services to any and all interested families. But they would lack the power, used and abused in Seattle, to impose their ideologies.
That is the kicker. Right now, Seattle Public Schools can institutionalize their view of racism on teachers and students. If that is what people prefer, they can choose that school district. If people prefer a more open approach to relations among students, then we can choose that school.