Recently the Philadelphia Magazine found itself in the middle of a political avalanche resulting from the publishing of a story by writer Robert Huber entitled “Being White In Philly”. In short, many African Americans including our mayor, Michael Nutter, accused the magazine of “race-baiting”, perpetuating stereotypes about people of color and souring already fragile race relations within the city. Now let me be clear, (given our nation’s history) I think the media should exercise sensitivity when approaching a discussion surrounding racial relations. However, I also believe that the media can be a powerful tool in regards to generating dialogue about any topic, race included. There may have been a number of statements in the article that I found to be difficult to digest but, isn’t this usually the case when one is confronted with an uncomfortable or sensitive issue? With that being said, on some levels I can appreciate this story and the lessons that can come out of it as follows:
- When discussing any delicate subject (especially race) tread carefully. Race has been a taboo topic for far too long. How can we move past something if we don’t talk about it? Sure, some feathers may get ruffled in the process but, I think the key is to remember to be sensitive to everyone’s historical and personal experiences and how someone’s experiences might impact their thoughts and feelings regarding race.
- Intelligent people can respectfully disagree. While I personally didn’t take to kindly to remarks in “Being White in Philly” such as “Blacks use skin color as an excuse. Discrimination is an excuse, instead of moving forward. ” or “It’s a shame—you pay taxes, they’re not doing anything except sitting on porches smoking pot …Why do you support them when they won’t work, just make babies and smoking pot?” My educational experiences have taught me to not only examine what is being said but, to also examine the speaker. We can foster true understanding when we critically examine another person’s perspective. It’s always a good idea to reflect on who the speaker is and how the speaker’s perspective may have been shaped by his or her experience. In doing this, we may find that we still disagree but, at the very least we may “get” another person’s point of view.
- When approaching a sensitive topic (try) to remove your emotions from the situation. I watched a clip of a roundtable conversation that was organized following the backlash from the article. While there were a number of valid questions raised, I found some of the commentary to be fueled by emotions. Some people seemed more upset about the Philadelphia Magazine’s hiring practices rather than the bigger issues at hand. You can check out the video clip here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUb7uzSXbwk
- Most importantly, we ALL have to take responsibility. If we are ever to improve race relations in Philadelphia and nationwide, everyone has to do their part. It starts with having honest conversations in which people can reveal their true feelings surrounding race without fear of ridicule or landing in front of a political firing squad. Then maybe we can address some of the hopelessness and fear that is so painfully obvious on both sides.
The bottom line is that we can not move beyond the oppression and strained race relations that directly impact the hopelessness that surrounds so many people of color as highlighted in the Philadelphia Magazine if we don’t encourage more dialogue. Poverty, crime, poor education and the dismantling of our family structures can all be traced back to the ugliness of enslavement and the subsequent perpetuation of racism both overt and obscure.
Can we really move forward if we don’t begin to address this head on? Can we move forward if we discourage or persecute those who are brave enough to speak out whether they are black or white? How can we work through flawed or distorted perspectives if we do not hear them to begin with? After all, dialogue is a two-way street. It is a road we must walk down together.
Daninia A. Jordan
To read “Being White in Philly” click here: http://www.phillymag.com/articles/white-philly/
Earlier this month, Philadelphia’s former school chief Dr. Arlene Ackerman passed away after a period of illness due to pancreatic cancer. Prior to battling with her illness, Dr. Ackerman left Philadelphia for New Mexico. She spent the last year or so doing consultant work and mending wounds she sustained after being caught in the political warfare that any leader of color should expect (should they fail to adorn themselves with the political puppet strings that are usually prescribed for them) upon taking the helm of just about any entity. Anyway, whether you loved Dr. Ackerman or hated her, one thing we all can agree on is that she was an agent for much needed change in Philadelphia’s schools. The former school superintendent was a fearless advocate for Philadelphia’s children and their families.
This issue of school closings in Philadelphia is not all black and white (I do mean that figuratively). On one hand, you have parents, student activist and educators alike vowing to fight to keep many of the Philadelphia public schools (slated to be closed) from permanently shutting their doors as early as June 2013. In many cases, the schools that are slated to be closed have been pillars in their communities. On the other hand, no one wants to see massive school closings but, sometimes change is inevitable. While I do not want to see people losing their jobs as a result of school closures (myself included), I have to say that the School District of Philadelphia can no longer afford to run in place. While I understand the concerns associated with mass closings, (job loss, an increase in school violence, higher levels of privatization and so forth) we as a collective Philadelphia have got to face the facts. The facts are as follows:
The school- to- prison pipeline or STPP, involves the systematic failure of our educational system to address the academic as well as the social-emotional needs of today’s students, which results in their inevitable transition from the walls of our public school system to the walls of the prison system. Schools usher young people into the criminal justice system in a number of ways. For instance, excluding “at risk” students from traditional learning environments and isolating them from their peers through suspensions and transfers to disciplinary schools is one such way in which children are led like lost sheep to the turbulent pastures of the prison system. Additionally, ‘zero tolerance’ policies in which students are removed from public schools for offenses such as possession of weaponry and bullying also indirectly supply the demand of institutionalized livestock. School suspensions also feed the pipeline by causing students to miss school and lose out on precious instructional time. This results in a lack of achievement, which in turn frustrates youth, causing them to drop out of school opting to receive an alternative education on the streets. Most of the time, a crash course in street credibility will lead one to the confines of incarceration or worst, death.
Since its inception, the Black Church has always played a pivotal role in the fight for Civil Rights, Social Change and Justice. Tracing back to the secret congregations formed by enslaved Africans on plantations in our nation’s South, reflecting on the “I Have A Dream” years of a young baptist minister from Georgia and looking at modern day Civil Rights leaders respectively, the Black Church has always been on the forefront of the road to Equality. Whether one points toward the slave revolts led by preacher Nat Turner, or toward the non-violent approach to fighting against racial injustice, the Black Church has consistently championed the cause of Freedom.
According to a recent study entitled “Recruitment, Retention and the Minority Teacher Shortage” conducted by Richard M. Ingersoll and Henry May both of the University of Pennsylvania, in 2008-2009 minority students made up 41 percent of the U.S. K-12 Public School population. However, minority educators made up just 16.5 percent of the teacher workforce. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that young talented college students of color are in pursuit of more lucrative career choices (after all an entry level teaching position isn’t exactly synonymous with a “my cup runneth over” like lifestyle). Nonetheless, Ingersoll and May suggest that a minority teacher shortage can be attributed to a number of factors. First, Ingersoll and May highlight problems with the “teacher-supply pipeline”. This includes the low number of minorities entering and successfully completing programs that lead to a degree in Education. Additionally, Ingersoll and May point toward the low passing rate amongst minority educators on teacher certification exams, a pre-requisite for qualifying for a teaching license in most states. But what about those hopeful college graduates that move through collegiate programs and teaching entry test with ease ready to tackle the challenge of educating our youth? What about the “Ready to Save The World” types? What about the “Joe Clark wannabes”?
The first book I want to showcase is “Volunteer Slavery” by Jill Nelson. In this memoir Ms. Nelson explores the issues of race and class as this relates to her everyday experiences at home, at work and within her family.
As Summer 2012 comes to an end and the “Back To School” rush commences the City of Brotherly Love is preparing to welcome a new school chief, Dr. William R. Hite Jr. As I reflect on the dialogue that accompanied his arrival (well imminent arrival due to his contractual obligations to his previous employer) the ink had barely dried on the contract that would confirm the spot for the new school leader yet, the “race-baiting” was in full swing.