Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Community Rifts Exposed by ERHS Black Panther Announcement

The Black Panther presentation at East Ridge High School on February 14, 2013 has exposed rifts in the community: the concerns of the parents opposing the announcement have been minimally brushed aside as silly by some, or worse, the parents are being accused (not directly, but by insinuation) of being racist for their concerns about how the Black Panthers were honored during the school-wide announcement at ERHS.  Those who are focusing on criticizing the concerned parents for their outrage have, for the most part failed to understand that both groups have repeatedly stated the same thing:  The Black Panthers and the history of the '60's era should be taught in history classes, and that American History - of ALL Americans should be taught in school.  This has never been something that has been disputed by either group; unfortunately, there are those in the group voicing their support for the announcement who have either insinuated or implied or, in the case of K. Stanley Brooks in an op-ed in the Woodbury Bulletin and in an online column has claimed that the concerned parents were accusing the school of teaching "Black Supremacy" - something that has never been uttered or written by anyone involved with this issue.  Dr. Brooks, has (apparently unknowingly) articulated the point that the concerned parents have repeatedly made

....rather it should engage the reader to understand critically the contents and the purpose of the existence of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Who were they defending? Why was there a need for defense? Were there extreme life threatening experiences that drove them to extreme forms of protection for their families and communities? Do people know that their breakfast program was the pre-cursor to what we currently refer to as Free and Reduced lunch programs? Was it positive that the program rapidly expanded from feeding a handful of kids in an Oakland church, to serving over 10,000 a day before they went to school? They were filling a need in that context that should have been addressed by the school district and state. These should be foundational questions to be answered...
Funny, but that statement should actually be directed at the teacher and Principal of East Ridge for the fact that they used a two minute sound bite of information about the Black Panthers without giving the rest of the teachers any information that 1) The Black Panthers would be the topic of that day's commemoration, and 2) Information and the time to do exactly what Dr. Bro0ks has described: make the announcement into a true learning experience for all ERHS students.  If Dr. Brooks and those who continue to criticize and/or attempt to have this issue swept under the rug would truly listen to the concerns of the parents speaking out on this issue, they would see that in truth, they are all in agreement that the manner in which the Black Panthers were presented to the students did not fulfill the most basic thing school is supposed to do: educate.

As has been endlessly repeated: it is not about the fact that the Black Panther Party was mentioned that the concerned parents oppose, but rather that it was not given the historical context and discussion time for the children of ERHS to fully understand the group and what it was about - and that would include the good the group did as well as the bad.  This truly could have been a great learning opportunity along with the other groups and people picked for the daily announcements would have been.  Perhaps if Mr. Harper would come out and say, "You know what? You all are right: we do need to include notes to teachers about whom we will commemorate in the daily announcements during Black History month and give them classroom time to further delve into why those groups and people are historically significant with their students." Wow! What an amazing learning experience that could be.  One thing that has been repeated by all the people weighing in on this issue is the need for a deeper understanding of our Nation's history (all Americans' history - not just select groups), and that is something that has not been addressed at any time by any of the school administrators or school board members.  There is something that we all can come together on and say, "Hey, we actually agree on this issue.  Now please do something about it."  There's a dialogue we could gladly have.

However, this dialogue is unlikely to happen any time soon because, in my opinion, it unfortunately seems that is not how those supporting the announcement are perceiving the issues the concerned parents have brought up.  Instead of truly listening to the concerns, they seem to be hearing only that something brought up during Black History month is being criticized and are taking that criticism as racially motivated due to the fact that it happened during Black History month, the topic in question is the Black Panther Party, and the announcement was (supposed to be) overseen by not only a principal who happens to be of color, but a teacher who also happens to be of color.  

Lest anyone be confused here: racism does happen.  Sometimes people are motivated for racist reasons. However, that does not mean that anytime someone of one race criticizes a person of another race who also happens to be in some sort of a leadership position doesn't mean that the criticizer is racist. What it can actually mean is that person is looking at the leader and saying "Look, I know you know how to do your job.  You are in that leadership position for a reason. I expect that since you are in that leadership position that you are qualified to be there and therefore, I have high expectations for you to fulfill your duties. So, please do your job."  That has nothing to do with race. That is judging a person based on their character and job performance and not the color of their skin.

As a woman, I'd rather have someone judge me based on my job performance, my merit, my abilities, etc. than to be given anything just because I happen to have a vagina and mammary glands rather than a penis and chest hair.  If someone is critical of me based upon their opinion of my lack of writing skills or lack of ability of follow-through, am I going to call them "sexist" for having that opinion of me?  I don't think so.  That demeans both me and the person of whom I would be accusing of being sexist. I realize there will be people who will say that my life experiences as a woman cannot compare to the life experiences of people of color; that racism is far more prevalent and has affected them much more adversely than any kind of sexist behavior I may have encountered throughout my life.  Which may be true to a point; however, the question then becomes, "Based upon my experiences with sexist behavior, does that mean that I view every man I meet as someone who will potentially be sexist and allow that to affect the way that I will perceive everything that men say or do?" My answer would be, "No."  Why not?  Because I don't believe that every man I meet is a chauvinistic pig just because I have encountered some who have behaved that way in the past.  That, my friends, is the essence of stereotypes: judging everyone who shares a similarity - be it sex, race, political beliefs, etc. - with someone who may have acted a certain way as the same.  No one likes to be stereotyped.  

Going through life assuming that because some men choose to discriminate against me because I am a woman means that all men discriminate against women is a pretty sad way to approach life.  The consequence of that assumption will be that because I believe that all men are chauvinists, I will be more likely to read behavior that truly is devoid of bias as sexist because I'll be looking for that behavior to confirm my belief that all men are sexist.  Furthermore, that belief can also become an excuse: I am criticized for poor performance in something in which I truly did perform poorly, but instead of seeing the criticism for what is truly is - a judgement based upon my performance - I choose to believe that the person being critical of my performance is doing it because I am a woman, when in fact, it truly was me who failed in my performance.  But by believing that it wasn't my performance that caused the criticism but rather the criticizer's poor view of women, I can deflect the blame onto the person criticizing me and absolve myself of responsibility for my poor performance. 

If this can be true of matters of sex or gender, than why can it not be true in matters of race as well?  Is it not an easy excuse to say, "Oh, those parents aren't really upset that violent criminals were commemorated, and the teachers not given the opportunity to discuss the group in class with their students and make it a true learning experience," but rather, "They're upset because the people being honored are black and it was done during Black History month."  That removes the culpability of poor judgement on the part of the administrator and teacher, and places it instead upon the concerned parents by implying they are racist and therefore in the wrong for their criticism.

As was mentioned in a previous blog, there were emails FOIA'd regarding the Black Panther issue. The FOIA'd emails included an email from someone calling themselves "WoodburyVine" in which the writer accused the concerned parents of having a "political motive" behind their opposition to the Black Panther announcement.  The writer also did some research on your's truly and put it out in a "Community Alert," along with eviscerating me for having the gall to post tweets found on the Twitter Public Timeline (if you don't want your tweets or your kids' tweets read by all the world, protect your accounts and tell your kids to protect theirs), which not only showed the fact that Mr. Harper was "protecting" Ms. Tishanna Brown, but how they felt disenfranchised from much of the ERHS school community.  Apparently, WoodburyVine believed that I put those tweets up to a) put the children in danger; b) to somehow make fun of them and/or c) minimize their experiences as minority students in "racist Woodbury."  None of the above is correct.  The reason the kids' tweets were posted was because they were direct evidence showing an effort by Mr. Harper to protect Ms. Brown from criticism for the announcement. Something that should also be noted (as it was on April 25, 2013 during the presentation to the school board) is that the school district administrators and Mr. Harper, while protecting the teacher, threw the kids under the bus by claiming the announcement was "student led." Also, based on the FOIA'd emails between Mr. Harper and Ms. Brown, not only did Mr. Harper not vet the announcement, but he apparently didn't listen to it either, and the same series of emails showed that the author of the language for the announcements was not a student, but rather Ms. Brown herself.  Were the kids tossed under the bus because their teacher and principal hoped that fabrication - that the presentation was "student-led" - would deflect criticism away from themselves? (Worth noting here: within those emails it was also shown that there was quite an amazing variety of historically great black Americans honored in the days following the Black Panther announcement including the great performers of the Harlem Renaissance, Congressman Hiram Revels, etc. for which Ms. Brown and Mr. Harper must be given credit.)

Perhaps the community members critical of the concerned parents wonder if Mr. Harper and Ms. Brown were white and had commemorated a controversial white person or group, would the same concerned parents voice opposition to such a presentation?  Knowing the people who have been vocal in their opposition to the Black Panther announcement, I would have to say "Yes."  Personally, if I found out that during "'60's Week" at my kids' high school a teacher and an administrator decided to do a school wide, two-minute sound-bite commemoration of Charles Manson and his group "The Family," I would most certainly pitch a fit.  If the teacher and administrator used the excuse, "Well, it was during '60's Week and it is historically significant to that era and, you know, commemorate can mean many different things - it doesn't have to mean honor...and it was student led and we really didn't vet the announcement but it's ok...." do you think that I or other parents would just back down?  Not a chance.  And if we didn't back down, would there be people in the community who would be criticizing us and calling us out for religious intolerance since Manson's group was a cult?  If that seems ludicrous to you, why?  How is it any different than a two-minute, sound-bite announcement commemorating a group which was founded by known violent criminals, who advocated for killing cops, as well as the overthrow of the American capitalistic system and the removal of businesses from the people - based on the business owners' skin color - who built those businesses, and which was also on the FBI's most watched list? If you read the history of the Black Panther Party and its founders, would you also have to believe that this was not a group that deserved to be honored in a school wide announcement without including at least some classroom discussion that would put the group into the context of the era in which it was formed? 

Regarding the children's tweets and the lack of connection to the community those tweets showed:  How about a dialogue about why that might be?  How about we as adults sit down and seriously look at our own actions and the values we are demonstrating to our children and consider how those things are affecting our kids' lives and the way they look at the world?  How about instead of constantly focusing on the differences between people, we start looking for the things we share in common with one another?  How about we, as adults, take off the glasses of distrust, and attempt to truly get to know one another as people? How about we start demonstrating to our children through our own behavior that people are people are people - if you take the time to actually talk to someone who may not look or act like yourself or those with whom you associate, you will more than likely discover that you have something in common with that person that you wouldn't have known had you not chosen to talk to that person?  How about we look at ways to teach our children, by our own actions, that most people are generally good people regardless of what race, ethnicity, sex, etc. they are?  How about we start teaching our children that they are Americans first and like family, we care for our fellow countrymen/women regardless of whether or not they look or act like ourselves? How about we teach our children the entire history of our great Nation, including the good, the bad, the mediocre and the ugly? And by teaching them the history of their country, they not only learn to love their country and their fellow citizens, but they also see the mistakes that have been made in the past, understand those mistakes and be given the knowledge on how not to repeat those mistakes?  

How about it - anyone out there up for starting a dialogue about this?

1 comment:

  1. When basic Christianity references including the awful word 'Christmas' and 'Easter' are under nauseates me that our children are exposed to THIS type of nonsense and the responses we get when we question it are either non-existent or ridiculous.