“Everything was made for White kids–because this school is made for White kids–because this country was made for White kids.”
-Charles Donalson, African American male, student at
Oak Park and River Forest High School
Good schools aren’t good for everybody. That is one of the things I learned quickly as I began to study schools that were widely celebrated for achievement and diversity, but there was much more beneath the surface. America to Me, a new documentary series directed by Steve James of Hoop Dreams fame, has begun airing on Starz after receiving critical acclaim at Sundance earlier this year. The 10 part series is just four episodes in, but from its opening it’s clear that the series goes beyond celebrating the school’s diversity and is attempting to grapple with race and racism. On this alone, I recommend the series but that doesn’t mean it’s without issues.
The series, so far, highlights the lives of several students at Oak Park and River Forest (OPRF) High School in suburban Illinois. In addition to the students and parents who are followed throughout a year, we hear from faculty, administrators, and school board members. The students are involved in an litany of activities: wrestling, spoken word, cheer, drill, as well as students who do no extracurriculars. There are students who are freshman, seniors, heterosexual, non-binary, biracial, and the list goes one. Despite all this diversity, the main students and families followed by the crew are all Black (or at least have one Black parent). For viewers, this is great for showing what its like to be Black, in its many iterations, in a school like OPRF. Oak Park, as its commonly called, is the kind of school that has great amenities, receives academic accolades, and whose optics look like they’re pulled from a college campus website. Still, the experience of Black students there is markedly different. For example, in 2015, 23% of the student body was Black, but 53% of students who got suspended were Black. For decades now, even in schools that are well-appointed, Black students have bore the brunt on unequal treatment. For Black folks, this is not an entirely new story, but that is also why Charles’ words that open this post are so important. Charles doesn’t start with the achievement gap or Black underperformance–we have no shortage of writing or documentaries on that, instead he highlights the pervasive culture of white advantage.
If there is one thing that is glaringly absent from America to Me it is the voices and experiences of White students and families who accrue the spoils of suburbia whether traversing town or selecting advanced placement courses.
This morning I had a chance to appear on WNYC’s The Takeaway. It was good to be on the program again, this time with guest how Tanzina Vega of CNN. In the interview we discuss recent findings on discrimination from a survey conducted by Robert Wood Johnson, the Chan School of Public Health and NPR. We dive into the now very popular finding that 55% of White Americans say they have experienced discrimination (up from most previous measures) and what it means for race in America today. Additionally, we speak about how a minority of Black and White folks (25 and 26 percent respectively) saw discrimination operating at institutional levels (i.e., discrimination based on government laws or policies) as a bigger problem than individual/interpersonal discrimination. I am concerned about White perceptions of discrimination driving our policy and discourse, but I’m even more fearful that people are underestimating the power of institutional racism in the present. Contrary to popular belief, the barriers of institutional inequality have not been removed and things could possibly getting worse. To hear the interview with me, click here. For the full report, click here.
Recently I got to share some brief words with Complex.com on why third party voting isn’t what you’ve been told. I have been voting third party for years and see its virtues and vices. There are droves of people who are willing to tell you who to vote for and for whom not to vote–that’s totally their right. But what can’t continue to happen is spreading rumor as fact and discouraging democratic possibilities.
The closer we get to Election Day, the more voters are likely to feel like Neo in The Matrix when he’s offered a choice between the blue or red pill—a choice that will decide both individual and universal fates. Our democracy isn’t a Hollywood production, however, and the truth is that there are more than two options. For nearly 10 years, I’ve voted my values and cast ballots for third-party candidates—and I’ve survived, despite the many myths about what that choice would mean for our nation and the political process. Misrepresentations about voting third party may keep many voters from breaking out of the two-party system, but they shouldn’t. There’s life beyond the Republican-Democrat matrix if you know the truth. Here are five of the most popular myths about voting third party, and why they’re total bull: Read More
It is a good thing to be here for another August, another Black August. Each year, I and many others, use August as a recalibration of our work and recommitment to the struggle for the liberation of African peoples locally and globally. It’s been a few years since many of us have been able to participate in MXGM’s Black August celebrations such as the long standing hip-hop benefit show, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done. As is tradition, I’ll be fasting in August from a few things and doing some things to help sharpen myself. Below are a few things I’m doing this year:
1) Fasting from alcohol
2) Fasting from additional sugar and sweets
3) Reading Joy James’ “Imprisoned Intellectuals”
4) Leading and participating in a weekly study group for male identified friends on “uprooting patriarchy”
5) Connecting with and building with justice oriented sociologists
There are a million ways to become better and to take inventory of what you’ve done over the past year. In a year where we’ve seen 551 people killed by police, there is much work to be done. In a time when the Black child poverty rate has remained steady while all other groups have declined, there is much work to be done. I’m proud to have such amazing comrades who join me in this month and work daily for liberation. One such person is Marc Lamont Hill. If you haven’t done so already, pick up his new book Nobody: Causalities of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. It’s a powerful read about where we are, how we got here, and what it’s going to take to move us forward!
So the internet is a peculiar place. Some days you’ll find everything you need, other days you’ll search low and high and turn up empty handed. Yesterday, I was randomly reminded of an Opinion piece I published with The Grio in 2010 on gender bending and Morehouse. I tried to find the article in The Grio’s archives but I came up with nothing. I found scattered references to it with a web search but all the links were dead. When it got published at the Grio, they chose the title, “Are Morehouse Men Allowed to be Women?” I immediately hit them up because i thought the title was off for a number of reasons (not to mention we did have women students for a brief period). The title was updated but a number of the references still out there use the Grio title, not mine. Last night, in a Morehouse group on fb, I was introduced to the Du Bois Divas (presumably, these are students from Du Bois Hall a freshmen dorm).
Since seeing the video last night, it looks like the title has been changed from “Morehouse College Dubois Divas” to “The Du Bois Dance Team.” According to the description, this was a performance at 2015-2016 Mr. Freshman Pageant. The video was shared with ire in a Morehouse fb group I’m in. Brothers raised questions about damaging the brand of Morehouse, why these young folks should not attend our alma mater, and comments were laced with a host of homo and femmephobic rhetoric. I was glad to see the video and to see the four young cats work it out and turn up the crowd. Why you ask? Give my piece for 2010 a read and you’ll understand a bit more. [i uploaded a pdf so it doesn’t get washed away in url scraping].
Too often, people see folks like the ones in this video and write them off as “deviant”, “damaging” and “not-men” without knowing anything of their identification, character or constitution. The Morehouse we should be is one where diversities of gender expression, as well as sexual expression, are welcomed as long as you are doing your best to meet the crown that is placed above your head.
This Wednesday, December 2nd, I will be in conversation with the prolific author Colson Whitehead. It’s going to be a special conversation that is sponsored by CCNY’s Black Studies Program. The talk is free and open to the public, but please RSVP here. I’m looking forward to seeing you there.
I recently had the honor of being featured in Huffington Post’s Science in their exploration of “the science of racism.” While sociology is a social science, I certainly think our theories and accumulated knowledge can help shine light on the contemporary nature of race and racism. Check out my responses in full at this link. Here’s an excerpt.
Southern culture in particular and American culture in general often casually perpetuate racism in the present, often by recrafting narratives of the past. The Confederate flag, which flies over South Carolina, was not a long-lived historical symbol — it was the symbol of a rebel force against the United States. The “heritage not hate” trope conveniently skips over the central issues of the Civil War, the position of black people who labored in the antebellum South, as well as the costs that the war had on the nation. Symbols like the Confederate flag are common among hate groups, but also are part of the state’s image. The history of those symbols, along with the large number of schools and statues named for Confederate soldiers and even [Ku Klux] Klan members, create a hostile environment for those who understand the history of race in the nation, and those whose ancestors were painfully forced to labor under those flags during and after the end of slavery, and who had their lives terrorized by groups like the KKK.
Dylann Storm Roof is seen in his booking photo after he was apprehended as the main suspect in the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that killed nine people on June 18, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Were you surprised by Roof’s age of 21? Why do you think a young white man from a young generation could be motivated to commit a racially motivated hate crime?
I was not surprised by Roof’s age. Outspokenness of white supremacists may be on the decline, but white supremacist ideology exists in a range of ages. Hate groups often have events where children are socialized into racial hate. As well, the Internet has democratized access to white supremacist information. If I am a white high-schooler who feels he has been mistreated while racial minorities have been favored, I’m only a couple of clicks away from a myriad of sites and message boards where I’ll find kinship with folks who are in legion of racial hatred or racial nationalism.
I was recently interviewed by Rose Hackmen for the Guardian on their story about the McKinney Pool incident. In the viral video, we see Corporal Eric Casebolt aggressively engaging Black teenagers, drawing his gun on them and ultimately forcing a Dajerria Becton to lay prone with his knee lodged in her back. The video, while shocking to many, in my estimation, simply captures the everyday inequities that Black folks experiences, even in suburbia.(Be on the look out for a more lengthy commentary soon.) Here’s a quote I offer.
“Whenever you define who are legitimate in suburbs, black residents are excluded. For black families that means the suburbs will not save them. The issues that they have been dealing with in terms of racial profiling will follow them,”
New York Magazine’s recent cover story on Ethical Culture Fieldston School’s program on confronting racism is both interesting and controversial. In the segment below, I join Huffington Post Live to discuss why I think the program is not only provocative but also has significant potential to evolve our conversations on race and racism.