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Writing about what really matters

Tag: racism

Stunning

In one study, just the act of having to identify one’s race caused black college students to perform half as well on questions from a standardized examination as they did on versions of the test that didn’t ask about a student’s skin color. –Paul Schneider, in a review of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”

I honestly find this stunning. The key words here are half as well and college students. Not a 5% difference, not a 10% difference, but a 50% difference. That’s more than the difference between an A+ and an F. And these were not just any students, but college students, young people who scored well enough on the ACT or SAT to get into college, who believed they could go to college in the first place, who applied and were admitted to college. So it seems reasonable to hypothesize that the differential could be even greater for younger students.

Wow, just wow.

For those who think it’s over–it’s not over. It’s not time to gut the Voting Rights Act. It’s not time to assume that any person of color who doesn’t find life smooth sailing has only him or herself to blame. It’s not time to end affirmative action. This much is clear to me.

I recently read in The Sun an essay by Ross Gay, a black poet and college professor, in which he recounts that he has worried that he might have committed a crime that he knows full well he didn’t commit:

I’ve had to struggle not to absorb those stares and questions and traffic stops and newscasts and tv shows and movies and what they imply. I’ve been afraid walking through the alarm gate at the store that maybe something’s fallen into my pockets, or that I’ve unconsciously stuffed something in them; I’ve felt panic that the light-skinned black man who mugged our elderly former neighbors was actually me, and I worried that my parents, with whom I watched the newscast, suspected the same; and nearly every time I’ve been pulled over, I’ve prayed there were no drugs in my car, despite the fact that I don’t use drugs; I don’t even smoke pot. That’s to say, the story I have all my life heard about black people — criminal, criminal, criminal — I have started to suspect of myself.

Clearly we have a ways to go. Racism is not only alive and well, but it’s being internalized by people of color, really in just the same way that sexism is internalized by women, and it’s clearly not a matter of ignorance. These are all educated, intelligent people. We’re all marinating in the same toxic soup.

In August of this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint with the Department of Justice against the state of Florida over its setting educational expectations by race, with Asians expected to perform best, followed by white, Hispanic, and black students.

In reading, the plan sets goals of 90 percent of Asian-American students reading at grade level by 2018 versus 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanic students and 74 percent of black students. In math, 92 percent of Asian-Americans are expected to perform at grade level versus 86 percent of white students, 80 percent of Hispanic students and 74 percent of black students. –Orlando Sentinel

Obviously these goals send just exactly the kind of message that results in the lowered performance found in the standardized test study.

How can we create true equality in our society? Because it’s time we did.

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A senior member of the human race

A few years ago, I was working as a contractor at a company that had everyone from non-union warehouse workers who were probably making minimum wage to the executives and CEO, all under one roof. Since office space and light industrial are zoned differently, this is an unusual arrangement I’ve only seen a couple times in my career.

I quickly noticed a spot at the end of a row of cubes I passed on my way out of my area where there was always a joke of some kind posted. Sometimes something genuinely funny, other times just odd, and once truly offensive.

This time the joke du jour consisted of a Photoshopped picture of a young black man, his hair cut like topiary into a trendy hat, with a caption indicating that if you couldn’t afford the hat you wanted, you could simply grow your own.

From all I could observe, this company seemed to have a good track record of hiring and promoting minorities, so seeing this tasteless joke hanging on the wall for days was puzzling. I felt it was in particularly poor taste considering the large number of people who worked there who weren’t making much money, many of whom could have been the Photoshopped person.

There were very few actual company employees in my area, but I asked one whom one could speak to about something offensive in the workplace and she said she had no idea. Clearly Human Resources did not have a high profile at this company. I was on my own.

I was totally clear on the fact that I was at the very bottom of the totem pole at this company, quite possibly on the portion of the totem pole that’s underground. As I thought about what I could do, it occurred to me that I didn’t need authority at this company to take action–all I needed was moral authority. Reminding myself that I’m a senior member of the human race, on my way out that night, I removed the graphic, took it home, and fed it to my shredder.

Who are you to stick up for the underdog, speak truth to power, fight injustice and prejudice? A senior member of the human race, that’s who.

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