Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Studies Might Show

Ed Whitfield

September 5, 2007

There are some more studies that have been released showing that black kids learn better in mixed settings. At this point in my life I am not even interested in reading them. Let me explain why.

Suppose someone offered to do a study to see whether or not it made sense for you to continue to raise your young children or turn them over to the state. They might justify the study by saying that scientific data driven evidence was needed to see if the basic family was as efficient as larger institutions for child rearing where the economies of scale and availability of trained experts might allow the raising of children to conform more to the needs of industry and the government. My guess is that you would look at anyone making such a proposal like they were crazy and let them know in some possibly colorful language that you weren't very interested in the results of their study. Somehow the results, whatever they may be, would not make a lot of difference in your insistence that they are your children, you will accept the responsibility for their upbringing and you will not entertain the possibility of giving them up without a fight. Let the study be damned.

That is about how I feel when I hear about some new research which has been done on the desirability of public school balance and the expediency of school diversity for the benefit of African American children. All the studies in the world, pretending to show that children learn better in mixed settings, cannot convince me that powerful learning environments are impossible in schools with black majorities. Now, I want to be clear. I am not claiming that black children can only learn in such settings. I am saying, rather, that there is nothing about majority black settings, per se, that prevents learning and that when such settings are found and learning is not taking place there is some other problem that prevents it -- not the over abundance of black children.

In fact, to accuse me of seeking to exclude whites or blame them for educational shortcomings stands reality on its head. I am arguing against those who are comfortable claiming that black instutions are "inherently inferior" because they read it in "Brown". And by implication I want to point out that that would only be true if there was something inherently inferior about black people.

I have been told that I am arguing for a return to the "Plessy" idea of "seperate but equal" and I want to comment on that too. "Plessy" was mis-named. That doctrine would have been more accurately called "Excluded and denied equality". There was nothing ever equal under the Jim Crow segregation policies and the separation was exclusion from white spaces even while black spaces had no such exclusion but whites chose not to come. My insistence that separate can indeed be equal should be evident on its face. Any study which shows otherwise would have to be asking the wrong questions. Who is it that persists in his belief that African American people are incapable of raising their own children, advocating for them and educating them? What is it presumably about us that would make this impossible?

I am regularly told that resources will follow white children. Are we to accept this as inevitable? Shall we accept it at all? There was a time when Woolworths' lunch counters were only available to whites. Some young people thought that ridiculous enough and enough of an affront to their dignity that they fought to end such restrictions. If we need to, we can examine policies that allow for inequitable allocations of school resources and fight for their end as well. If the black community thinks that we have some intellectual deficit, on the other hand, then we should still be able to fight for access to the intellectual resources that we would like to have available for our children even if we have to hire them from outside our community. Most of us drive cars that we don't make ourselves, but instead, buy from others. We can similarly buy calculus and physics instruction if we are incapable of making it, although I am not convinced that we have any such deficit.

The whole of this is to say that I and many others are just as offended at the notion that the black community should put itself at the mercy of middle class white America for the education of its children as I would be at the idea of turning over my children out of my family to an orphanage for rearing. It doesn't make any sense to me, and no study could show otherwise.

Friday, September 07, 2007

I'm Back Again

I have decided to start blogging again.

For me it is hard sometimes to keep up with a regular writing schedule, but then again it is hard not to write. I read a lot. And I get all sorts of ideas that I am compelled to express and share with people. I feel a little irresponsible if I think I have figured out something and still see a lot of confusion about it in the popular media. I keep thinking, "I've got something to offer, here."

So that's the reason I have resumed this blog: I couldn't help myself.

I am getting ready to post several things I have been working on recently. Many of them are related to education and the issues that have emerged concerning desegregation and something called "resegregation". As you can tell from my use of quotation marks, I think there is something about this word that calls for deeper thinking. In fact, as it is used, I think it is the source of a lot of confusion. I will make that clearer lately, but first I will post a short piece about my daughter and grand daughter. I hope that whoever happens to read this blog finds it thought provoking and enlightening.

What should my 8 year old grand daughter learn about white people?

We are regularly told that school diversity is important because we live in a diverse world and in order to be able to get along with other people successfully, we need to learn about them and have some experiences with them as early as possible. With that in mind, I want to share a story with you.

I was just talking to my daughter today about some issues she has of where to place my 8 year old grand daughter in school. With what are recognized as some of the worst public schools in the country nearby, my daughter Nandi is interested in placing her daughter, Ellise, in a private school, and by going back to work as an engineer, she should have the means to do so.

One of the schools that would be convenient represents a problem. Ellise would be the only little brown child there. Nandi tells me that she just can’t do that to her daughter. I told her that she might try to describe the likely scenario to Ellise very carefully and offer her the challenge of doing it for a while to see if it is alright, with the promise to monitor the situation closely and rescue her if necessary. Nandi told me that she had done just that, and Ellise had said, “You mean I would be the ONLY one?” I told her that that was her answer. Ellise does not want to do it and shouldn’t have to.

Now Ellise has had some experience with white children. She was recently in a new Sunday School class with two little white girls and wanted to know when she got home just what the proper attitude should be toward them. “Do we even like white people?” she asked. She was not at all happy with the fact that they had tried to boss her around and she wanted to know if this was some general characteristic of whites. Her mother told her that there was nothing wrong with all of them but that some of them could act a little strange.

I thought that was funny. Her question from this uncomfortable incident was “What’s wrong with those children?” She wanted to know why in the world they would think that she was someone to be bossed around. Never once did she wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” And that is how it should be.

All of her life Ellise has been home schooled and recently included in a private home based school run by her mother. She has no sense of her own intellectual or academic limitations. She has no sense of anyone in the world being better than she is in any way. Anything she doesn’t know, she feels that she can learn. She would have no problem interacting with anyone as an equal, but she knows no superiors.

It causes me to wonder: What is it that my 8 year old grand daughter needs to learn about white people? She found out quickly that some would try to boss you around. But she has never learned that it is OK for them to do so, and that is a lesson that I don’t want her to ever learn.

Right now, I’m not worried about how well she will function in a diverse world.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I'm back

I was noticeably absent at the election board on last Tuesday night. When I have run for office in the past, I have always been present for the official announcement of election night tallies, but this time I had to be somewhere else. Election night, was also my mother's 93rd birthday. She wanted me to be with her there in Little Rock, Arkansas.

My mother has been my support and inspiration all my life and I could not miss her birthday. So, last Saturday afternoon, I packed my car and drove the 830 miles to my childhood home arriving at about 5 AM on Sunday morning. All her children and the granddaughter that she raised were there.

On Monday I got to go with her to her water therapy class. Until recently, she has been doing water aerobics three days a week and helping teach the class when the regular instructor is out, but for the past few weeks arthritis has made walking more difficult for her and she is doing water therapy instead.

After a fancy dinner on the evening of the 11th where I learned by phone that I had made it through the primary I got to spend a little more time with Mother and my brothers, sister and niece, before getting back in my car at 6:30 AM on Wednesday morning to drive back to Greensboro. But now I am back, and ready to even more seriously get on the campaign trail for the next 4 weeks.

Hopefully we can find ways to inspire a few more people to come out during the general election in November. The 4.3 percent primary vote is a reflection of the extent to which people feel disconnected from the decision making that affects their lives. What I am most concerned with is making that connection seem and be real. We can do better.

I don't have anymore out of town trips to make any time soon, so now we can see what more we can do to let people know that this election can make a difference.

Friday, August 12, 2005

An amusing line in the Rhino

I saw an amusing article in the Rhino Times about the candidates for the upcoming city council elections. It went something like this: "Ed Whitfield is a 60's radical which doesn't translate into many votes in this millenium."

I guess that I have to admit that I am proud of having been an active part of the most significant period of social change in this country since the civil war. Their reduction of me to only being a "60's radical" leaves out the last four decades or so of my life, though.

During that time I was Chairman of the Greensboro Redevelopment Commission for nine years, the Chairmain of the CommunityAdvisory Committee for the Basic Skills Program at GTCC, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Triad Minority Development Corporation, on the Advisory Committee for the Multi Modal Transit Center, on the Technology Advisory Committee for the new public library, a member of the Enterprise Communities Task Force, on the Citizens Task Force for the Prevention of Crime and Violence, on the Greensboro Community Initiative -- looking into issues of education, on the Advisory Committee for the Electronics Program for the School of Technology at A&T State University and a few other things that I hardly remember.

I have been busy since the 60's and I stay busy now. The spirit with which I approach my current activism, however, is the spirit that I inherited from the 60's. It tells me that when something is wrong we need to think hard and work hard to change it. I am looking forward to carrying that spirit with me onto the Greensboro City Council.


Friday, August 05, 2005

It's All Official Now

The filing deadline for the upcoming City Council Elections has ended. I will be running for the District 2 seat now held by Claudette Borroughs-White along with three other candidates. I am really looking forward for this opportunity to articulate a vision for the future of our community.

I think this is the time for this campaign to be successful. I first ran for this seat in 1983, the first year of district elections, against my friend Katie Dorsett. During that campaign I got to put forth some views of ways that the city could become more involved in housing issues that later became city policy. In the years following I spent ten years on the Greensboro Redevelopment Commission and was Chairman for nine of those years.

Since rotating off the Redevelopment Commission, most of my work in the community has been around education issues, volunteering a lot in elementary schools, as well as peace and justice issues broadly chairing the Greensboro Peace Coalition.

I have had the good fortune of being a regular columnist for the Carolina Peacemaker and have tried to use that forum to help facilitate some forward thinking on where we are as a community and how we fit into the world.

I am really looking forward to this campaign.


Friday, July 01, 2005

Mississippi contrasts, Greensboro parallels

(An edited version of this piece appears as a front page comentary in this week's Carolina Peacemaker. Check out the online version and get a subscription if you don't have one. There is a lot of news covered there that does not find its way into the other media.)

In Mississippi last week, I got a chance to witness a piece of history. I was in the courtroom on the final day of the trial of “Preacher” Killen for the murder of the three civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Earl Chaney in 1964. I heard the last three witnesses for the defense and the closing arguments of the prosecution and defense along with the Judges final instructions to the jury. The courtroom was packed and journalists from around the country were inside and outside feeding the story to the nation.

One of the most interesting aspects of being there was the remaining contrasts in Mississippi society that I think reflect some of the remaining conflicts in our society about race. On the one hand I got to sit next to James Adams in the courtroom then on the other hand I got to have an informal interview with Richard Barrett on the outside.

Adams is a 66-year-old white Mississippian who grew up in a rural area near Jackson, the state capital. His family was so poor that he said he had never had electricity or indoor plumbing until after he moved away from home as a young adult. Adams was glad that there was finally a prosecution for the 41-year-old murders. “I knew it was wrong,” he confided in me, “but I was too much of a coward to say or do anything about it at the time.”

Adams told me about his family being tenant farmers, renting and working the land, while growing up across the road from a wealthy black man who owned his own land. “If it hadn’t been for the money he loaned my daddy sometimes, I don’t know how we would have made it.” I asked him if the Klan had ever approached him and he told me it had not. “My daddy hated those types,” he said. Adams was retired from Kroger as a meat cutter and had been a union member while working there. “We only got about $1 an hour more than the other meat cutters,” he said, but then we remembered that was when other meat cutters were only making slightly more than $1 an hour themselves.

After that conversation, I went outside during one of the recesses and thought I might hear similar stories from other Mississippians who had come to the trial. That is when I met Richard Barrett. “Where are you from,” I asked. “Mississippi,” his reply, “and you?” “I’m from Greensboro, North Carolina.” “Oh, he said, “that’s where they have that ‘Truth and Reconciliation Project. They asked me to come and testify and I told them what Jesus told the Devil. I’ve written about them in my newsletter.” He pulled out his racist tract from his white nationalist, skinhead and Nazi related group headquartered in Learned Mississippi with a front page article about the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I continued to talk to him, only admitting that I knew a little about the commission and allowing him to spew his venom. During the course of the conversation he declared that the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation process was a Soviet styled process, straight from Stalin’s era, he extolled the virtues of the good old days of segregation, suggested that slavery had been a good deal for “Negroes”, criticized what he called “affirmative action juries that included blacks, defended the murder of civil rights workers as a justifiable act in defense of the southern way of life that would be ultimately judged correct by history, suggested that black people had done nothing to earn any of the handouts that they are given and are regularly allowed to get away with murdering whites who display confederate flags and then suggested that we all go back to Africa. All of this was in a polite and reasonably coherent though often confused discussion about half of which I was able to record as he spoke.

As an indication of his lack of knowledge of African American history Barrett used the erroneous example of Jesse Jackson and three others integrating the Woolworth lunch counter as proof that you don’t need a large number of followers to make changes. He has been to Greensboro and led a demonstration in 1987 “in opposition to the Civil Rights Bill.” He bragged about knowing David Matthews and Virgil Griffin the former head of the Ku Klux Klan in this area as well as several others involved in the November 3, 1979 Greensboro massacre. “They came to my birthday party,” he said. Barrett is an attorney who claims to have argued landmark cases before the Supreme Court and also claims to have been offered the opportunity to defend Killen in the murder trial. “I would have made this a political trial. I am here salivating over the prospects of how I would handled this case,” he told me. After hearing the things he had said, I was salivating too. It would have been very interesting to hear his explicit defense of murder on the grounds of political disagreement.

It is ironic to note the similarity between his arguments against the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation process and those of the Greensboro City Council. While I want to be clear in saying that our city council has not expressed openly racist sentiments like his, their arguments against the truth process are identical – that it is not intended to lead to truth and reconciliation but rather to simply forward the agenda of folks who they oppose.

Having listened to James Adams and Richard Barrett, it is clear that there are two Mississippis – a new one still struggling to be born and clarify its direction on the basis of honest criticism of the past, and an old one that refuses to go away quietly while defending its racist unjust history. We have the same choice here in Greensboro to go one way or the other.