From Schools To Starbucks: White Spaces Abound

Mis-education occurs in American schools because of an unprecedented level of reactionary remedies to systemic problems, rather than a substantive plan to restructure a failing model and proactively change from within. The failure of U.S. schools to properly value and serve the needs all of its students is not unlike the perpetually low quality, discriminatory, public image of Starbucks – in that both operate as unofficial ‘White spaces’. For Blacks (particularly those of us in notoriously racist and segregated cultures like America or South Africa), navigating outside of the preferred norm is an inescapable reality. However, when racial tensions are exacerbated by White supremacist leadership (Trump) and militia controlled politics (NRA), then literally no place is safe or neutral from race-fueled persecution and consequences.

For the benefit of the privileged who incessantly question the veracity of racial profiling and are either exempt or blithely ignorant of the inescapable reality of the oppressed, I will attempt to elucidate how schools and Starbucks are indeed ‘White spaces’ wherein any/all grievances from parties outside of their intended target population of affluent Whites, falls on deaf ears. Sociologist Elijah Anderson, researched the hostility encountered by Blacks who reflexively adjust our level of comfort when in a ‘White space ‘, and defined this as an area whose “most visible and distinctive feature is [the] overwhelming presence of white people and [the] absence of black people.” According to Anderson (2015), “society is still replete with overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, restaurants, schools, universities, workplaces, churches… associations, courthouses and cemeteries, a situation that reinforces a normative sensibility in settings in which black people are typically absent, not expected, or marginalized when present.” Though essentially sound, the fatal flaw in Anderson’s (2015) sociological theory regarding ‘White space’, is that he erroneously assumed that middle class Blacks who permeate formerly all-White spaces, are only occasionally subject to profiling, despite the affluent veneer that their suburban homes, luxury vehicles or designer clothing affords. When in actuality, ALL of America is essentially a ‘White space’ in which all Black people-men, women and children; regardless of socioeconomic class are profiled on a daily basis and in every, single place. Increasingly in 2018, our very essence as a people, warrants second-class citizenship, and no institution, site or environment is absent the polarizing ‘White space’ demarcation.

In the wake of a spontaneous, social media ignited and widespread public intent to #BoycottStarbucks for yet another, egregious example of racism toward its Black patrons, the company now reportedly seeks to improve upon its historic disregard and initial embarrassing, dismissive apology in cutting their losses via engaging in a single day of diversity training for all of its staffers and locations. Diversity training (please insert the straight face and/or a blank, incredulous look here)? This action is a public relations stunt at best, and is doomed to fail given its temporary and insignificant potential to counteract generations of institutionalized racism, firmly embedded into the fabric of American society and imprinted upon the psyche of its corporate structures and people.

Similarly, schools consistently fail our students on the margins (Black, Latinx, Native American, special needs, impoverished, etc.), because these institutions were designed, by default, to educate White landowners and existed only to perpetuate the status quo – the means to keep each of the aforementioned populations oppressed. Thus a vicious cycle of mis-education ensues whereby – as students fail to demonstrate proficiency on high-stakes assessments (intentionally designed to widen the achievement gap between the have and have-not’s), then already underpaid and overworked teachers are forced to endure inane, ineffective, ‘silver bullet’ solutions of single day professional development training(s). These trainings are unrealistically thought to impact a more favorable academic achievement outcome for our most at-risk student populations. Yet, the historically flawed system which inequitably funds high-poverty schools thus crippling them with outdated supplies and curriculum resources is never fundamentally altered. So even though the well-intended diversity training, increasingly common in schools given the growing disparity between the nearly all-White teaching force and the overwhelming majority of students of color, might succeed at expanding the knowledge base of some willing participants, this does not, nor has ever, resulted in significant or systemic policy shifts or intended changes.

Racism in America is institutionalized, and is therefore generationally and deeply entrenched into the very fabric of all social and political norms of this society. As such, single-day initiatives are woefully insufficient to cure what ails us, in either schools or overpriced coffee shops. Bear in mind that “white people typically avoid black space, but black people are required to navigate the white space as a condition of their existence” (Anderson, 2015). Given the inevitability of our precarious position to be racially profiled and/or victimized on a daily basis – it is incumbent upon us to collaborate on a substantive plan to restructure our failing, racist institution models and proactively change these structures from within.

It’s imperative to start by acknowledging that all of America is essentially a ‘White space ‘ in which 14-year old Black boys cannot safely knock on front doors to ask directions to school, without risking the loss of their own life to gun violence at the behest of racist, suburban retirees. Also consider that Black people can not: drive, walk, sit, shop, or even safely be in our own backyards, merely holding a cell phone without ‘fitting the vague description’ of a criminal and innocently, tragically, falling victim to assassination at the hands of corrupt police. In sheer acknowledgment of the fact that Blacks are subject to racism-both overt and subtle-it might empower others to temporarily eschew their White privilege (as did the ethical and courageous White patrons at Starbucks, who recorded, posted and advocated on behalf of the Black investment bankers to simply BE Black) in an un-official ‘White space’. This unified voice against injustice ultimately intensifies the power to cry foul and balk at any/all feeble attempts to profile and criminalize an entire demographic in an inescapable and age-old caste system.

As for the institutions themselves, solutions are likely to be forged in valiant attempts to engineer substantive change through conscious rebranding to reject their historic ‘White space’ designation and to reflect the broad inclusion of those who are systematically targeted and oppressed. There need not be any special legislation or reactionary protests to signal the implementation of such change, this transformation must occur immediately, organically and from within at the uppermost levels to the grassroots workforce ranks. It would also be a powerful testament of transformative justice to align intended professional training(s) with tangible, financial renumeration for the victims of mis-education and/or discriminatory hate-crimes, as this demonstrates authentic investment in the healing of those oppressed and consistently marginalized by inescapable forms of systemic racism. Expanding upon insufficient levels of school funding to Title I schools and conscious, substantive investment in the urban communities where all of these institutions are located, speaks volumes of a willingness to do more than apply temporary bandages to long-standing and life-threatening wounds. Finally, long-term investment in the social and political initiatives which exist to counter the forces of oppression including, but not limited to the countless agencies devoted to eliminating racial profiling, discrimination, police brutality and the prison industrial complex represents the most profound indicator of change. Collectively, this degree of impactful, economic reparations aids in re-branding the powerful, revitalized image of your institutions as value-added resources, rather than as a legendary corporate scavengers of oppressed people.

Teacher Backlash: A Symptom of Systemic Decline

Teacher: For today’s lesson we will learn about electrical currents and solar energy…

Student: Why? Is this how we will restore power to Puerto Rico?!

Lesson: Unless knowledge has practical applicability to real-world dilemmas – it is useless information. #TeachableMoment #EducateToLiberate

As a general rule, educators are charged with ensuring that our students are engaged in an authentic acquisition of knowledge which derives from inquiry, research, explicit instruction, spirited discussions and hands-on experiences gained in an environment conducive to learning. However, all too often our classrooms reflect common standards, and ultimately daily lessons – which have no practical applicability beyond the latest (and ever-present), high-stakes standardized test. This eliminates virtually all opportunities for relevance and creativity in classroom instruction and otherwise renders our current educational climate as one preoccupied with ‘busy work’ rather than real knowledge acquisition. This is merely one common teacher grievance and component of an increasingly dysfunctional educational system. Surely, the most significant measure of the systemic decline of American education is represented in the diminishing and utterly dissatisfied teaching workforce.

Many educators would likely agree that through no fault of their own, the joy of teaching has been systemically replaced with a sort of robotic and mechanical uniformity that leaves much to be desired from teachers, students and parents alike. It is no secret that the for-profit standardized testing industry is now indistinguishable from the agenda of high-ranking education officials and these combined forces have collectively dictated federal K-12 education curriculum and even policy; a dilemma which has increasingly disillusioned teachers. As the political and profit-margin obsessed entities place increasing faith on the value and frequency of high-stakes assessments – the myopic focus on ranking the worsening performance of both students’ and teachers’ is a universal sign of the decline of authentic education. This fact seems lost on those engaged in education reform measures, but is glaringly apparent to scores of teachers across the nation – who are revolting en masse for a wide variety of justifiable reasons. A common thread observable in the states where teachers have recently launched formidable walkout movements (W. Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky); is that these are Republican-dominated districts suffering the debilitating loss of school funding, collective bargaining rights and pay freezes of an already meager living wage.

Adding insult to injury, the teaching profession suffers the pronounced loss of future talent from college graduates admittedly unwilling to enter a field so synonymous with disrespect, low pay and even lower levels of job satisfaction.
In the end, teachers have been disallowed an opportunity to actually do what they love and have devoted their lives to: teach. Around the country, the discontentment of our teachers is showing and those who suffer the most pronounced loss? Our students, whose academic performance thrives when their education is primed for authentic knowledge acquisition rather than the ‘busy work’ that marks our present dysfunctional educational system.

No other world-class nation imposes as many testing mandates on its students, while inflicting even greater performance edicts on its teachers, than does America. The systemic methodology which unrealistically judges the aptitude of learners and the quality of its teachers on a single, non-transparent, and high-stakes assessment is fundamentally flawed. Educators should be regarded as both supremely qualified, and considered the front line of defense for a thriving educational system. Yet in 2009, educators had no discernible input in designing the national standards now being universally taught; nor are they allowed to revise the glaring imperfections of the Common Core curriculum and its accompanying testing mandates (at least until after 2021). In this nation’s current, dysfunctional educational system affluence has sadly become the ultimate arbiter in the wide disparity of the academic fate of students, the corresponding evaluation rating of teachers and ranking of all public (or DeVos inspired, for-profit charter) schools. Ultimately, despite popular, unfounded claims that the current wave of teacher walkouts and backlash is driven by greed-driven salary demands, or unrealistic demands for increased school funding – the crisis in America’s public schools is not exaggerated. It is real, worsening and headed for a yet unseen, dramatic climax.

Teachers in this nation are unsatisfied, grossly undervalued and represent merely a symptom of an eroding educational system on the brink of demise…from within.

MSU Offers More Scandal Than Substance

As a Michigan State University Mom, I am wholly disillusioned with the degree of scandal permeating the school. More importantly as the parent of a Black woman, I am acutely aware of MSU’s failings in the forms of: a legacy of non-existent sexual abuse prevention policies, institutionalized forms of blatant racism, willful tolerance and inaction to seemingly all forms of human rights violations and as such, my family must seriously consider all alternative undergraduate options. Honestly, all families of the nearly 40,000 currently enrolled student roster of MSU, must similarly begin to assess and legitimately exercise financial leverage to guarantee our young adults more than just the abject public shame now uniquely associated with earning a degree from MSU – an increasingly beleaguered institution.

The school’s missteps have been plentiful, but the damage? Seemingly incalculable and ongoing, as MSU officials continue to showcase record levels of ineptitude. In addition to a demonstrated failure to appropriately address the rampant criminal sexual misconduct of Larry Nassar, a longtime university employee who victimized in excess of 250 young women; this past week William Strampel, the former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine (and Nassar’s former boss), was arraigned on eerily similar, serious charges of criminal sexual misconduct of a host of MSU students. High profile staff reprimands are apparently commonplace, given that former President Lou Anna Simon and Athletic Director Mark Hollis resigned in absolute shame following their respective administrative lapses in effective leadership. And even now, despite mounting criticism and statewide calls for the resignation of the school’s eight-member and exceedingly out-of-touch Board of Trustees, this incompetent body of sycophants was incredulously allowed to appoint the woefully unqualified and legendary racist, John Engler (former MI governor), as the university’s interim President. Adding insult to injury, it comes as no surprise that MSU’s negative S&P Global credit rating now further deleteriously affects the university’s future. There is no illusion of a model to educate nor liberate at Michigan State University…sigh.

This week while the University of Michigan dominates the national news media in positive press for heading to its second men’s basketball championship game in just six years, MSU continues to bring dishonor to the state of MI and corner the market on negative press. MSU has consistently been in the hot seat for fostering a hate-filled campus climate conducive to producing alt-right attorney and former MSU campus organizer, Kyle Bristow and for recently hosting White supremacist icon, Richard Spencer. Amid news of their current position to protect the “free speech” of a Brighton resident, Jillian Kirk, who has been formally reported on for her rampant use of racial slurs both on campus and on all social media platforms – MSU continues to blithely offer more scandal than substance.

Since the university is so glaringly tone deaf to its own increasingly negative, racially hostile public image and worsening campus climate – the all-encompassing degree of widespread MSU shame is admittedly – the final straw. For the record, repeated refusals to take formal action against criminal sexual offenders and card-carrying racists alike, speaks volumes. The verdict is clear: Michigan State University offers more scandal than substance. Further, Michigan State University is overwhelmingly synonymous with dysfunction and as such, it appears that “Spartans Will”… be forced to exercise more feasible enrollment options elsewhere.

In Marching For Our Lives We Recognize That Black Lives Matter

The Educate to Liberate collective (comprised of conscious scholars, educators, activists and others aligned with an academic, liberation ideology), wholly salute the #MarchForOurLives movement for its inclusivity. We acknowledge this initiative as a powerful platform to prioritize both the uncompromising survivor spirit of Parkland students who were very recently victimized by gun violence; and to highlight the pivotal, unfiltered voices of Black youth, whose very existence has always been unjustly traumatized by violence. Given that violence is a tangible accompaniment and by-product of America’s embedded system of institutionalized racism, Black youth are passionate and informed advocates. Though all-too-often marginalized, the courageous voice and historic revolutionary activism of Black youth can now begin to duly earn a righteous position of esteem in the youth leadership canon. The recognition that Black lives, do indeed matter, is long overdue. And in order to truly be meaningful it is incumbent upon this and all other viable movements, to increasingly sustain deep inclusiveness to engender respect and/or to impact history as an authentic, revolutionary force of change.

It is an inarguable fact that Black youth have long laid an exemplary foundation with which to usher in this modern, clarion call for anti-violence activism and systemic change. The uncompromising, valued and painfully self-aware narratives of Black youth have repeatedly been sounded: in Oakland-on behalf of Oscar Grant; in Chicago-on behalf of Hadiya Pendleton; in Ferguson-on behalf of Mike Brown; in Baltimore-on behalf of Freddie Grey; and perhaps most tragically, in New York-as evidenced by Erica Garner’s unscripted, martyrdom-aligned supreme sacrifice on behalf of her unlawfully murdered father, Eric Garner. In fact, because the articulate and impassioned voices of Black youth have so long been ignored by mainstream media-it is glaringly apparent that the #MarchForOurLives youth movement stands on mighty shoulders.

Judging by the passion and eloquence of the conscious youth of all ethnicities able to utilize this national platform to our collective advantage, the selective omission of past injustice upon oppressed masses (in particular that of Black people), has clearly not been lost on this informed, social media armed and politically savvy generation. As a matter of documented record, today’s youth are literally screaming: “Representation Matters” in the most poignant ways conceivable, as they speak truth to power on behalf of the issues of gun reform, marginalization of the needs of American youth and misplaced political allegiances. Undoubtedly, the notion of inclusion is itself a Revolutionary act.

Based on the widespread success of the #MarchForOurLives initiatives around the country the empowered, collective message of our youth is clear: enough is indeed enough and it seems NRA funded politicians are being put on notice, at the same time the media is being duly forewarned that the whitewashing of the anti-violence movement, is unacceptable. It is both transparent and disingenuous for the mass media to continually capitalize upon the abject suffering of the Black masses in a vacuum as merely “a Black problem”. Violence in the Black community has been intentionally used as a means to further perpetuate the myth of White supremacy, exacerbate the oppression of impoverished schools, neighborhoods and/or to increasingly promote injustice, racism and the systemic extinction of Black people. Clearly gun violence (and the extremist right-wing, hate propaganda determined to have repeatedly fueled the countless young, White, terrorist shooters), has now officially backfired on America. As such, violence can no longer be falsely characterized as a norm of the Black experience, but is an unprecedented enigma which encompasses the entire American experience…

The #MarchForOurLives movement leaders are duly noted for their conscious, moral barometer and strategic, inclusive attempts to engage a few key voices of Black youth in this initiative. It is becoming more apparent that the experienced voices of Black people are no longer considered incidental to the youth leadership narrative, but rather worthy of a vital national platform of significance, which should have been here all the time. No longer will the Black experience be overwhelmingly ignored and omitted from the public platform of the national anti-violence stage. Our dues have been paid and our investment is in blood, sweat, tears and the incalculable loss of Black lives.

And A Child Shall Lead Them…

The youth of America have spoken. Their message is loud and clear. And like @LittleMissFlint their impassioned plea and powerful, uncompromising leadership will resonate throughout the annals of history, as far more than just a mere 17-minutes, non-violent demonstration. The wave of meaningful student activism, sparked by the outspoken survivors of the most recent school shooting massacre (at the now infamous, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida), has only just begun to reveal the leadership potential of this savvy demographic. As the world watched, our children officially forged a firm place in international history on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 also known as #NationalWalkoutDay in concert with what is bound to morph into a formidable youth-led movement to stand the test of time. The simple yet significant takeaway from this historic movement? #Enough.

This entire generation was raised in the literal crossfire of countless episodes of school violence – rendered more disastrous by the widespread proliferation of U.S. assault weapons. Therefore, no other population is more acutely affected, painfully aware and ultimately more qualified to comprise this organic movement and address the prevalent U.S. school gun violence issue than our children. In terms of specific demands, the youth driven, @NationalSchoolWalkout platform realistically advocated for the following 3 Congressional actions:

-Ban assault weapons;

-Require universal background checks prior to gun sales;

-Pass pivotal gun violence legislation empowering U.S. courts to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior.

While students across the country marched to enact Revolutionary and grassroots level reforms to end gun violence and ensure school safety, the U.S. House of Representatives simultaneously passed a bill to fund security measures within our nation’s schools. This bipartisan bill was a definite start in the right direction, however it admittedly fell short of the intended goal due to its conspicuous lack of inclusion of any of the aforementioned platform demands. Of course, as a potential form of adult-inspired and nonsensical distraction, there is also an increasing debate about whether or not to arm teachers (who already suffer from the criminal absence of tangible resources and a respectful increase in meager pay wages to empower the successful education of our students), but alas…I digress. The most significant and newsworthy caveat to this powerful youth movement which bears mentioning for its admirable ‘Bad-Assness’, is that the youth overwhelmingly frown upon any form of traditional, sell-out, NRA-aligned, hence ‘deep political pockets’ financed gun control initiatives; but opt instead to ‘give the finger’ to the status quo, which openly prioritizes guns over their lives.

In a nutshell, our children are courageously paving the way for entire generations of seemingly clueless adults, as well as future generations yet to be born. The youth are righting the wrongs they unintentionally inherited from us-their beloved parents-and in the case of the #NationalSchoolWalkout movement, they are literally fighting for their lives. This radical changing of the guard is the fulfillment of prophecy of all successful movements and is – as it should be – an uncompromising force teeming with independent thought, interracial/intergenerational support and replete with lasting change agent capabilities. Our legendary Civil Rights Movement predecessors would be proud. I am wholly inspired and deeply ecstatic to witness this remarkable show of well organized, civil disobedience. As adults let’s agree to remove the limiting constraints of either Democrat or Republican party agendas and reserve our trademark and otherwise woefully misplaced judgment to simply stand in awe of our children’s collective ascendancy to leadership. Our future is in good, capable (and assault weapons-free), hands.