Tag: white priviledge

Ponderings on Race in Madison Today

Ah the wonders of returning to the “thirty square miles surrounded by reality!” Yes, that is what many know Madison as because it is a community unlike any other in the state of Wisconsin. Its hyper-political, ultra-educated, super-liberal personality makes it a strange juxtaposition to the grounded-ness of the surrounding counties in their simply seeking to work hard and live right style of being.

I was reminded of where I am by several interactions this week. One was on my bus ride to work. The driver had just stopped for three teenaged girls, but wasn’t opening the door. Instead, he was shouting at them to put on their masks, telling them he’d open the door when they were masked. Two already had their masks on, the third was putting hers on as she prepared to board. I saw no reason to shout or prevent them from boarding. It seemed their behavior was much like my own had been, still getting my mask on as the bus stopped. The difference was stark though. I’m a middle-aged white woman and they’re teenaged black girls.

I am impressed by these girls, despite the rude and cruel behavior of the driver they moved forward as they seem to each day. They get on the bus, find seats by a woman who I think works at their school, and start to share stories of their day with her. They’re good kids, well behaved, and take good care of each other. I find myself wondering how long they can withstand the expectation that they are something other than good kids? How long until they meet the driver’s expectations because they are told through such actions that they are supposed to be trouble makers or somehow less than?

I found myself too in a conversation about race with a group of white folks from a predominately white group this week. The discussion was about welcoming people of color into the organization. I appreciated the openness and honesty of the group talking. Despite not knowing each other well, or maybe because they didn’t know each other well they took some risks in what they were willing to say. The conversation was interesting and unusual. Instead of focusing on the evils of racism it centered more on the question of being with people of like experience. Asking why would the organization want to increase the number of people of color involved? Do we seek to engage more people of color simply to make ourselves feel better? What does that mean? What value do we bring to the relationship? What are we willing to change in order to share ownership? Are we willing to change?

The conversation was both valuable and ugly. While there were no words spoken in anger and everyone seemed to be taking pause to think deeply, processing ideas and feelings fully, being open to learning still the conversation brought such ideas to light that I could almost imagine the hoods. The questions, the ideas; asking if “they” might not just want to be in “their” own group, if “they” might not want to be with “us”, if “they” might want to have “their” own kinds of celebrations, music, and ceremonies, if “they” might somehow be different than “us.”

These are well educated people. Yet, the world created dividers and told them who the other was. It was so much like the bus driver and the girls. Expectations are set, regardless of reality. I can only hope that we can change ourselves and become like the school staff person on the bus who each morning greets the girls with a smile and a kind word, who sees who they really are.

Thoughts on Making Schools Safe

While sitting in the laundromat earlier today waiting for my clothes to dry, I was paging through the news on my phone. I saw an article from WPR that said Wisconsin schools are calling the police on students at nearly twice the national rate. Kids with disabilities, Latinx, Black, and Native students are the victims of most of the calls with Native kids at the top of the list closely followed by Blacks. The article made me ask again what it is that I love so much about my home state, maybe it’s my love of wanting to make things better.

While calling the cops on these kids might simply mean a referral for a child in crisis or a warning for some teenage action like yelling at teacher and aren’t by any means all arrests, it’s still hugely problematic that kids with disabilities and BIPOC youth are being referred to law enforcement at twice the rate as the overall student population and Native kids are three times as likely to be referred as white kids. It’s 2021 and we’re still operating as if it’s against the law in Wisconsin to have brown skin or to have a disability! Come on folks we can do better than this!

While I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I do think there are a few things that put together are worth considering.

  1. Take cops out of our schools. I’m not going to say that police are bad. I am saying that they have a role and that role is to uphold the law. By having them in schools that presumes that the law is not being upheld or is in danger of not being upheld. It tells kids that our expectation is that they will behave as criminals and that their space isn’t safe. Kids getting the message every day that they are criminals in an unsafe environment are more likely to act as criminals in an unsafe space.
  2. Support the support systems. A few generations ago black and brown children were stolen from their families to be sold in slavery or handed over to the boarding schools. Still, family systems remained and adjusted to care for these children. These family systems are under great stress as the dominant white culture continues to steal their children away through foster care, prison, drugs, and other tools. It’s important to recognize that families don’t look the same, nor should they, across all cultural groups. We need to see these systems and simply stop threatening them and stealing their children.
  3. Care for the educators. This is a simple one that we’ve all heard many times. Our teachers and school staff need the physical resources, time, and classroom support to do their jobs. They also need to be compensated for the work that they do. That’s it.
  4. Honor the bodies and spirits of our children. We are all impacted by what we take in. Our kids today are taking in a lot of junk. They’re fed junk on their plates in the form of processed foods filled with sugars and chemicals. They’re fed junk on the screens of their phones and computers all day long. They fed junk in stories about themselves as they’re forced to digest the history of the powerful that doesn’t represent them. All junk. How can we expect anything other than anger and frustration? Feed them goodness. Feed them good food. Feed them the stories of their own peoples. Tell them their histories of strength and courage. Feed them beauty. Give them the opportunity to run and play and explore the world or just the backyard. Feed their souls. Let them stretch their creative selves and find other ways of being beyond angry.
  5. Look at ourselves. These kids weren’t born angry or trouble makers. They were born cute and cuddly, adorable and sweet. We made them who they are. It is us who need to deal with our stuff. It is us who need to look at ourselves each day and ask ourselves how our actions are impacting the world. It is us who need to act.