Monday Reading List: Don't Be Racist On Halloween, Voting Rights, and John Legend on Charter Schools

Happy Halloween, friends! Courtesy of Phillip Atiba Goff, here's a friendly reference chart on how to think about racist Halloween costumes:

The chart makes a good point! Brittany Packnett is adamant on this topic, as well:

Lawrence Ross, writing at The Root, explains more:

... as the offensive depictions of minorities flows from Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media platforms, there will be those who rise up and shout, “It’s all about freedom of speech and the first amendment,” as though the Bill of Rights is a ‘Get Out of Racism’ card to be played. What’s ironic is that while these people will bend over backwards to note that racists (and that’s what I call any white college student who puts on blackface. Don’t like that tag? Don’t put on blackface) have the constitutional right to offend, they’re typically silent as a church mouse when it comes to people of color exercising their own freedom of speech. The hypocrisy of Americanism means that a Colin Kaepernick, who kneels before the flag as a challenge to America to be better, to be more justice, is held up as a point of ridicule, where the racist just melts back into society.

Per usual, free speech rights give Americans the freedom both to do and to say offensive things. None of that, however, protects a person from being called out on his or her racist behaviors. It never ceases to amaze me how touchy free speech advocates become when we use that free speech to discuss real life racism, and its practitioners.

Speaking of the practice of racism, Vann R. Newkirk II has a long feature in The Atlantic about voting rights in North Carolina. After Republican leaders in the state legislature created both barriers to voting and wildly gerrymandered Congressional districts, activists went to court:

And so at the end of 2011, two separate groups of plaintiffs—including the North Carolina NAACP—filed complaints to the state supreme court. After consolidating the two cases, the state court began hearing the trial in July of 2013. Around the same time, a decision in Washington opened up a new front in the voting-rights fight. ... In Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that “things have changed dramatically. Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, ‘[v]oter turnout and registration rates’ in covered jurisdictions ‘now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.” While that argument might seem to illustrate the utility of the Voting Rights Act, the Roberts Court used it to nullify Section 4(b) ... Absent that federal oversight, Republicans in the South seemed bent on proving just why it was necessary in the first place. They passed a slate of new voting laws that likely would have been blocked just days before. North Carolina Republicans led the way.

Newkirk draws narrative lines between contemporary violations of voting rights, Jim Crow, and reconstruction. Understand voting rights in context reveals the extent to which these issues are nested in a multi-century struggle for equality.

In other news (with a fun North Carolina connection), Mo Cowan, the former United States Senator from Massachusetts, is endorsing expanding charter schools in the Commonwealth, based on his personal experience:

I will vote in favor of Question 2 because as a Democrat who believes in public education, thinks teachers are as important today as they ever have been, and who has the privilege of choice for my kids’ education, it currently is our best option to empower more families to choose the right public education for their children and for the rest of us to support innovation in education, the foundation upon which every innovative idea is built ... My family is fortunate and we have the choice of sending our kids to the local district schools or, if we are not convinced that this choice is best for our kids, we can choose private, independent schools. This choice was not available to my family and me when I was of school age. Instead, because of our financial circumstances and the absence of any other option, I attended my local district school in rural North Carolina. Like too many traditional district schools, mine was under-resourced and over-crowded.

Cowan is not alone, as John Legend - yes, that John Legend - is in Ebony discussing his own support for charter schools:

A 2015 Stanford study found that African-American children in charter schools are gaining 36 more days of knowledge in reading and 26 extra days of math skills than African-American students in traditional public schools ... But the students who attend school at these high-performing charters are the lucky ones. Across the country, a million names are on waiting lists for charter schools. Every year, parents put their child’s fate into a lottery machine, which determines whether they get into a quality school or a failing one. We have to do better. I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the NAACP in the fight for equal opportunity, social justice, and against the poverty that plagues too many of our neighborhoods. I want to stand with them on education, too. Good schools of any model - not a moratorium on charters - are the way to fight poverty, to lift kids up on the path to success, and give them opportunities to develop their future potential.

I'll be saying my final word on the issue of the Massachusetts charter schools ballot question later today, with guest posts from some other folks throughout the week. Stay tuned, and have a great day.