Monday Reading List: Civil Rights, Expectations for Children, and Counter-Protest

Melinda D. Anderson at The Atlantic gathered some experts to determine what, if any, effect the Trump administration will have on the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights:

The federal agency’s mission is “to ensure equal access to education,” and it’s charged with enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination against marginalized populations—including students of color, religious and gender minorities, and students with disabilities. In recent years OCR has issued guidance to states and local school districts on their legal obligation to meet the educational needs of transgender students, students with ADHD, and youth in juvenile justice facilities; the civil-rights unit also tracks how well public schools and districts nationwide measure up on equity in learning opportunities. As one president wraps up his term and another takes the reigns, some have speculated on what a Donald Trump administration and Education Secretary-nominee Betsy DeVos foretell for the civil-rights branch given indications that they plan to downsize the department.

The speculation ranges from "nothing will change" to "holy shit, everything is going to change." Based on Anderson's assembled experts, the most significant risk will be a de-prioritization of the enforcement of federal civil rights statutes. Federal civil rights protections are a bulwark against discriminatory practices by state and local governments. If you don't think this is a big deal, see: North Carolina after the Supreme Court's relaxation of federal voting rights enforcement. 

There are many ways that unequal treatment, based on identity, manifests in public life and schooling. Emmanuel Felton, writing at The Hechinger Report, looks at an Oakland school that wants to upend inequities:

While Roses in Concrete largely serves black and Latino students from East Oakland, [founder Jeff] Duncan-Andrade chose to locate the campus on seven acres in Oakland’s hilly Redwood Heights section. The sprawling property, which will eventually grow to a K-12 school, is surrounded by well-maintained mid-century homes. The leafy neighborhood is just two blocks above the 580 freeway, which divides the city’s rich and poor. The curriculum replicates the progressive, well-rounded education for which many affluent families pay dearly — either through tuition or property taxes — but with a twist. Roses in Concrete, named after a book of poetry based on the writing of rapper Tupac Shakur, is a performing arts community school. Students are expected to delve deeply into the arts, with requirements that they try modern and jazz dance and ballet, experiment with eight instruments, and learn how to arrange music. But these lessons are taught in the context of African, Latino and Native American traditions. Singing, for example, includes songs in Ohlone, the language of the native people who inhabited the Bay Area. “[They get] everything you’d get from an elite private school, but from people who look like them,” said Duncan-Andrade.

Duncan-Andrade is a practitioner and scholar, and his work on how to cultivate hope amidst challenging learning environments is powerful. In particular, Roses in Concrete is challenging the notion that underserved children need a different kind of school than their more privileged peers, while treating all children's cultural experiences as both positive and relevant.

Elsewhere, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes in The New Yorker, arguing that we are having the exact conversations we need to be having right now:

Now is the time to recalibrate the default assumptions of American political discourse. Identity politics is not the sole preserve of minority voters. This election is a reminder that identity politics in America is a white invention: it was the basis of segregation. The denial of civil rights to black Americans had at its core the idea that a black American should not be allowed to vote because that black American was not white. The endless questioning, before the election of Obama, about America’s “readiness” for a black President was a reaction to white identity politics. Yet “identity politics” has come to be associated with minorities, and often with a patronizing undercurrent, as though to refer to nonwhite people motivated by an irrational herd instinct. White Americans have practiced identity politics since the inception of America, but it is now laid bare, impossible to evade.

Adichie's point - that de jure segregation - is the foundation for identity politics, and thus an invention of white people, is both powerful and convincing. Much of the writing about identity in politics emerges from a contemporary analysis, so I appreciate the historical antecedent. 

Speaking of reckoning with history, Yale may be putting itself on a path to revisit the renaming of "Calhoun College," which bares the name of one of history's most notorious White supremacists. Jennifer Schuessler of The New York Times has the story:

On Friday, the university announced a new procedure for considering the renaming of university buildings, along with an official reconsideration of the controversial decision last spring to keep the Calhoun name. A new — and final — verdict is expected early next year. That policy requires anyone calling for a renaming to submit a formal application, including a dossier of historical research justifying the renaming according to a set of general principles created by an independent 12-person committee named in August by the university’s president, Peter Salovey, in response to continuing furor over the Calhoun decision. Mr. Salovey, in an email, praised the committee’s report, which he said had shifted his earlier view that changing the Calhoun name, or any other, amounted to “effacing our history.” The new principles “allow us to consider renaming a building in a way that preserves history, to remember but not to honor,” he said.

I wish that the administration had taken this step sooner, especially given the powerful pressure that activist students placed on my alma mater last year. While I'm cautiously optimistic that this new policy will lead to constructive change, the university's posture demonstrates how respect for tradition often supersedes an honest reckoning with historical injustice.

Finally, on a personal note, I spent the weekend in North Carolina and Virginia, with a group of friends, counter-protesting the Ku Klux Klan's "victory parade" for Donald Trump.

Fortunately, the counter protest was large enough to spook the KKK, and they never held a rally. Instead, they had what one local newscaster called a "funeral procession" through a small town. Joanne Spataro from Vice covered the event:

North Carolina, a swing state that went to Trump and currently home to eight KKK groups and two white nationalist groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has a particularly violent history of KKK clashes with protesters. On November 3, 1979, an anti-KKK demonstration in Greensboro, ended when a caravan of Klansman and Nazis opened fire, killing five and wounding ten people ... Protesters in Pelham this Saturday armed themselves a mix of attire, readied for any outcome ... But the confrontation never came. Instead, the KKK played cat and mouse with counter protesters, first moving the parade from the morning in Pelham to the afternoon in Danville about 20 minutes away, and then back towards Pelham, and then in Danville again ... At the end of the last march, the crowd roared when Natalie Janicello of The Times-News tweeted a KKK spokesperson saying the parade "has been cancelled" since the "bottom fell out" of planning the event. Organizers also claimed it was too cold to march.The protester who shared this news shouted, "If the Klan shows their face here, we will shut them down again!" A businesswoman and resident since 1978 who had stepped out of her hat shop to see what was going on, said, "I'm just grateful, and I thank God for you all."

It's important to remember that the KKK is a domestic terror organization that has killed people, destroyed homes, and wrought devastation on Black communities in the South for decades. While parades are symbolic, even symbolic displays of violent White supremacy are important to counter, particularly given the mood of our country, and the new leadership in the White House. I'm grateful to the local organizers and activists in North Carolina for their leadership. Have a great week!