Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It Was Racist


I was reluctant about today's class going in.
We read Mary Waters Ethnic Options and her book Black Identity. I reviewed
Black Identity which focuses on the process
of West Indian Americans
coming to identify
or avoiding identifying as Black.

The book contained lot's of qualitative interview's with West Indian
folks talking about why they don't like African Americans,
why they are Black, but not like Black Americans, that Black Americans
are lazy, expect handouts etc.

I had no idea how the class was going to react to this.

Fascinating stuff, though, right?

Especially when you look at the presence of African
Americans vs. West
Indian Americans on four year
college campuses and in graduate,
law and business school in the Northeast.

The book is awesome in how it gets at how first generation
verses second
generation West Indian immigrants deal with
assimilation, with proving
that they are not Black and also with
identifying as Black. The most
fascinating part for me was learning that women
who worked as teachers
and nurses in Jamaica, came to the
Brooklyn, worked as teacher and
nurses yet, class wise
their lives were not the same.

The material difference is the on their salary in Jamaica, they
were middle class,
so they could afford nannies and house keepers,
and their housing was more
spacious and safer.
In the US, housing was more expensive, there was more
for jobs and education for their children but the housing dollar
go very far.

Which brings me to my classmate.

Jamaica's system is based on the British system, which means that children

are tested and tracked at a very young age. They either go into vocational
track or academic track.

Apparently Germany and much of Europe is the same way.

My Black classmate said, that he agrees with this.

I responded saying that standardized tests are measures of familial wealth

not student aptitude. And the aptitude of a four year old cannot be measured

because they have only been on the earth 48 months. He responded saying
that the British system is better because it separates the
students early
and that there are some who shouldn't be in school and college.

I said that this was racist. We do not know what children are capable of at 4.

They responded saying that it wasn't racist.

I said, it was both racist AND classist because of the disparate
impact that the same policy has on Black boys in the US. Ann Fergusons
Bad Boys
talks about this at length, if you want to read more about it. It's
an awesome study on a public elementary school in Berkeley,
hones in on the ways in which school policy and teacher subjectivity
impact how Black boys are disproportionately disciplined and placed
in special ed classes.

I asked him how he reconciled his approval of early testing and prediction
with the fact that standardized tests measure familial wealth not student

He responded saying "Yeah, tests are culturally biased but math isn't."

My eyes rolled. That did NOT refute nor address my argument.

Another classmate, a white woman who is in marketing asked, "Isn't it

better for us to asses the children at 4 rather than at 12 so that they
don't languish
in the system?"

I responded no. The issue isn't when they are assessed the issue is
a system that serves their interests not the interests of school
administrators or corporations. We need to move out of binary
modes of thinking and ask ourselves whose interests are served by

She said aren't all children about the same at four? I said no, all children are not the
same. Each child's education attainment is related to how much money her parents
earn and how much social capital her parents have and lastly how much
intergenerational wealth a family has.

I only wish that I asked them, "What would you do if your child
tests into the vocational track at 4?" I imagine, I hope the responses
would have been more compassionate.

It isn't lost on me that these people will be future professors,
bureaucrats, marketers, political advisers, researchers etc.

I see it as my job to say something.

I was proud of myself for calling a spade a spade, at least I was earlier,
this evening. As the night has warn on I am tired. School is awesome,
but in some ways the more I learn the more it appears that
racism is manifested on a civilizational level.

In some ways, this experience showed me the racism runs on
a deep civilization level. I take this term from the paper "Coloring
Epistemologies: Are Our Research Epistemologies Racially Biased?"

In the paper, James Sheurich and Michelle Young lay out three levels of racism.
I list them below:

The first is institutional racism, which exists when instituitons or ogranizations
have standard operating procedures, intended or unintended, hurt members
of one or more races in relation to members of the dominant race.

The second is societal racism exist when prevailing societal or cultural assumptions
or norms, concepts or habits favor on race over one or more other races. For
example, the OJ trial revealed societal racism.

The third is epistemologoical racism comes from or emerges out of
what we have labeled the civilizational level, the deepest, most primary level
of a culture of people. The civilizational level is the the level that emcompasses he
deepest, most primary assumptions about the nature of reality (ontology)...
On one level these experiences remind me of just how privilaged
I am, and have been, on another it reminds me of how other children
get screwed by bureaucrats on the regular.

It reminds me of how the teachers who stepped into my life when my city,
Oakland, and my family were both submerged by the crack epidemic.

It reminds me of how these angels saved my academic life.

I hope I can be an angel for someone else.

The social costs of being a model minority, of being a Black women are taxing.

I hope I don't go crazy trying to make sense of it all.

Pray for me.


Unknown said...

Interesting article. I am a bit confused by the terminology 'British system'..was it a system the British set up for Jamaican education, because such tests do not occur in the British school system today, unless you may be referring to the Learning and Development requirements..dunno.

Model Minority said...

I Julian.

Are you Jamaican? I may be wrong. If so perhaps you can help.

The text was written late 90's.

Are the learning and development requirements the same as being tracked at an early age, ie elementary school?


Unknown said...

Wow -- the two classmates seem kinda myopic.

Unknown said...

Nah, I'm not Jamaican, but I'm living in Britain now, and it was just confused by the term British System. From what you describe, I think the article talks about the Eleven Plus exam, which ranks kids and places them into schools with some going into vocational schools. But it was given out to kids of eleven and above as the name suggests. And it hasn't really being practiced since the late 60s. It's was a much bigger thing in Germany tho.
But I don't know of anyone giving such exams or tests to four year olds, maybe Jamaica does/did it differently. But I understand your concern about the usefulness of such tests.

...and I really enjoy your blog

the prisoner's wife said...

I write this as I am sitting in my classroom waiting for students and their parents to come through for parent conferences. Ironic, eh?

a. SOME West-Indians do feel like American blacks are lazy. I have been privy to this thinking, as I am with a Jamaican man. We often got into it (and get into it) because he says that Americans are lazy and wait for handouts. He says this because in Jamaica, there is no such thing as welfare & he's had to struggle for whatever he's gotten. I counter with the fact that our histories are not the same. Yes, we are black. Yes, we both suffer & have suffered forms of oppression, but Jamaica (and other W.I. countries) are overwhelmingly black. So their role models span a large range of existences fro Shottas to Politicians. And I as counter that just because SOME American Blacks may, in fact, be lazy, that does not mean we all are.

b. OMG @ testing 4 year olds!! while i think vocational training/schools are NECESSARY and missed in public schools, i think it's ridiculous to track kids at 4 and determine their life. I mother a 4 year old. He is amazingly bright, but he his speech is slightly behind his peers, he doesn't write well (his name), but he can tell you about everything & he's already using the computer better than my mother. Would he pass a standardized test? i dunno. but it's ridiculous to even ASK him to at this stage. Standardize testing, to me, is a joke. It's just a means to distribute money. It has nothing to do with making sure students are well-rounded learners, and everything to do with money. Period. Just because my SAT score may have been dope doesn't mean I could write a graduate level (or even undergraduate level) essay. It doesn't mean I can think critically about the world I'm in, and it doesn't predict what I'll be in the future. We need to move away from these arbitrary tests, and more towards looking at students holistically

Model Minority said...


Okay. That seems to clear it up. 11 is still too young to determine aptitude.

Glad you like the blog.

I am not sure which age the testing starts. I arbitrarily threw out 4, and we ran with it yesterday. You and I both know that treating children holistically is the antithesis of being racist.
The was in which the vocational/academic track manifests varies country by country.

In the US it is 3rd grade.

I had no idea that discussing racism between West Indian and Black folks would be so thick.
But then again, the price immigrant folks pay for becoming American is leaving ones ethnicity behind and remaining firmly committed to hating NIGGERS, so, there you go.

Ciara Pierce said...

"The issue isn't when they are assessed the issue is
creating a system that serves their interests not the interests of school
administrators or corporations. We need to move out of binary
modes of thinking and ask ourselves whose interests are served by

I appreciate you making this point, especially in the your classroom. People often make quality judgements of others based on academic achievements, which usually translates to upward social mobility for black folks. For instance, if you have a college degree and a good job then you're obviously special. This is not the case. The "system" was not created for subjugated groups to go beyond a certain point in terms of income, social class, and education, at least not in significant numbers, but to uphold and enforce a stratified structure. American education teaches us to "support" or reform a society aimed at preserving white privilege , not to criticize or change it, which is probably why your classmates arrived at their particular conclusions.

Also, I've visited the British West Indies two summers in a row, Jamaica and Trinidad, for service learning and study abroad, and the Eleven Plus exam still exists.

Vee (Scratch) said...

I'm not sure whether or not the situation you describe was racist or not but the early testing and aptitude tests does not make sense. There are so many people who achieved great academic success after 9th grade, after high school or even after flunking out of their 1st year of college.

manaen said...

You've hit upon several issues I had with our (U.S.) educational system when I was in the secondary-ed program and student-teaching.
One issue is that our system tests students on material recently covered, identifies and quantifies the deficiencies in their learning, AND THEN MOVES ON. As one writer (forget which, this was in the 1970's) noted, in Aristotle's time, teachers were judged by how well their students did after they left their teachers' influence but now we judge the students while they are under the teachers' influence.
From this, I agree with testing children early and often because the problem I see isn't the early detection of lagging development but in our failure to use that knowledge to direct increased help to who most needs it. Instead, we progressively remove their opportunities to excel. Early testing shouldn't be used as a predictor but as an indicator of needed help. What we're doing now systematically perpetuates the disadvantages of those families left behind. It’s like a medical doctor who would use their diagnosis of an illness to remove medical care because people with this illness tend to get worse without increased attention.

Anonymous said...

I would think that the earlier the tracking is, the more representative it would be of individual ability. The racial achievement gap is caused by supplemental teaching, which is typically not affordable to the poor, and compounds itself every year spent waiting to test the kids.

Anonymous said...

You did what?!?!?

You arbitrarily threw out age 4 and ran with it? It didn't occur to you to do some research into the matter? Or were you so pissed at their reliance on stereotypes, ( a great deal of which they picked up from American media, by the way), that you decided that it was just fine and dandy to create one about them yourself? I went to school there. This is a thumbnail sketch of the system.They DONT, I repeat, they DO NOT test kids at age four. When I went to school there, the kids get tested at age 12. They get tracked into high schools, and what are called technical schools, which are more job oriented. At grade 11 when the kids are between 17-19, they take an exam administered by the Caribbean Examination Council, at which point if they pass, they graduate. If they can afford college, they go. If not, they work. May I request that before you make ill-inforned statements about stuff, that you please, please research the matter? Please?

M.Dot. said...

@Unusual Music
While I appreciate your excitement, and your willingness to comment, Before you come into my house, READ the post and the comments.

Your issue has been already addressed above.


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