Admiration List: Kandice Sumner

This woman has some really good, and hard, things to say about education in the United States. A few quotes:

If you neglect a child long enough, you no longer have the right to be surprised when things don’t turn out well.”

“If we’re going to call public education ‘public education’ then it should be just that. Otherwise, we should call it what it really is: Poverty Insurance”

“Public education, keeping poor kids poor since 1954.”

Kandice Sumner:

 

 

Measures of Equity

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Image source: Wordery.com

That one place may be preferable to another in terms of opportunity says little about whether that first place is as equitable as it should be.

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise

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Slavery in History

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The founders of Historians Against Slavery see themselves as being supported by ample scholarly precedents as well as by these counterpart organizations. Back in the 1960s outstanding scholars of American slavery and antislavery who [were] deeply influenced by the Civil Rights Movement such as Kenneth Stampp, John Hope Franklin, Winthrop Jordan, Benjamin Quarles, and Gerda Lerner initiated a major re-writing of U.S. history that placed the problem of chattel slavery and its legacies where we find them today—as central components of the American experience.

“Using History to Make Slavery History”: The African American Past and the Challenge of Contemporary Slavery, James B. Stewart, History Department, Macalester College.

Social Inclusion (ISSN: 2183-2803)
2015, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 125-135
Doi: 10.17645/si.v3i1.143

Abstract
This article argues that contemporary antislavery activism in the United States is programmatically undermined and ethically compromised unless it is firmly grounded in a deep understanding of the African American past. Far too frequently those who claim to be “the new abolitionists” evince no interest in what the original abolitionist movement might have to teach them and seem entirely detached from a U.S. history in which the mass, systematic enslavement of African Americans and its consequences are dominating themes. As a result contemporary antislavery activism too often marginalizes the struggle for racial justice in the United States and even indulges in racist ideology. In an effort to overcome these problems, this article seeks to demonstrate in specific detail how knowledge of the African American past can empower opposition to slavery as we encounter it today

What Walter Taught

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Wordery.com

Walter made me understand why we have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent. A system that denies the poor the legal help they need, that makes wealth and status more important than culpability, must be changed. Walter’s case taught me that fear and anger are a threat to justice; they can infect a community, a state, or a nation and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous. I reflected on how mass imprisonment has littered the national landscape with carceral monuments of reckless and excessive punishment and ravaged communities with our hopeless willingness to condemn and discard the most vulnerable among us. I told the congregation that Walter’s case had taught me that the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to kill? Finally and most important, I told those gathered in the church that Walter had taught me that mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion. Walter genuinely forgave the people who unfairly accused him, the people who convicted him, and the people who had judged him unworthy of mercy. And in the end, it was just mercy toward others that allowed him to recover a life worth celebrating, a life that rediscovered the love and freedom that all humans desire, a life that overcame death and condemnation until it was time to die on God’s schedule.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Super-Predator Mythology

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Wordery.com

The predictions of “super-predators” proved wildly inaccurate. The juvenile population in America increased from 1994 to 2000, but the juvenile crime rate declined, leading academics who had originally supported the “super-predator” theory to disclaim it. In 2001, the surgeon general of the United States released a report labeling the “super-predator” theory a myth and stated that “[t]here is no evidence that young people involved in violence during the peak years of the early 1990s were more frequent or more vicious offenders than youths in earlier years.” This admission came too late for kids like Trina, Ian, and Antonio. Their death-in-prison sentences were insulated from legal challenges or appeals by a maze of procedural rules, statutes of limitations, and legal barricades designed to make successful postconviction challenges almost impossible.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Antisemitism In The Midwest

The following is created from, and inspired by, answers I have posted to questions on Quora.com.

Whether it’s racism or Antisemitism or classism (or sexism or gay bashing or whatever else) Midwesterners need to break the silence and get past the ‘it doesn’t happen here’ mythology. To this end, I am posting some of my own, personal, experiences with these issues. I am not going to post the worst experiences I have had because I’m not ready to go there, but these are a few examples from my own life:

The Name Adora Myers

The reactions people have to my name are frequently tinged with racial and antisemitic undertones. It’s not unusual for perfect strangers to respond to my name with a pregnant pause, an uncomfortably open examination of my physical being (including peering at my face and scanning my entire body like I was a bug or an animal on display at the state fair), and a growled question that is clearly fishing for proof of ethnicity. The most common questions include:

  • Is that a FAMILY name?
  • What kind of name is that?
  • That’s…different. where are you from?

When people see my name written, the reaction is similar, but they’ve already made their own decision about my ethnicity because of the way my last name is spelled. In the Midwest, this surname is most frequently spelled Meyers and Miers. The spelling Myers is both unusual and presumed to be exclusive to Jewish communities (this is not true).

In my case, the name is a modification of Mayotte, bestowed upon my family by United States government employees because my father’s family arrived to the United States (from Canada) illiterate and speaking only French – it’s a classic American story. Unfortunately, it’s a history I did not know until very recently, so I was unable to respond to conjecture with fact.

My first experience with direct antisemitism occurred in the first grade, when a teacher decided to help me along in life by ‘fixing’ my name.

My name is pronounced Adora (uh DOOR uh) Myers (MY ehrs)

The teacher pulled me aside and explained that I needed to spell it like this:

Andora (AN door uh) Meyers (MY ehrs)

This effectively erased the perceived non-white ethnicity and ‘Jewishness’ from my name.

A short time later, my mother was going through my school work, per her usual habit, when she stopped, pointed to the ‘Name’ field and said “Who is this? These aren’t your papers.”

“Yes they are,” I replied.

“This isn’t how you spell your name.”

“I know, but that’s what the teacher said I had to do.”

My mother had to walk down to the school and explain, in person, that her daughter knew how to spell her own name. The teachers stopped making me change my name on school work, but they never (over 12 years of k-12 school) stopped expressing their…opinions…of my ‘weird name.’

Interestingly enough, my school mates (the children) had no problem with it – until high school when adult/teacher/parental opinions had fully seeped into their perceptions.

Religion

I was raised a mish-mash of Christianity but the neighbors were convinced they knew what were ‘really were.’ We had no social connection to a Jewish community, so these perceptions were based on physical appearance and naming conventions. s illustrated in the example above, I had an unusual name by Midwestern standards. However, it was the early 1970s and ‘unusual names’ were something of a fad. My mother liked unusual names and my father didn’t really care, so we all had names that were real, pronounceable, reasonably easy to spell AND just outside the acceptable norm for Midwestern children.

Out of all of my siblings, my physical appearance is the closest to the stereotype of a Jewish person – as defined by people who hate Jewish people.

Children in the neighborhood would call me things like ‘Yid’ and ‘Kike’ and ‘Judas Priest’ (the rock band was big back then) to let me know they knew my family was lying about who and what we were – and they were angry and offended by both the perceived lying and what we ‘really were’.

These anti-Semitic slurs were short lived because people in the Midwest don’t say things like that to your face. Obviously, they were being said behind our backs with consistent regularity because the children knew all about it. However, the ‘we know what you really are’ comments continued with regularity throughout the Midwest and in other regions of the United States (I have done some traveling) for the rest of my life.

My best childhood friend was raised in a family that was ultra extreme far-right Christian. They made a point of aggressively recruiting me for religious events out of ‘concern for my soul.’ This resulted in several…interesting…encounters with the Christian community, but one stands out from the rest:

I agreed to attend a teen retreat. It was an all-day-Saturday thing with meals served, games, movies and prayer sessions (the usual). I attended these things mostly to support my best friend, but I generally tried to suspend judgement and hold on to a small hope that I would make some connections with truly good people. The kind of people religious-types (of ALL religions) are always claiming exist only within the halls of the faithful.

By this point I had started to notice a trend in the prayer sessions and revivals I was dragged into. There was always a point in the service when new people were expected to go up to the front and ‘accept Jesus’ in front of the community. During the first event I attended, I followed protocol (because I was an outsider) and went up to the front and did the whole thing. The next time I was expected to do the same thing, again; and I noticed I was the only person being pushed into doing this multiple times.

The same thing happened during the service at this retreat. This was the third time in a row and (being who I am) I refused to leave my seat. There was no reason for me to be placed on display over and over again, and I did not like this trend, so I decided to test the situation by quietly and pointedly remaining in my seat. I was just like 90% of the teens in attendance who did not ‘feel called’ to go to the front of the church and acted accordingly.

After the service I found myself surrounded by a group of adults and teenagers, all of them were male and my best friend was among them. My friend was angry and started almost-shouting at me about my ‘poor behavior’ during the service. What did I do? Refused to go up in front of the church and ask God for forgiveness.

I remember looking around the group and realizing that these adults had pulled together the teenagers and pressured my friend into fixing ‘the problem.’ I had to be dealt with and it was their responsibility to make sure ‘people like me’ were properly addressed. How did I know this? The teenagers kept looking at the adults for confirmation and/or direction.

My best friend was completely worked up into an emotional tantrum, throwing his finger in my face saying (and I quote): “You! You of all people should be BEGGING God for forgiveness!”

As he walked away, clearly furious with me and the situation he was placed in (I knew him well enough to figure that part out), he growled under his breath “we all know what you really are.”

That was when I stopped associating with any form of Christian-right community. I did not like what it did to my best friend and I refused to be used as proof of the Christian superiority in any from, most particularly through the performance of weekly public-humiliation-of-the Jew ceremonies.

High School

I attended two high schools. I could tell stories from both. This story is from the school I graduated from.

It was the home stretch. I was months…weeks!….away from graduation. I had been planning my escape from Wisconsin farm country for months, including putting great effort into researching colleges. This was during a time before the internet, so researching colleges required an encyclopedia-sized book listing colleges and/or assistance from a school counselor. I pestered my counselor repeatedly, despite his adamant refusal to provide assistance because (and I quote): “the best you can hope for is technical school and marriage.”

My grades were good enough to get into college (despite the odds – but that’s another story) and my ACT scores were actually quite high. I’d managed to secure the contact information for exactly one college and had my acceptance letter tucked away among what little I owned back at the family farm.

In short, life had been tough for a long time but I was finally seeing a small glimmer of light in the form of college.

Then HE entered the picture. My home room teacher was one of many adults who did not approve of my existence (in general) or my presence in their community (specifically).

7 weeks before graduation, he started openly and blatantly handing me detention slips for the actions of other students. On several occasions he actually stood up and announced that I was getting another hour of detention because THAT KID, on the other side of the room, was making noise.

I am an introvert who loves to read and used study hall to finish homework and help my friends study and/or understand assignments. My life as a poverty survivor was difficult and working part-time jobs and the family farm took away a lot time. I needed study hall to complete catch-up work. I was NOT a problem student. If anything, I was entirely to quiet.

Rgardless, I was given detention for things I did not do, EVERY SINGLE DAY for several weeks. This quickly added up and the school had a serve-detention-or-do-not-graduate policy. In other words, anyone who had unserved detention was denied a diploma.

One particular morning, this homeroom teacher handed me yet another pink slip for the actions of others with a sneer, a little reminder of the graduation policy and the words: “We don’t need any more of you people in the colleges.”

Luck came my way in the form of the vice principal. When I was called into his office, I sat in the bad-student-chair looking around at all of the football trophies and though we are not going to get along.

He went over my file, explained the policy to me, tated that I was very close to having so much detention that it would not be possible for me to graduate, even if I spent the rest of the school year serving it out. He was doing the tough-man-talks-to-wayward-teen routine and I’d reached the point of being beyond done with this situation, this town and all of the crap these people insisted on dumping on me and my life. This resulted in my getting uncharacteristically tough in return.

I explained exactly what happened, who committed the acts recorded on those slips and how I had absolutely no intention of serving detention for things I did not do. I fully expected to be expelled and was already beginning to rack my brains for GED resources – maybe I could take the test and continue on with college as planned.

Unexpectedly, the vice principal responded with stunned shock and proceeded to negotiate with me. I had to serve two weeks of detention, because he couldn’t get away with clearing it all out. Thoughts of completing a GED eliminated what fight I had left. I agreed to the deal.

The teacher was replaced in my homeroom for the rest of the semester. To the best of my knowledge, he was never fired or disciplined outside of that one change during that semester.

So, I got lucky and was allowed to graduate.

Children in Prison

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Wordery.com

By 2010, Florida had sentenced more than a hundred children to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses, several of whom were thirteen years old at the time of the crime. All of the youngest condemned children—thirteen or fourteen years of age—were black or Latino. Florida had the largest population in the world of children condemned to die in prison for non-homicides.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Racism in the Midwest

The following article is created from (and inspired by) a collection of answers to questions originally posted to Quora.

Racism and Narcissism

People who perpetrate hate crimes do so based solely on their own interpretation of race. If the perpetrator hates community X and you are a member of community Y but, according to the perpetrator’s definition of X, you ‘look like x’ then you will experience the full brunt of hate crimes committed by the perpetrator against community X. In other words, when faced with race-based crime, ‘race’ is defined by the perpetrator’s perceptions.

Racism At A Wisconsin Roller Rink

I was in the 7th grade, so it was the 81-82 school year (if my math serves me). All of the girls in the 6th-8th grade classes were going on a field trip with the 6th-8th grade teachers, who were also all-female. It was an official girls-night out! The plan was to go roller skating and out to eat (pizza, if I remember correctly).

I was attending a small private school, so this was a rather small group. The racial makeup of the group was white women, white girls, 1 black girl and me.

We were standing in line at the roller rink, waiting to buy tickets to get into the building, rent our skates and hit the rink. The man selling the tickets leaned out the window. He was a white man with blond hair, angry eyes and one of those no-one-gets-anything-past-me smirks. His eyes fell on the black girl…and me.

His faced twisted in disgust when he looked at the black girl. He stared at me for a long time. He had very angry eyes. He turned to the nearest teacher, pointed to the black girl and said she couldn’t enter the roller rink. No blacks allowed.

Then he stared at me for a long time…again. The other girls physically stepped away. It was an instinctual action on their part. I had no choice but to face this man down, alone. Fear compounded by confusion was tangible. He made another face of disgust. Less twisted but no less ugly, and gave his permission. I could enter.

The teachers looked at each other, clearly stunned, confused and completely at a loss for what to do. One of the teachers volunteered to take the black girl home. The rest put not-real smiles on their faces and returned to ushering the remaining girls into the rink.

I spent the rest of the evening skating with the feeling of eyes glaring at my back. It was just a feeling. I don’t know if I was actually being watched. I also spent most of the evening skating alone. I wasn’t the only one feeling the fear and it directly and negatively affected the experience for everyone involved.

How This Illustrates White Privilege

  • The undeniably white girls got in without question.
  • I got in after uncomfortable scrutiny.
  • The black girl went home.

Midwestern Mores

What the teachers did in this situation was wrong, there is no denying that, but I hold no ill-will towards them. I do not condone the choice they made but my memory of these events is one of floundering not malice – they really and truly did not know what to do.

Having said that, I believe this is an opportunity to explore one of the reasons why racism and antisemitism are so difficult to address in the Midwest: Minnesota Nice.

Mid-westerners are highly non-demonstrative and indirect. People in general, and women in particular, do not make a spectacle of themselves. They do not (generally speaking) address problems in a forthright manner or say mean things to another person’s face. They put on a smile, drop hints, use Midwestern-talk to issue warnings or establish boundaries and talk behind closed doors (or gossip behind your back).

For example, among Midwesterner’s the word ‘different’ is an insult. If someone declares someone or something to be ‘different’ then (make no doubt about it) both an insult and a warning have been issued because you are standing right on the edge of the proverbial line. If a Midwesterner declares someone or something to be ‘weird’ then you have crossed the proverbial line and gone knee deep into the danger zone. For most of the rest of the United States ‘different’ and ‘weird’ barely register as insults, much less warnings.

This lends power to overt racism because people do not know how to handle someone being so…obvious. It also fosters a culture of racism that can be hard to see or define. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say dreadful things in private conversation and…when I called them on it…toss off my concern with comments like “we all know [nasty statement] is true but we’re not going to tell [race/community] that.”

As illustrated by the roller-skating story, some people express overt racism; but (generally speaking) this kind of behavior is discouraged because it is overt. Midwesterners don’t act like that in public. The knee-jerk cultural response to this kind of situation is to find a way to bring things back to acceptable non-demonstrative social behavior. Therefore, these teachers put on their smiles and did what it took to make it appear as though nothing was wrong.

Despite the name, Minnesota Nice is a cultural norm throughout the Midwest. The association with the state of Minnesota is primarily due to the popularity of the National Public Radio program Lake Wobegon Days.

For more information on Midwestern culture and racism see:

What Are You – Really?

adora

This is me in the late 1970s.

If you are looking at this photo and wondering how or why anyone would think I was anything but white – that’s good. Sit with that for a minute.

By Midwestern standards my physical appearance is considered borderline.

Another fact that the average Midwesterner will refuse to discuss: Those who don’t like People of Color (POC) almost invariably include Jewish people in the POC category. Anyone who is considered borderline (like myself) tends to be placed in the ‘Jewish’ category.

Many years ago I learned to never EVER bring up the hate crimes, racist activities or antisemitic actions I witnessed or direly experienced. Since my physical appearance is close enough to acceptable or “real white” (so I’m told) I am allowed to ‘pass’ as white most of the time. During those times when I was dealing with the aftermath of a negative experience I was always told that people are going to do these things to me (teachers and other adults: “Of course they did that!”) but it didn’t count because I’m not really Jewish or a Person of Color (POC).

I guess that makes me target practice. (Lucky me.)

Clearly placing some people into an in-between racial racial category, creates fertile ground for enforcing the particular type of racism that exists in the Midwest. This is done (very effectively) through surprising and terrorizing people who make the mistake of trying to befriend someone whose appearance is borderline. For example:

I was sitting at an outdoor picnic table, taking a lunch break at work, when a coworker sat down beside me and pulled out an envelope of family photos. She started showing them, one-by-one, and commenting on how similar I looked to her relatives. Honestly, she was right, I did look like many of her family members.

A secretary interrupted our pleasant conversation with some nasty commentary about my family lineage, implying both mixed racial heritage and Jewish culture. It was unusually overt for Iowa (where I lived at the time) but it was effective.

The woman with the photos got very nervous and started trying to discretely slip everything back into her purse. After getting everything packed, she made a stuttering denial of my physical similarity to her relatives and left the area as quickly as she could. No, my family isn’t that. No need to look here. she never spoke to me again.

Technically, I could have (and probably should have) reported this experience to my employer’s human resources department, but I was still operating under the belief that I was not allowed to address these things because I’m not ‘really’ a Person of Color (POC) or Jewish. Therefore, I did not have a right to report a problem because the problem couldn’t possibly exist.

Another fact about the Midwest: Violent hate crimes occur with far more regularity than anyone realizes and those crimes are perpetrated against anyone who is considered POC, including those who are perceived as being Jewish. These crimes frequently go unreported, or unrecognized (by the police and other authority figures), so they remain off the official books.

No REALLY…What ARE You?

For those who simply must know my ‘real’ racial identity, feel free to review the genealogy postings on this blog (Genealogy | Adora Myers) and make your own damned decision.

If you decide you hate ‘what I am’ then get in line.

(grumble)

Financial Inequality, Mass Incarceration and Homelessness

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Image Source: Wordery.com

People who are not poor and who are not dependent upon public assistance for housing need not fear that, if their son, daughter, caregiver, or relative is caught with some marijuana at school or shoplifts from a drugstore, they will find themselves suddenly evicted—homeless. But for countless poor people—particularly racial minorities who disproportionately rely on public assistance—that possibility looms large. As a result, many families are reluctant to allow their relatives—particularly those who are recently released from prison—to stay with them, even temporarily.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander