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Because you don’t want something to be as it is ~ does not make it not be as it is. Telling your son that he is equal to everybody else does not make him dismiss reality. He is very aware that he is spoken to/at differently. That their smiles hold a wariness, or a “Poor kid – you know it’s got to be hard for him living there…” You son is fully aware that he is perceived as “less than, wounded, need to keep an eye on, a B is probably the best he can do…” And stop quibbling on language. Don’t get angry about it. Anger does not change reality. But please, do not deny reality. Pretentious blindness does nothing to change reality…and it surely does not help him navigate those waters. If you want your son to look beyond race ~ then say that. Tell him: “Don’t let it be a block,” “Don’t let it define you,” “Climb over it,” “Show yourself what you’re made of”… Use all those wonderfully supportive phrases – and back them up! But never ever tell him that race does not matter. Because he knows differently. Because he is going to look at you as the biggest liar in the whole world. Because he trusted you to protect and guide him. Be kindly – but truthful. “RACE DOES NOT MATTER” is a lie. Don’t ever lie to your son – definitely not about that!!

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M.P. recently wrote me a sweetly ill-informed response to a guest article I penned for the Progressive Magazine.  (see February issue).  I thought I’d share my response in an open letter. We all might learn something.

Dear Mark:  Let me first thank you.  For without engagement, even if powerfully and aggressively half-educated, we will not move forward. You do advance a strong point…not around the issue of illegitimacy, as that in and of itself is non-causative. There has been no identified causal relationship between a child born out of wedlock, parents who choose not to marry, divorced parents, adoptive children, or children born to same-sex parents and what you so aptly term “the fate.” I recognize your word-choice “illegitimacy” and “impregnating” as a fevered attempt at inciting divisiveness. Again, I smile in acknowledgement.  Your use of those terms is “nice” but your argument lacks legitimacy. (I am using your own words – pretty cool eh!) What you allude to, and I agree with, is a too-early sexual maturing of many of our young men. This tends to be needs and environmentally-based.  Any environment lacking in adult, male influence and supervision will demonstrate this.  (please see,http://thesestonewalls.com/gordon-macrae/in-the-absence-of-fathers-a-story-of-elephants-and-men/)  Why this environment consistently lacks male adult presence, is socially and historically based. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.  One of your greatest challenges though Mark, is the stalled perception of singularity.  I would strongly encourage you to expand your readiness to learn on this issue, because we do need you as a partner in this change.

Thank you so much for sharing.

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I’ve been sitting her thinking of something very profound to say.  It is Black History Month after all.  I was looking for things to push up to the sun and celebrate.  I was looking for these great achievements.  And I got more and more sad and stuck. So I thought I’d share my ten top wishes with you

  1. I wish that we as Black adults would apologize to our children for somehow leaving them the impression that we had arrived.
  2. I wish that we as Black people would take responsibility for teaching our children their history, and not leaving it White educators.  Schools have their place.  Do your job. That is why our kids think that the “N” word is cool!
  3. I wish we could truly understand how coupling education with property taxes cripples our children.
  4. I really wish that rappers, entertainers, and athletes with money begin investing in our children’s education.  Open schools!
  5. I wish they’d find me something other than a White savior…one who looks more like me.
  6. I wish we could find more rounded stories of our history to recreate in the form of a movie.  Give me some balance.  There must be other stories you could find.
  7. I wish I could hug the creators of the two biracial advertisements. One is with the cereal. The other is with the swift-duster.
  8. I wish our school choirs and choruses would inject one or two African American songs in their repertoire.  Not the same tired Negro Spirituals.  It just might encourage my kids to join and parents to attend.
  9. I wish we would stop parading ourselves with food and song & dance every February, for some idiots to pat us on the back.  Stop shining shoes!
  10. Did I mention that I wish my Savior looked a bit more like me.  Little dark tan and rounded nose would help.

But I’m not going to hold my breath.  I have not seen evidence of us jogging just yet. We’re still in the walking chair.

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  1. The challenge you/we have is earlier. Our kids’ initial contact with the system is around 13 – 14.  Since that is the “initial contact” point – then the “warm-up” or preparation is much earlier (possible 5 – 6 yrs old).  So these “initial patterns” are seeding much earlier.  Part of this has to do with deficit self- and cultural-identity models.  These are developed very early in life – but that is another conversation.
  2. Education has to be relevant to (a) life experiences, and (b) the projection of life experiences.  The lack of relevance in our current education system to these children’s lives (who they are, where they are, where they see themselves going) serves to keep #1 (above) as “normal.”
  3. Because our penal system is based on a “business model,” there is no incentive to decrease the prison population.  It pays us to jail them.
  4. Because there is financial reward, vis-a-vis census, in building prisons in rural areas (we get the numbers while retaining the politics of “safety”), there is no incentive/reason/cost to stop.
  5. See “The Delinquents” – a program done by 60 Minutes on the consequences following the removal of elephant bulls from the pack.  Briefly:  Without checks & balances, young children become “adultified” – increases in testosterone, estrogen, et cetera.  They become sexual very early.  They become aggressive.  Removing adults from the environment leaves a void that will be filled.  Voids are “always” filled!  You may not like what it’s filled with, but it will be filled.  See Chicago: With the increased incarceration of the gang leaders, our kids are blindly killing themselves and each other.  VOIDS WILL BE FILLED.
  6. Now we come to post-incarceration job opportunities.  Color is a factor.  Everything being equal, there is a different internal (guttural) impact that Barry Bonds has on the “hiring” population than Roger Clements has on that same population.  This is natural.  We may not like it – but there are many things we do not like that are what they are.  Do not harp on it.  Do not make it the central course.  Simply recognize that race is a factor.  Access is a factor.  Education is a factor.  Financial solvency is a factor.  This is as true for 2013, as it was for 1850.

So you will have to (a) identify, through research, those areas, jobs, business people who would be most present to offering jobs – not a second chance…a job.  What are the personality characteristics that would lend someone to be willing to engage in this process…to be willing to offer an ex-convict a job?

  1. You will have to increase the percentage of first-generation ethnic minorities (Blacks, Latinos) who have businesses, and whom you can leverage to offer job opportunities.  (SECRET) You will find a greater level of “willingness to engage” amongst first-generation ethnic minorities than any other.  Promoting and marketing toward ethnic minority athletes and entertainers who are already doing this would be useful.
  2. Practical preparation:  Jail is not a cognitive environment, despite all the rhetoric.  Jail is authoritarian-behavioral.  It is, at best, behavioral-cognitive.  (You do as I say, or else!!!) The only other environment that has “demonstrable” success in behavioral-cognitive leading to insight, is the Army.  The challenge, therefore, is: recognizing and acknowledging the truth of the jail system (authoritarian), given the success of the Army system (authoritarian) – how do we train these young men for jobs post-sentence. There is a potential marriage somewhere here.  Good luck with that one.  (I did not articulate this as clearly as I would want, but I hope you get the idea.) There is a successful model out there.  Use it. Engage with it.
  1. Finally (and closing the circle):  Recognize that we, all of us, become less and less malleable as we get older.  You are trying to impact change, you are trying to mold as early as possible.  It becomes more and more difficult to mold a plant (a person) the more it (he, she) matures.  This is not simply a behavioral concept or an observation.  This is both biological and necessary.  This is how the mind (necessarily) lays down memories, which become patterns, which become automatic, which become “normal.”  When “normal” becomes shared, it becomes “cultural to the environment.”  Not “cultural” – – – “cultural to the environment.”  Those are two different things.  You are actually, therefore, trying to shift “normal,” not through pathologizing, but through advancing a new theoretical concept of “normal.”  This takes time, and the development of a critical mass – that offers a shared alternative, perspective.  It’s like a teeter-totter.  You’re trying to balance it.  If you try to takeaway “normal” you will be rejected.  Establish an achievable alternative, which opens up new avenues, which establishes and new “normal.” Image

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Dear Dr. Al

How can teachers help students who may have difficult
home lives become successful?

A

 

Dear A,

The easy answer is to do as much in school as can be
done in school.  Relieve the children of
as much of the additional stress, on top of the already highly unfair and
stressful home life, as you possibly can.
No homework.  Keep schools within
the neighborhood…comfortable, safe, walk-to-school distance.  Establish after-school social, academic, and
integrative opportunities.  Provide pre-
and post-school meals.  Conduct home
visits: teacher, social worker, school psychologist, principal.  Anything that takes the additional burden off
the kids would help.  I have been in
houses, right here in Madison, where there are no tables, no chairs, no lamps,
no clear space designated for academic pursuit.
I have been in houses, right here in Madison, where the living room
floor and couch double as mattresses…mattresses that have to be given up when
family from Chicago come to visit.  I
have been in homes, right here in Madison, where the eldest male or female
child is the parent, picking up his/her younger siblings after school and
caring for them.  I have had the
experience, right here in Madison, where a child refused to come to school
because her mother was on dialysis – and she was not going to take the chance
to come home to a dead parent.  I have
seen, right here in Madison, where a child had to carry the emotional burden of
walking past his mother everyday on the street on his way to school.  Not one of these examples is made-up, and
they are all very current.

Who knows?  Mummy
may have to work, or mummy may simply not be available to that challenge.

As much additional stress as you can take off that
child’s slender frame, to help it from bending so dangerously close to
breaking, would be supportive and highly appreciated.

 

Thank you for your question.

Dr. Al

 

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Dear Dr .Al,

When our class met with the mayor he talked about the
possibility of forming an academy for African Americans.  Do you think this would be advantageous for
the improvement of cultural learning, or do you think this could be detrimental
due to the segregation that would be created between Caucasian and African
American students?

Student.

 

Dear S,

What you’re asking here is about the relationship
between “cultural learning” and academic success…and by extension, if “cultural
learning“ is best delivered within the context of an Afro-centric environment –
within an Afro-centric curriculum. There is enough data to suggest that there
is tremendous social and academic benefit to holding a positive historical
cultural self identity (HiCSI), and home cultural self-identity (HoCSI).  HiCSI has to deal with learning one’s
history, foods, music, the story of one’s beginnings, language, traditions,
etc. and viewing it as a strength. This is what the Turtle school in Green Bay
is based on.  HiCSI deals with positive
strong messages delivered within the context of the home.  So in this case, your parents are delivering
the messages of who you are and how you represent yourself, your family, your
culture.  This is what many immigrants
do.  They teach their children what it means
to be African, Latino, Asian, etc.  The
children may not be taught the history, per say, but they are bathed in the
language, the music, the foods, clothing, etc.
This is central to a student’s success as it represents both the base or
launching-pad for ethnic minority students…as well as a place of strength and
safety (a home) to retreat to when emotionally challenged.  Now, let’s take this to your question.

If we accept that this “learning”  is integral to a student’s academic success,
and that this “learning” needs to be secured early during a child’s formative
years, (particularly since you have competing messages) then either the child
gets this in the home or in the school…or is defined and defines himself
through the messages in the environment.
If these “learnings” are not being delivered
adequately/appropriately/satisfactorily in the current school environment; and
if its not being delivered adequately/appropriately/satisfactorily in the
current home environment, and we acknowledge its importance to academic
success…then we simply find an environment that would do it.  This is the basis of the argument for many of
the charter schools.

Relative to the segregation part of your question “segregation that would be created between
Caucasian and African American students
,” (a) I do not see how different
that is than what we have today, and (b) maintaining a weakened posture has
done nothing to enhance or advance the process of integration.

 

Thank you for your question.

Dr. Al

 

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The original piece can be found at: http://www.npr.org/2011/02/18/133848837/segregation-in-america-dragging-on-and-on.  Please read.  Below is my response.  I invite your response.

There are a number of reasons for what you observe. (1.) Early immigrants naturally seek out others-like-self (comfort, familiarity, etc). (2.) A high percentage of early immigrants, unless in college or university, fall within the lower socio-economic strata. They move to areas that they can afford in order to satisfy those primary needs. (3.) As they become more solvent they move into more middle-class neighborhoods. (4.) As their children become more acculturated, they move into more middle-class neighborhoods. (5.) Whereas many immigrants. from diverse cultures, enter the U.S. at a zero or negative 3 on the Emotional Perception scale, African Americans (as a group) sit at -8. There is less emotional willingness, within the larger “power” population, to allow African Americans the freedom of integration. There are many reasons for this – not to be discussed here. However, this is clearly evidenced where one Black with a foreign accent is afforded greater freedom of engagement, even after controlling for education, than an American Black. …or when a lighter-skin Latino or Black is still perceived as “safer” and hence more able to negotiate and navigate a variety of cultural environments. It is truly not just this one.

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