White Right!

There is something I find intolerable: white nationalist, right wing racists. The very idea that anybody is better than anybody else is simply the arrogance of ignorance. But to compound this perspective with the acceptance of violence as an expression of that blatant distortion is frankly bestial. I have long held an intolerance for the intolerant, but the rise of supremacist organizations and threats to more, and sometimes less, recent immigrant people re-plumbs the depths of inhumanity which genuine Americans and indeed all fully human beings deplore.

Whose place is this anyway? The first whites arrived as invaders to a relatively sparsely occupied continent. Later they were joined by other immigrants, and captive or coerced African slaves and Chinese laborers who were brought here, generally against their will and then nearly universally refused repatriation. Simultaneously, the real original occupants were being systematically exterminated through officially sanctioned genocide, or imprisoned onto reservations.

Using the white nationalists’ argument, white, black and yellow people must all pack up and leave the place to the scant few remaining native Americans. But where should we go? Our original homelands are now overcrowded. I suggest other planets, preferably unoccupied by sentient life, lest we wind up booted off those planets too, in three or four hundred years.

Or we could accept that we are all humans living on one planet which we should all be trying to save before we face global self-destruction.

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The Problem with the “Achievement Gap”

Words carry baggage. A gap in a society has a near side and a far side. We put people on one side or the other. “We” are of course on this side and “they” are on the other. So a gap forms groups, absorbing individuals into one group or another. “Gap” and “group” are constructs imposed on reality, not derived from it.

If the separating measure used in creating a gap is achievement, it ignores the fact that achievement occurs on a continuum. So “gap” is a false construct, which not only does not accurately reflect reality, but which must serve some other agenda as well.

When we align the achievement-gapped construct with the long-standing race construct, we simply reinforce the notion of racial difference. In addition to focusing our attention on achievement, one very impersonal aspect of education’s many acculturating functions, it turns our attention away from the broader cultural and institutional aspects of a society that so stubbornly exclude individuals from opportunity and access to full and equitable participation based on superficial characteristics, such as skin color.

The achievement gap is only a glimpse of the vastly larger culture gap from which we suffer, and for which there is no self-elevated committee, council or cause resourceful enough to correct us, it seems. Even the good news is bad: we are not the only ones. Almost every culture on this planet suffers the same twisted, albeit self-serving, perspective on reality. Markers of “group” difference are plentiful—race, religion, ethnicity—all social constructs that have no basis in essential reality.

The problem, as I see it, is that there may be no solution to a “gapped” world. In the absence of the motivation of six billion plus individuals, there may only be resignation or eternal angst. Given how many of the world’s people will read this article, what are the chances?

Meanwhile of course, we can use “achievement gap” as a political tool for funding and policy decisions, the other agenda.

The More Things Change…

Dickens’ Spirit of Christmas Present said it 170 years ago: if nothing is done to correct it, discrimination and poverty will remain the doom of humanity:

clip_image002“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Some may blame the poor and oppressed for their condition, and thereby justify punishing them further. Or some may use that condition to their benefit, manipulating politics and economics to further separate the victims of poverty and discrimination from resource and power. In just such a way some blame the schools, the teachers and the unions for the outcome of such conditions in education.

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

“Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares,” Motoko Rich, Amanda Cox and Matthew Bloch, New York Times, April 29, 20162

In reality, we have all inherited these poisons to our civilization, and we must all—from the meek and humble to the rich and powerful—join together to rid ourselves from them. We could be the generation of Americans who are truly great enough to face our doom and beat the odds. Yet too often we blame the victims and beat the scapegoats. Meanwhile American’s soul is festering.

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1 The online text: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm#link11 <

2 The interactive graphics show systems that were studied. Find yours. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/04/29/upshot/money-race-and-success-how-your-school-district-compares.html <

Humanity is not data-driven

There is much concern about the “Learning Gap.” The learning gap is really two undeniable things: a shame for our purportedly egalitarian society and a measurable fact. The ‘shame’ is in many aspects comforting and the ‘fact’ bears all the weight of the fact that there are three sheets of paper sticking out from under my computer monitor. We choose shame; it’s a feature of our Judeo-Christian cultural origins. We worship facts because they are sure and fixed and immutable. And the Learning Gap is characterized by the gap between the objectivity of the facts—data, and the subjectivity of the shame it engenders.

The ninety-second of the Roman Catholic dogma, one of a set of beliefs treated as fact for nearly two thousand years, states, “Original sin is transmitted by natural generation.(1)” We have been working on our inherent shame, treated as fact, since the conceptions of Cain and Abel. Meaning no disrespect for the great good done by Catholicism toward alleviating pain and suffering, The Church has like so many power structures simply cultivated, if not having actually manufactured, a need that it was prepared to meet for a price. Our hereditary shame, our original sin, deprives us of eternal bliss, but the Church provides an avenue to redemption. We need only do a few simple things: admit our undeserving state, accept the course our spiritual leaders offer and behave as we are told. And it’s not just Catholics. Is it?

We must admit to our sin in creating the Learning Gap. And they tasted of the fruits of class privilege and they knew their sin. We must accept the sanctity of the education reform movement. And on the seventh day they will be tested. And we will be redeemed. And the winged graduates ascended into college. And the “big data”(2) pushers should like this neat pattern correlation too. They ‘discovered’ the Learning Gap correlation, after all.

I say “discovered” because I don’t want to go right to the heart of the problem yet. You see, data are facts, and like the number of sheets of paper on my computer desk, they ‘mean’ nothing. When data are gathered, they can be sorted and arranged to create patterns, which in ‘data-ese’ are called correlations. Just before B goes up, A goes down—every time. Correlative fact, no cause, no opinion, just fact. This is the language of statistics, and we remember what was said about statistics, “Select the data that tells us what we want to know.” Could this be the case with the Learning Gap correlation? Could it be that the reason we find a difference in the performance in one racially defined group students from another racially defined group students is because something is or was going on to cause the difference? No. Because there is no cause to correlations, only data patterns. But we want things to have reasons.

“Why,” we ask, “are we here?” not just “Are we here?” Even Church dogma starts out by using the fact that we can ask as proof that there is a reason. Here’s what David Books says, with which I concur, in the New York Times, 16 April 2013:

“…I’m trying to appreciate the big data revolution, but also probe its limits. One limit is that correlations are actually not all that clear. A zillion things can correlate with each other, depending on how you structure the data and what you compare. To discern meaningful correlations from meaningless ones, you often have to rely on some causal hypothesis about what is leading to what. You wind up back in the land of human theorizing.”

Brooks contends that we seek meaning even in the meaningless and cause for the effect, and we do. It is probably deeply rooted in our psyche.

So why is the Learning Gap occurring between white students and students of color? Well, it is: no question about that. But that’s the learning gap: small “l,” small “g.” Why isn’t there isn’t the Learning Gap (capitalized) among rural, suburban and urban students, or between rich and poor students, or among the states or anywhere else that there is a gap? Well, we use race because that gap sticks to our inherent shame, our unresolved racial discrimination that we so proudly – no wait, make that, shamefully – celebrate in this country year after year. So shame can be made useful.

And the policy makers of today, like the Church leaders of the past, know how to leverage their influence and shepherd the sheep. “Close the Gap to relieve your shame.” But it may not be in the interest of that leadership to resolve the Learning Gap; it may be more useful to keep it in play. How much top down management, often in the form of cost containment, has sprung from the Learning Gap Card? Where does the power rest in dealing with the Learning Gap? And here’s the big one – If the Learning Gap were actually closed, what meaningful goal will have been achieved? How will it be more that a statistical non-correlation of data? Will the color lines go away? Will wealth be distributed more equitably? Will opportunity be truly equal? Will the nation become de-Balkanized?

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Those who know me know I have been railing against the obsessive elevation of data, the passionate collection to these completely dispassionate pieces of stuff, often with no prior purpose, and the religious commitment to the value of any correlation divined in the data for years now. I am increasingly convinced that data, as the raw material of the Information Age, can be capitalized, that it can be used to our benefit, or abused to cost. Moreover, similarly to iron or coal or oil, data can be manipulated to greedy ends in this Age of Greed.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the data are indisputable and non-judgmental. The choice of which data to bring forward is certainly disputable and the judgment about which correlations to divine must be highly suspect for hidden causes. Humanity is not data-driven.

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(1)   Loughnan, F. John. Dogmas of the Catholic Church, The Divine Work of Creation, The Doctrine of Revelation Regarding Man or "Christian Anthropology," Revised Feb. 16, 2001. retrieved from http://jloughnan.tripod.com/dogma.htm, 16 April 2013.

(2)   Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor and Kenneth Cukier. Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (March 5, 2013).

That We Can Be One Again

I am from golf clubs and carports.
I am from golden woods and rolling meadows.
I am from tall cities and
~   Revolutionary War encampments.
I am from the right way to do things,
~   from our way to do things,
~        from thing we don’t do.
I am from a place of two worlds,
~   a place of white and
~        black.
I am from a place where fathers build fences
~   in the minds of their sons.
I am from a place of fences that,
~   having been built up,
~        must now come
~            down.

The fences that hide us from danger and
~   over which we hurl destruction;
The fences that keep ours for ours and leave
~   theirs for theirs;
The fences that make us into
~   us and not us
~        and make not us
~            into them;
The fences that have cracks that
~   show us slivers of what we want to see
~        of them;
The fences that have rotten planks that
~   reveal views of what being
~        not us has wrought
~            on them
I am from a place of fences that,
~   having been built up,
~        must now come
~            down again.

All fences must now come down
~   that sprung up in the light of day or
~        in the dark of night.
All fences must now come down
~   that fathers fostered in sons,
~        that mothers nurtured in daughters.
All fences must now come down
~   that make us different, separate, apart,
~        cut off, left out,
~           alone.
All fences must now come down
~   that keep us us and
~        them them,
~            us and
~                not us.
All fences must now come down—
That we can be whole again.

 November 2012

 Note:

~   This was written following a workshop with Shá Cage and E.G. Bailey at the Minnesota Humanities Center, St. Paul, Minnesota at their incentive and upon their model. It will be used as part of the identity formation lesson that begins the Latino Youth Development Coalition College Essay Project to be conducted this coming winter. They will start with an I Am spoken-word poem. So, yes, this is intended as spoken-word, though I believe all poetry is meant to be spoken out loud; it is an immediate art, a performance art. Story and poetry are rooted in the oral origins of all literature. All literature comes most alive when read aloud—a hint perhaps that all literature should be read aloud. Writing is, after all, simply a recording of the spoken word.

Girls’ Basketball á la Camus

The gym is only half an arena.

Bleachers are pulled out on one side but not the other.

Maybe the opposing team, because they are in opposition,

Couldn’t send supporters. So they don’t need bleachers.

Or maybe because God is their support,

All they need, and he doesn’t need bleachers.

 

Our girls run out onto the floor,

Black and brown and short and tall,

A couple white; a couple fat.

There are cheers and some clapping hands. Our supporters.

What an unlikely looking team! How can they be contenders?

How can these voluptuous, brash children win?

They see me here and smile.

They are not the stuff of pros.

 

The other girls run out onto the floor.

They are not black or brown or yellow or red.

They are white and blond as straw.

They are tall and thin and only tall and thin.

They come from a small Christian school.

Are all the girls at their school white and blond as straw

And tall and thin? Are all the boys?

Maybe there are no boys at their school,

No Christian boys at their Christian school.

 

They play basketball, these girls, ours and theirs.

More home team fans show up, late.

They are mostly black and brown, but not all.

They do not all look alike.

They do not look at all like me.

They see me here and smile.

 

The girls play basketball.

We score; they score.

We score; they score.

We score; they score.

 

I cheer for our team. I know them and love them.

I call our players by their names.

They see me here and smile.

I don’t cheer for the other team. I don’t know them.

I don’t know their names.

I can’t tell which ones have scored.

They all look alike to me.

I don’t know the name of their school.

They don’t see me and they don’t smile.

 

August 2011

Embrace your cultural identities

The connection between culture – heritage and history – and individual identity is definite. We are our histories, our experiences and how we have been given to understand values. We may reject or deny, but rejecting or denying something still brings it into our existence. Only ignorance can create that which is not. Knowing and understanding our own personal and familial histories is clarifying, if not actually defining of our knowing and understanding of self. Discovering more of our history, the historical context of the place we grew up and spent our formative and the stories of the people who surrounded and influenced those years, expands our knowledge and understanding of self, who we are and how we got to be us. More knowledge and understanding comes from knowing and understanding the further back history of the place we grew up and the histories of the people who came there, those histories that created the historical context of or childhood and youth and peopled it with people such as they were.

All this knowledge and understanding of where we came from and how we came to be who we are, for good or bad, forms the layers of our culture—personal, familial, associative, local, regional, national/ethnic and global. We are to a greater or lesser degree a product of all of this, and the better we know it, the better we understand it, the better we know and understand who we are as an individual in all of this. And the more empowered we are to do something about it if we wish, or not, possibly depending on how comfortably fitted all the parts of our self are.

This knowledge and understanding is also very empowering for changing our relationship to others. We may walk away from some things and toward others. We may capitalize on our strengths and bolster our weaknesses. (Yes, I used that word – humbling, yes but not humiliating and not euphemistic.) We may share what we know with others to help them understand us, and we can better understand others and truly appreciate their differences, differences that can teach and enrich us as encountering new histories and new people do, when those encounters are equitable. Self knowledge is self empowerment. Shared knowledge cast light on the shadow of ignorance. Ignorance, observed a nineteen year old sociology student, leads to fear and fear leads to hatred. Then doesn’t knowledge lead to security and comfort, and don’t security and comfort lead to acceptance and love, love in the sense of loving thy neighbor, love and the binding force in community?

We should study and discover our on histories and heritage and the histories and heritage of as many others as we practically can, certainly those with whom we must live and work and learn. And I think this is particularly true for those in the dominant positions in a society. Whiteness has no privilege when we know its history, class has enormous, too often unmet responsibility when we know its history, and affluence has a counter balance whose history suggests to possibilities of a future price, a consequence. What we don’t know is perhaps what is or will be hurting us. We can start to make a better world when we learn everything we can about the individual piece of the world that we are.

Cultural Neural Network

In recent years, I have grown aware of a newish way of people’s separating themselves out from and above others, a newer form of elitism. In the past, educated people were rather legitimately accused of elitism as they held themselves above the uneducated, unwashed masses. Those masses had the good sense to retaliate with a much more pervasive anti-intellectual movement. Long Live Homer Simpson! This making the elite look silly had to stop, of course. In an effort to recover some dignity from the ignominy of dummy-bashing in the PC era, the educated elite embraced those less favored in a new way—through their “studies.” Gay studies, women’s studies, cultural studies…, something like crosses between sociology and natural science. The result of this superficial shift in perspective is that the modes of discourse preserve the cultural disparity between haves and have-nots.

By studying discrete social groups, those who are educated can show some level of respect for “marginalized” people, much as we would identify an endangered species, but they still identify such others as not-themselves. “Othering”—assuming a position of power that allows one to say who is outside the circle of power and privilege—identifies and labels people who differ from an educated norm as “marginalized,” at once creating a category of people to study, award rights, offer respect, and in the same breath placing them at the margins of main-stream society. Marginalization can only occur from the center, after all. Liberal academics will tell you that it is other empowered elements that have placed such people at the margins of society. But privilege is privilege and power is power. The academics comply with this othering when they study the marginalized, not the process of marginalization. Were it any less the educated empowered, they would have set the conversation differently. As it is, academia accepts and supports, even thrives on, an axis and rim vision of society and its relationships to its people, one center, many margins.

I want to look at an entirely different model for thinking about cultural difference. This assumes that cultural difference is significant in some meaningful way and not just as a means of elevating some folks over others. Culture can be considered as a group of people who share characteristics that make them identifiably different from others. Members must understand membership in the culture at some level. A gang will have a culture, but a random group of criminals will not, unless perhaps, they share an extended period of incarceration. Cultural groups should empower themselves by coming together for the purpose of defining themselves in some significant and presumably justifiable way as different from others. Such self-defined groups should examine their defining characteristics and determine how their group identity serves the needs of their members. Cultural groups should be self-defined and purposeful; otherwise, there is no reason to separate themselves, or be separated from the herd.

Such self-defining places a cultural group at the center of its own wheel with relationship to other cultural groups each of whom is at the center of its own wheel, each spoke representing a unique perspective. There is no need for a cultural “norm” that defines those at its margins. With no central power, there are no margins. The visual image of the wheel becomes increasingly less useful as we picture many groups sharing spokes with many other groups. Taken all together, these self-defined groups and their tangle of perspectives and relationships becomes a sort of cultural neural network. With the greater society viewed as a sort of brain, studying itself becomes just that—studying itself, not one part getting to study all the others, but a collaborative effort that results in a vastly more powerful understanding of who we are and how we fit together in the world.

Academia may not like this arrangement, as it dislodges them from privilege and asks them to share power; although sharing it could increase their power. The educated do not need to define any group but their own. I count myself in this group, while others may count me out. So be it. Academia is able to define itself, e.g., diplomas, publication, or perhaps simply demonstrable facility with knowledge. Without its privilege of othering, it might be hard to see the usefulness of a culture of educated. And the educated would have to redefine their relationship to other groups, no more Us and Them. Group identity must be about defining ourselves, not excluding others. So with a network of cultural study groups, we could study and be studied by other cultural groups. We must first study ourselves, however. We must first know who we are, if only to answer others’ questions about us. Within each group, would almost certainly be members who are also members of other groups. Much could be gained by learning from this intra-group diversity. Once we know ourselves, there would be learning and sharing dialogues between and among groups where inter-group relationships exist. These dialogues must be two-way conversations that ask, “Who are you?” and answer, “This is who I am.” No more is there a single source that says, “This is who they are,” or worse, “This is who you are.”

What does this say about the universities and colleges courses of study? Cultural Studies becomes Intercultural Studies with academia serving as a forum and occasionally as moderator. The content of such programs would not be the content of the cultures, but the perspectives among selves. New questions would be studied:

“Who am I?”

“What do I see through my eyes?”

“Who is he?”

“What does she see through her eyes?”

“How do our perceptions matter to us?”

“How do our perceptions define us and how are we defined by our perceptions?”

“How does it feel to me us or them?”

“What are our dreams and fears, shared and at odds?”

“How can or should we change how we look at things and ourselves.”

This may not be the ultimate goal, and it will require new thinking and a reorganization of some deeply vested resources. But it can greatly improve how we could get along, and it could greatly increase our potential for making real and sustainable progress in social status and material wellbeing.

 

In the “Race to the Top,” who gets left behind?

[This is a rambling hodge-podge. Maybe there’s something in here.]

Our obsession with competition as a solution has thrown us all into Life Lotto. So here goes. I have twenty ziglets. I need six ziglets to make my mortgage payment, two for utilities, three for food, and five for my daughter’s tuition. She’s majoring in ziglet management and will make lots of ziglets in a few years. So I have four ziglets left. I can buy two chances in the billion ziglet Life Lotto game!

Now let’s see: my two chances…one billion ziglets…the Lotto Commission keeps 50% of revenues…Hey! My chances of winning are 2 in 1,000,000,000! Imagine that if you can. I certainly can’t, but I understand this: To have a chance to be a winner of the big ziglets, I’d have to start with a lot of ziglets. What if I earned a lot of ziglets? What if I could give myself a billion ziglet bonus on top of the two billion ziglet salary I already earned? (I not sure earned is the right word there.) I could buy a half a billion two-ziglet chances, and still have billions left over, and my chances of winning are even! I’d hold have half the chance tickets! These are good odds. But all I do is win back what I paid half the time, and lose half the time. The commission is the only winner, pulling billions of ziglets out of the system, mostly from the hundreds of millions of people who buy few chances and always, always lose.

Okay, let’s get rid of the commission. Free Market Life Lotto. Now we’re ready to fly. I buy my two tickets at 4 ziglets. The pot is doubled; it’s now 2 billion ziglets. My odds are still 2 in a billion, but Ms. Golds-Sackman is loaded with ziglets. She could buy half the chances, and the odds would be that she would break even over the long haul. Hundreds of millions of losers would still feed the process, and a very few – about one every other year, if Ms. Golds-Sackman nullifies half the game – would win really big and lose most of it by investing in the Golds-Sackman Brokerage Bank. So really Ms. Golds-Sackman wouldn’t play Life Lotto, because she profits by having more one-time winners investing with her. She knows the principle of Life Lotto: some people get all the ziglets and the rest of us just gamble ours away.

Okay. Everybody knows that lotteries are just big shell games. So why do we insist on applying the principles to everything else we institutionalize? In education, we pay rewards to the success for the most advantaged while denying the least advantaged the additional resources they need just to keep up. We tilt the playing field – The New York Times article “Administration Takes Aim at State Laws on Teachers” makes clear that there is a belief that all children arrive the same and learn the same and that all content is taught the same and can be tested in an assembly line model. States must be allowed to pass laws requiring teachers to be evaluated on student test scores, i.e., pay for performance. That being the case, the teacher’s class list is their available ziglets in the “…$4.3 billion Race to the Top competition…,” as the Times calls it. And it is a competition indeed. Teachers will compete for the best, most able students, compete to teach in the most well endowed schools, and will teach to the tests, no matter how shallow the skills they assess. Their goal is not to better the students; it is to best their colleagues. And with limited resources, most will still lose in the long run.

Lose? What about the children left behind? The students who have already to suffer the indignities of not being native English speakers, not coming from a home with two college educated parents, not having had adequate prenatal care, not having adequate healthcare, not having access to healthy food, not having a home to go to after school? The Principle of Life Lotto tells us that the odds of being a biracial child, raised by a single parent and rising to the presidency are very, very long, so long that just the novelty of it at all substantially reduced those odds. But now it’s not even novel. One off.

The obscenity of such actions is depicted in the article “Professor’s Arrest Tests Beliefs on Racial Progress” also for The New York Times. In the United States, we, meaning empowered mostly white people, mostly men, are pathetically blind to the world we have created and now blame for its shortcomings. The election of a biracial president has rightly returned the spotlight to issue of race, but not back to the core of the issue. It was empowered white people, mostly men, who defined race in the first place to define what would be allowed privilege and what would not. In our “classless” society, we have formed and cemented “class-like” definitions into our psyches, on all sides of all lines, with such success that we simply assume that there is a real difference because for hundreds of years we have said, there is.

We have built the walls along the borders of our thoughts, and we all hold those walls up in our minds no matter which side of the walls we are on. Walls are our societal Frankenstein’s monster that will obsess us and drive us screaming into the frozen waste to wrestle to some end. Like Dr. Frankenstein, we have no way to uncreate this horrible force that in its rage ravages blindly. Perhaps we need to start by understanding that we too are on one side of these walls, as those across our walls have always understood.

Then we need to release the limited resource of power. It was power, not authority that put up the walls. It will take power to bring them down. In the giving up of power and the taking on of power, we need to end the competition. Power, like ziglets, is a limited resource. Deserved power is backed by authority, which brings with it responsibility. These are human rights: the basic rights to make decisions about ourselves, in our own self-interest, without impingement on others, and to continue our lives in the form of offspring for which you are then responsible and therefore over whom we have some authority. Nothing in this empowers anyone to define “other.” There is no need to define other, unless we assume authority we do not have by sheer dint of power and for the sake of disempowering, that is taking power from, others.

What we have done has been to focus our struggle, not one neutralizing the definition of race, but over who has power, because it is clear to the people on one side of their wall that they don’t have the power that the people on the other side of that wall do have. The struggle has been to get over the walls. The walls cannot be removed, at least not entirely, because they are part of who we are and have been.

The empowered people, mostly white, mostly men, don’t recognize or won’t acknowledge the unauthorized power they have. Furthermore, when they do recognize it, usually rarely and only slightly, they are at a loss as to how to give it back. Most of us have been somewhat disempowered in other power competitions anyway. Remember the principle of Life Lotto: some people get all the ziglets and the rest of us just gamble ours away. But that’s just it. The more power one has, the more one can acquire. The rich get rich, and the poor… But do the white get whiter? Well, yes. Especially if you view Whiteness as something collateral to color.

Let’s say I’m biracial, but was raised mostly by my white parent side of the family. This could be a perverse advantage of single parenting. I look black enough to get into everywhere black. I can be trusted. At the same time, I know white. I can jump across the wall and look black enough to capitalize on white guilt, people like this writer who are going to encourage “others” to get into the power. I’m truly bi-cultural, fully functional in two, competing cultures. And I can use my great intellect (God bless the DNA that built a brain that can form dendrites easily.) trained at white power-culture institutions to maneuver easily into considerable power. What cultural traits, common language and/or beliefs, have increased and which been diminished to get here? What culture defines who I am and how I am? What defines any success in this country? From infancy to wealth and power, who has the most changing to do? Why will lottery winners never become powerful, and will probably never stay rich? Because the white power-culture has been consolidated into a super-norm that even most white people can’t achieve. Whaddaya think? Pick the winner:

Image1

[1. Lost her identity, sorry; 2. Sgt. James Crowley who arrested Professor Gates in Cambridge; 3. Kenneth C. Griffin, 40 year old founder of the Citadel Investment Group, the $20 billion hedge fund; 4. Al Vivian, left, is a diversity consultant in Atlanta. images 1, 3 and 4 from The New York Times, image 2 from the Christian Science Monitor.]

In Life Lotto, is it hard to guess who has the power, just from the pictures? If you say yes, I’d wager you are way white, and are having a hard time getting what I’m writing.

Living in air doesn’t demand thinking much about air until the air starts to run out. It’s easy to see that those without enough air have the problem. It’s not easy to see that having so much of the air is the problem. It’s also easy to see why everyone is trying to get where the air is. It’s a privilege to be where the air is from the start. What percentage of your chances in this world is determined at the moment of conception? It may not make much sense when everyone, especially people who look and sound different from you, starts trying to get into your space, breathe your air, share your privilege. It may seem threatening. But here’s the real question: Who said it was your air? Whose air was it in the first place? Surely air wasn’t in the sole possession of the European aristocracy and subsequently spread throughout the rest of the world through benevolent colonization.

So as we race to the top, who gets left behind? Where isn’t there enough air? In teaching, it will be the teachers who need the most support to help kids learn, and are shoved aside to make room for new teachers. The first five years of teaching are the least productive, yet the Race to the Top will encourage churning. In learning, it will be the ones who start out behind. While the top is the target and the models are the Ken Griffins, we will never get those who start out farthest from that reality across the cultural wall into that game. If greed and avarice are deeply antithetical to your own heritage, it makes you a very poor competitor. And in life, it will still be the ones who are already gasping for air, playing Life Lotto, hoping and dreaming of getting across to a world they don’t “belong” in.

Who got to say what was top? Maybe we should just test the “best,” and forget the rest. We can define a new wall: education. Those inside the education wall will have most of the education, most of the ziglets, most of the air, most of the power. Real reform that will get us right to the top! We can build the wall on the foundations of classism and racism, maybe even sexism. Educationism!

Some people get all the ziglets and the rest of us just gamble ours away.