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COMMENTARY: For Black Children, Attending School Is an Act of Racial Justice

NNPA NEWSWIRE — In the 2015-16 school year, Black boys made up 8 percent of public school enrollment, but they were 25 percent of the boys suspended out of school. Black girls were 8 percent of enrollment, but 14 percent of the girls suspended out of school. While Black children are overrepresented in practices that exclude or remove students from school, White children are underrepresented. Such data are clear evidence that racism and bias often drive exclusionary practices. To ignore this is to preserve the status quo.

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Kayla Patrick

Kayla Patrick

By Kayla Patrick, The Education Trust

As a seemingly twisted way to ring in 2019, the Trump administration has sent a loud and clear message that it’s okay for educators and school leaders to keep Black children out of school buildings and exclude them from opportunities to learn. It may sound extreme, but that’s exactly what it means to rescind school discipline guidance that was put in place explicitly to ensure that Black children were not treated this way and discriminated against.

The current administration, however, wants us to believe that discrimination against Black children is a myth. It is not. It is the lived experience of too many, if not all Black children. In the 2015-16 school year, Black boys made up 8 percent of public school enrollment, but they were 25 percent of the boys suspended out of school. Black girls were 8 percent of enrollment, but 14 percent of the girls suspended out of school. While Black children are overrepresented in practices that exclude or remove students from school, White children are underrepresented. Such data are clear evidence that racism and bias often drive exclusionary practices. To ignore this is to preserve the status quo.

If the numbers aren’t enough to show that discrimination exists in American classrooms, studies have shown that Black children do not misbehave more than their White peers, rather they are punished more. In fact, Black students are more likely than their White peers to receive a disciplinary action for a discretionary offense like talking back, violating a dress code, or being defiant. Black children are also more likely to be suspended out of school for their first offense. Clear, appropriate, and consistent consequences and educator training — as the guidance calls for — helps to eliminate the discrimination and bias that fuel the disproportionate punishment of Black children.

This administration would also have us believe that discipline disparities are a result of poverty, arguing that experiencing childhood trauma and living in distressed communities are to blame. But poverty cannot explain away the discipline disparities: Studies have shown that when taking a student’s economic background into account, Black children are still more likely to be suspended than students of other races. And let’s not forget that poverty, too, is a result of deliberate policy choices that leave Black children isolated in neighborhoods with little resources — including the longstanding impact of discriminatory housing policies such as redlining. These are choices that this administration has done nothing to address.

What many (including this administration) fail to realize is that there is a difference between discipline and punishment. Suspensions and expulsions don’t teach. They punish. And far too often, adults decide that Black children are not worthy of teaching and second chances. Excluding students from classrooms does not help them to correct the mistakes that children inevitably make. It also has negative long-term consequences. These negative outcomes include poor academic performance, lower levels of engagement, leaving school, and increased likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, attempts to exclude Black children from educational opportunities are not new. America has a rich history of locking Black children out of the classroom. This list includes anti-literacy laws, past and current resistance to school desegregation, lack of access to well-resourced schools, school based arrests, poor course access, enormous higher education costs, and unjust exclusionary policies. Every barrier and trick in the book has been used to limit the education of Black children. The removal of the discipline guidance is just the latest.

Rescinding the guidance is a reminder to those fighting for educational equity: For Black children, simply attending school is an act of protest, and learning and excelling while there is an act of racial justice. Every time a Black child is sent home for a minor offense, they are sent the message that they are unwanted or don’t belong. But Black children do belong, and they deserve to be safe, included, and to have access to a quality education. Despite the current administration’s actions, this is the message that advocates must make clear at the beginning of 2019 — and every year hereafter.

It’s up to us as advocates for educational justice to ensure that schools do not illegally discriminate against Black children. Encourage school leaders to commit to ongoing racial bias training; require culturally sustaining classroom management strategies; examine their school and district data to help determine if race and bias are driving who gets punished; adopt clear, fair, and transparent consequences; and eliminate school exclusion for discretionary non-violent offenses.

For more, watch John B. King Jr. break down how we can break the school-to-prison pipeline.

Commentary

Biden’s “Plan” to Address the Racial Wealth Gap Won’t Cut It. Only Reparations Can Do That

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris/ Featured Web

OPINION

On June 1, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, President Joe Biden announced a plan to support Black homeownership and Black-owned businesses, which he said was aimed at closing the racial wealth gap between Black people and white people. The plan received praise from those who celebrated Biden’s apparent attempt to address the gap, which his administration has identified as a key policy goal.

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

These are all great steps worth taking, but we shouldn’t pretend like they will do anything to meaningfully narrow the racial wealth gap. Only reparations can do that.

According to a recent New York Times piece by Duke University economist William Darity, the wealth gap between Black and white Americans ranges from somewhere between nearly $54,700 a person and $280,300 a person. 

Using the larger estimate, which Darity argues is more appropriate, the total racial wealth gap amounts to $11.2 trillion–“a figure that implies that incremental measures will not be sufficient” to close it, he wrote. 

Another 2016 study from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Enterprise Development suggests that white households are worth nearly 20 times more than Black households on average, and that it would take 228 years for Black folks to catch up. That’s assuming white people’s collective wealth doesn’t increase at all during that time. 

And that was before our households and businesses took the devastating economic hit of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing discrimination in homeownership and supporting Black entrepreneurship are worthwhile policy endeavors. But we should be honest about what they represent in the grand scheme of things: At best, they are marginal steps in the right direction. And that’s not going to cut it. If we are serious about addressing the racial wealth gap, then we must get serious about reparations. There’s no way around it. The numbers speak for themselves.

If our elected officials aren’t prepared to go that route, fine — but we should stop letting them pretend like they are serious about the racial wealth gap. A gap created out of centuries of stolen labor, stolen land, and stolen wealth and resources can’t be addressed by a new housing policy or small business grant program.

During the 2020 campaign, then-candidate Biden said he supported H.R. 40, a bill that would commission a congressional study on reparations to determine what that could actually look like. The House passed the bill last year. Biden should push the Senate to pass it, too–and then sign it. 

And even that would only be the beginning.

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Commentary

Will Alameda’s Rob Bonta Save Assault Weapons Ban and Make His Mark?

Instead of strengthening or fixing the law, federal judge Roger Benitez, a Bush appointee based in Southern California, just declared it unconstitutional on June 4.

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What Is Picture Perfect/ Unsplash

When was the last time you heard about an assault weapon wreaking havoc in California? How about two weeks ago in San Jose when nine innocent lives were lost when they were shot and killed by a disgruntled white male who had a problem with diversity. 

Technically, the weapon used wasn’t an assault rifle, but a 9mm pistol jacked up with a high capacity magazine. Still, it’s illegal in California. The point is, there are laws and there are loopholes. But it’s no reason to get rid of California’s assault weapons ban, the first such law in the nation. 

Instead of strengthening or fixing the law, federal judge Roger Benitez, a Bush appointee based in Southern California, just declared it unconstitutional on June 4.

And now, the ban that Asian Americans as victims brought 32 years ago in California will need the new Asian American Filipino attorney general to show his true mettle to make sure he reverses the judge and stays the law.

Bet you didn’t know there even was such a ban in California? Yep, and in states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, and Massachusetts, as well as Wash., D.C.

There was even a ban in place for a brief time nationwide.

The pro-gun logic of the judge essentially was that since people in other states could get assault weapons and the ban hasn’t stopped mass shootings, what good was the law? “A 30-year-old failed experiment,” said Benitez, who called the AR-15 assault weapons “fairly ordinary, popular modern rifles.” For example, the law allowed those who owned assault weapons before the ban to register their guns. To date, there are 185,569 assault weapons in the state even with a ban.

But popularity doesn’t make them benign.

Benitez even compared the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife as “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”

That’s such a strange comparison.

I have a small Swiss Army knife that comes with a toothpick and tweezers. I’ve never seen an AR-15 come with either. Does that make the SA knife the superior tool?

Of course, you’re not really looking to pick the spinach off anyone’s teeth, nor pluck a splinter from a finger, with an AR-15. It’s a weapon with one purpose— to kill. And keep killing. Fast.

Not just one, but many. E pluribus Mass Shootings.

That makes the comparison to a Swiss Army anything absurd. But the judge piled it on. He added that knives kill seven times more people in California than rifles do. Maybe. But around the nation, assault rifles are the death-per-minute king.

The AR-15 was used at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016, when 49 people were killed. In Las Vegas, an AR-15 was used to kill 58 people at an outdoor concert in 2017.

Imagine the killings in California if the state ban wasn’t in place. That’s an unknowable statistic. But the most important one. 

Without the ban, is there any doubt deaths by assault rifles would rise? More assault rifles. More incidents. More deaths per minute. 

Asian Victims Brought on Ban

The reason we have the law in the first place was because of a school shooting in 1989 in Stockton when Patrick Purdy killed five children of Southeast Asian refugees and wounded 30 others.

Purdy, a 25-year-old unemployed welder was reported to have said he hated Vietnamese immigrants, whom he believed were stealing jobs from native-born Americans. He was also fond of carrying a book from the white supremacy group, Aryan Nations.

That was his book of choice. But his gun of choice was an assault-style weapon, not the AR-15, but a Chinese-made AK-47. On Jan. 17, 1989, Purdy went to the Cleveland School and fired 106 rounds in three minutes, before taking a pistol and shooting himself in the head.

Because of that crime, the state passed the nation’s first assault weapons ban, signed by a Republican governor, George Deukmejian. What a different time. It seems like such a normal reaction. Nowadays, the deaths at Sandy Hook or Parkland  schools aren’t enough to get any law passed, and we fight over gadgets that make regular guns emulate semi-automatic weapons. 

Bonta to the Rescue?

Enter Rob Bonta, Oakland’s former state Assemblyman, a little more than a month into his new job as state Attorney General. He’s called the decision “fundamentally flawed” and now has 30 days to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. From there, whatever the decision, the case will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutional right to have assault weapons.

I imagine the six conservative justices are dying to inject some steroids into the Second Amendment.

But this could also be the case where Bonta, the pride of the Filipino American community, gets to showcase his mettle on a national scale. After just being appointed, he’s already thrust into campaign mode and has at least one strong victims’ rights candidate, vying for his job.

This could be a big-time moment for him and for us. Let’s hope he’s up for the polarizing fight against a gun lobby that twists the 2nd Amendment and forces us to live with unwanted and excessive violence.

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Cheryl Smith

Don’t Start Tripping About Washing Your Hands

Someone has to tell you, an adult, this? What the heck? Weren’t you raised right? Didn’t you learn at an early age to wash your hand when you finished your business? Someone really had to tell you to wash your hands after wiping your behind? Really?

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Hand Washing

MY TRUTH COMMENTARY

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, we received mixed signals. One message that was constant was, “wash your hands.” Even before the mandate to wear masks, health officials were stressing the importance of hand-washing.

The Centers for Disease Control instructed, “To prevent the spread of germs during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should also wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.”

I loved that directive because I have always wondered about people who didn’t wash their hands. Go into any restaurant and you’ll find signs instructing employees to wash their hands. The CDC gave explicit instructions: Follow these five steps every time.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Someone has to tell you, an adult, this? What the heck? Weren’t you raised right? Didn’t you learn at an early age to wash your hand when you finished your business? Someone really had to tell you to wash your hands after wiping your behind? Really

Which brings me to my truth.

Yes, there were times when I didn’t act like I had home training. I did things — things that I definitely didn’t want my parents to find out about. But this washing my hands thing? Basic hygiene practices? Nah, didn’t roll like that.

No one has ever had to tell me to wash my hands but I sure as heck have had to tell people to wash their hands especially before coming into my kitchen.

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