This is WAR (Warring Against Racism)
I spent the middle of this week in Wilmington visiting with and doing the bidding of my 81 year-old mother. My mother, the daughter of Charles Aycock Warwick. Warwick as in the UNC-W Warwick Center and Maus Warwick Matthews real-esteate moguls in Wilmington. I know that these names link my family all the way back to king’s grants and large swatches of land in Southeastern NC, and back to slavery. I know I grew up with the narrative of how the Civil Rights movement was anti-American because my father was fighting in Vietnam and you could not hold both truths at once: that the US was both a country righteous and just in fighting a foreign war and wrongful and unjust in how it treated it owns citizens.
In 1970, my elementary school was integrated – one black child was forced to sit in each classroom and we were warned to stay from him. I was warned he had nothing but ill-will towards white girls. We could not be safe around him and we certainly were not allowed to attend school on the last day because of the threat of race riots. I was six – but my siblings were much older and they witnessed first hand the anger and violence of those first years.
Frankly, by the time I entered high school at New Hanover High in Wilmington, none of this was on my mind. I was deeply involved in student government, I had a couple of black friends, I knew some black and whites were always ready to fight each other, but those people were easily avoided and high school was so much fun. I loved New Hanover High School and the fact that my siblings attended there, and then my nieces and nephews. I was often reminded that my class was the first class to attend straight through integrated schools. Rejoice – we were liberated from racism because we had done it.
In 1999, I went to work in Alamance County. I started at Western Middle School where I had about 5 African-American children in each of my classes. These kids were awesome, so well-behaved and respectful, not at all the disruptive surly kids I had gone to school with in Wilmington. While earning my degree at UNC-CH, I had taken AfAm studies, I had seen Spike Lees movies, I had an opinion about the achievement gap – I was a good liberal committed to the premise that all children could learn. The problem was, after my first year, my black students failed. All my good intentions and my students and still – the achievement gap.
Fast forward 15 years during which time I attended every training possible to understand African-American underachievement, attended conferences on the gap, committed myself to closing it. I earned a Masters In School Administration and I worked in Chapel Hill as an administrator – only to bump right up against the worst kind of racism – an institutional racism that not only wants to draw attention to the children who suffer from its effects, but wants to dole out the permission to fix it incrementally to whites who are not truly trusted to help. This dynamic is molded and supported by rich affluent white parents who demand protection from unruly children of color and white parents who sympathetically want to help, but really can’t get their heads around why “some people don’t value education.”
I spent the final four years of my career in public education in Title One schools where almost no one wants to talk openly about race. We are too busy trying to get kids to pass tests. People want to broad brush it, avoid it, exonerate or condemn others, but never have an honest inter-racial conversation about the facts. Institutional racism exists – it defines our post-integrated schools, our courts, our society, our narrative in dominant white culture to blame and shame people of color for not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and engaging in the American dream. And then I had enough – it got too hard, too crazy, too demoralizing that I felt I was the only one beating the drum and my colleagues seemed to accept that the segregated schools in Alamance County were what the black and white communities both wanted. I had it all wrong – race was not the problem, No Child Left Behind – federal regulations were the problem.
So I quit my job and stepped out of it – how could we allow NCLB to destroy our public schools? After all, disaggregating data was meant to insure a quality education for all children – I can still hear the words dripping off George W. Bush’s lips. I don’t believe it anymore. NCLB is the biggest sham to galvanize institutional racism and re-segregate schools that were once desegregated.
And now this…
1500 people come out in downtown Graham to rally around a Confederate memorial, and a white minister has the luxury of deciding not to participate in a counterdemonstration. He commits to thinking about it. He blogs on the internet and gives himself the option. And here we go again.
I heard the news and read the article about Graham as I drove back home to Hillsborough to watch a special screening of Cash Michael’s “Pardons of Innocence – The Wilmington 10.” As I watched the counter-narrative of the racial tension that I grew up in unfold – I felt like I would throw up. Everything I was told about the days of the New Hanover and Hoggard boycotts, the response by school officials, the fire that burned a grocery store, the violence – the trial, the time served, Jim Hunt’s refusal to pardon…by the time the two hours were over, I was sobbing. Now I am the one who can’t breathe. I am suffocating under the blanket of white washed lies.
Black parents don’t value education – I can’t breathe.
Ben Chavis was an outside agitator – I can’t breathe.
Stay away from those black kids, they want to hurt you – I can’t breathe.
Black kids just aren’t willing to work as hard – I can’t beathe.
The Blacks don’t want integration either – I can’ breathe.
Black mothers just want to collect a welfare check – I can’t breathe.
When my classmates boast about the “harmony of our graduating class and the exceptional friendships we forged.” – I can’t breathe. I have worked so hard to confront this narrative and move against it – and yet…public schools are being dismantled.
I can’t breathe, but I can march. I can come out in larger numbers and cause a necessary interruption. It is time to interrupt the narrative that perpetuates the bondage. If you are not willing to stand up and declare WAR against the policies that are being codified to suppress voting rights, dismantle public education, keep people sick and poor and disproportionately taxed– then you are now part of the problem. If you are not willing to take a stand, to step out of the shadow of fear and say enough is enough, then you too are racists simply by continuing to participate in the system and not interrupt it. If you can’t march with your legs, protest with your dollars and support those doing the work. The NAACP is calling for non-violent resistance, as they always have. Reverend Barber has said and I echo him, “This is a moral movement.” What do your morals call on you to do?