On Monday my husband lost his cool – completely. I haven’t seen him this worked up in years. He was so mad he had to call his mother and rant to her because I had stopped listening so I could calm down our overly empathetic oldest daughter who needed to know why daddy was yelling and what he was mad at.
He was mad because of a note in her backpack from her school informing us that the Feds had demanded all parents of every child to re-label their children according to new standards of race and ethnicity. Further the school was required to guess and report the racial identity of any family that failed to self report.
You might have already guessed this, but racially speaking, my family has the least to worry about when it comes to reporting. We’ve never been enslaved, we’ve never been forced into work camps, we’ve never been rounded up and killed, forced onto reservations, put on “no-fly” lists because of our names. No one is upset that we’re going to get health care because we are assumed to be privileged, pay-our-own-way types. In other words, we’re white.
So, given that, just why was my husband so upset? What did he have to fear from this information being leaked to the feds, or to anyone else for that matter?
Well, nothing. BUT, he knew that the same could not be said for all of the children being forced to hand over their racial identities. It would be all to easy to use this information to keep tabs on Islamic families – the new bullshit, scapegoat, enemy of the state. (Remember McCarthyism and the Cold War… Well folks, we’re there again…) It could be used to identify Hispanic families, legal and otherwise. And at the moment Obama still hasn’t fixed a broken policy that allows illegal male heads of house to be deported leaving behind their legal children to fend for themselves. (The fate of the wives/mothers is varied, sometimes they are allowed to stay, sometimes they too are deported.) This information could be used in all kinds of ugly ways.
On the other hand, it could be used for good – such as identifying the many school districts across the Midwest and South that have gone back to de-fecto segregation along racial lines despite the hard work of the 70’s and 80’s to try to integrate those schools. As I told my daughter, in some places there are schools with all white students and 20 kids per class, new text books, extra desks, paper, pencils, etc for every student, art class, music class, PE, fois-gras for hot lunch…
Then right down the hill there’s another school where the black kids go. They have 50 or more students per class, but only 20 desks, they have text-books that are ten years old, and not enough for every student to have one, they run out of toilet paper half way through the year and don’t have the money to buy more, they don’t have a lunch program because the school can’t afford to feed all of the low-income students, so most of the kids don’t eat lunch, or they just have a soda and a bag of chips from the vending machine. These students have a harder time learning, and a harder time getting into college or getting a job that pays well when they get out of school. These schools also tend to have all of the “bad” tenured teachers who can’t be fired, but whom no school actually wants. The teachers have given up, and so have the students.
This information could be used to identify those districts and re-instate a more level playing field either by offering charter school vouchers to the students at the hard luck schools, or by busing kids back and forth again like in the 70’s, OR – and here’s a bright idea – by making it so that no matter what school district you are in, no matter what school you attend, EVERY school in the nation gets EXACTLY the same amount of money for each student. So the white school on the hill would actually get less money than the over-crowded black school in the valley because it has less students!
My husband believes that this could be fixed without racial profiling. He says all we have to do is look at what schools are doing well, which ones aren’t and then figure out why. Fire bad teachers (if only it was that easy!), even out the financial playing field, offer open enrollment in all school districts as well as charter school and private school vouchers where needed, or, again, create a uniform dollar amount that each school gets per student enrolled.
So, it’s true, the problems could be fixed without identifying these students racial identities. However, I see the value in spotting the places where race is still an issue.
Racism, sadly, is not dead in America. Many of us strive to be “color blind” and raise “color blind” children. But the fact is that humans are highly visual animals, and race is a HUGE and easy visual identifier. So rather than teaching the world to be color blind, which is impossible, let’s try to teach our children to appreciate the rainbow, the differences, and the similarities.
Yes, under our skin we’re all the same, but that doesn’t change the fact that my daughter’s best friend speaks Chinese at home and attends a Buddhist temple on the weekends, and that her other best friend is a religious vegetarian who speaks Hindi at home and worships Ganesha and the other Hindu gods. She can gain a lot from these friends by learning to appreciate that they are different from her. If she wasn’t allowed to acknowledge the differences she wouldn’t be able to accept the lessons. (For the record I feel the same way about her friend who speaks French, her friends who celebrate Hanukkah, her hispanic friends who help her with her Spanish, her Puritan friends who’s great-great-grandparents came over on the Mayflower, etc.)
Not everyone feels this way though, which is why, in the end, my husband checked every single box on the form. Our daughter is officially a child of the whole Earth. Don’t let her blond hair, blue eyes and alabaster skin fool you – after all, didn’t we all emerge from the same sample of pond scum a few billion years ago…