Tag Archives: racism

Racism is dead! Long live ?????

21 Feb

The United States of America has 5% of the world’s population and yet 25% of the world’s prisoners are in American jails. And The number of prisoners in our prison system has increased to 8 times what it was 30 years ago.

And yet only 47% of our prisoners have ever been convicted of a violent crime.

32% of all black men (that’s one third) will spend time in our prisons and will serve 20% more prison time for the same crimes that white men are convicted and sentenced for. (according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission)

6% of all white men (that’s one seventeenth) will spend time in jail.

It costs 6.5 billion dollars every year to keep our prison system operating.

If racism in America is dead and a thing of the past…

Then how do we as American’s explain these numbers?

 

Racism 102-Gangs

9 Jan

So isn’t all the fuss about racism really just about appearances and attitudes and accents? If you look the way we want you to look and talk the way we want you to talk and behave the way we want you to behave then you can live in our neighborhood and go to our school. Kids know all about this and they know that it’s all about how you look and walk and talk and behave. Life is all about fitting in. Yet our society seems to be all about separation, into haves and have nots, have mores and have not so muches, have almost everythings and have just about nothings. Humans have a way about segregating themselves in so many different ways.

When children become aware of this they have to begin to decide where they will fit in and how they will go about doing it. This is how gangs become so attractive and alluring to young people. They allow have nots and probably never will haves a place where they can fit in and most importantly find approval, which is a need that all humans seem to also share.

We had a team of individuals from our county prosecutor’s office visit my school one day and I was asked to videotape their presentation. The team consisted of a county prosecuting attorney, an assistant and a county juvenile corrections officer. The corrections officer did most of the talking and his presentation to the students was along the line of a “Scared Straight” talk or program designed to explain the pitfalls and hazards of gang life and the crime that was associated with gangs. He talked about the horrid living conditions and the difficult everyday monotony of life in the county correctional facility or prison as it were. And he impressed upon the students that should they join a gang then they would someday wind up in prison. It was almost guaranteed he said, and on this point the prosecutor agreed. Join a gang. Go to jail. Sooner or later every gang member gets in trouble with the law and that after all, was the business that they, the county prosecutor’s office, was in…sending people to jail.

Then came the most startling statistic of all, for the corrections officer went on to explain to the students that once you went to prison you would almost assuredly always come back! In fact, he added, and the prosecutor agreed, that fully 80% of all convicted felons would find their way back into jail not long after their release and most of those would eventually stay there.

So once a life of crime was begun, and joining a gang was synonymous with crime in their view, you would be destined to spending most of your life behind bars.

What startled me was how confident they were in their numbers. 80% would return to jail! And I was also startled by how proud they were of that fact, as though it were their badge of honor. Once you check in you don’t check out! They were, I’m sure, intending to scare the students with these boastful statistics but they were scaring me too! They were a “correctional” facility with a success or correction rate of 20%!!! They didn’t correct anybody. Instead with the help of the horrible, dismal, degrading conditions of the jails themselves (which their carefully produced power point presentation was about to show) along with the help of the bullying, profane, institutionalized inmates that a newly arrested juvenile would meet there, (a living example of whom they were also about to introduce) you would be almost guaranteed the beginnings of a cycle of crime and arrest and incarceration for the rest of your life.

These officers and prosecutors of the county correctional facility failed at a rate of 80% and they were practically giddy with the thought of the impact they were having on society, while I was a teacher in a profession where a 25% student dropout rate was being hailed by political leaders as something tantamount to the end of our society as we know it. 75% success stories, 25% failure rate? Dismantle the schools, fire the teachers and run for the hills!

80% failure rate, 20% correction in improved behavior? Hallelujah! Build more prisons. Here comes the answer to our prayers!

And were the students scared? Did they leave the presentation vowing to avoid gangs and a life of crime, forever scared straight? No. They already knew all of this. They had friends and relatives who were experiencing all of this. It was already part of their collective despair and disaffection. They saw that schools were closing or that school budgets were being defeated. Their neighborhoods are crumbling. Was education going to be their way to salvation? As a teacher I knew it was their only salvation and I am sure that the corrections officer and the prosecutors knew it too. But is that where our society is putting its resources? Is it our best bet to be laying our money on the 75% probability of winning with our public schools or with the 20% probability of success with our prison “correctional” system? Putting our money into prisons is a bad bet. We’re going to get more prisoners. Any gambler could tell you that. It’s a mortal lock, a sure thing. We’re drawing to a dead hand.

The lesson to be learned here is that if we want to defeat gangs then we have to invest our money and our resources in poor neighborhoods and communities and in their children and in their schools, not siphon money out of them and into investments that can only lead to more failure and despair and gang members.

Unfortunately that day the visitors from the prosecutor’s office were not scaring the students out of a possible bleak future that might lie ahead for them. They were instead foretelling the bleak and inevitable future that many of my students, mostly of color and “racial” ethnicity, would find waiting for them.

“You don’t fight fire with fire, you fight it with water. You don’t fight hate with more hate. You fight it with love.” And to that I would add… You don’t fight fear by scaring someone. You fight fear by comforting them.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King

Racism: 101- Part 2

6 Jan

So, do we have a new race?

Sometimes there are some things that we need to STOP teaching our kids and racism is one of them.

Here is what we should be teaching them: (With a little help from Wikipedia)

anatomically modern-appearing humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago, reaching full behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago.

Humans have a highly developed brain, capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving. Other higher-level thought processes of humans, such as self-awareness, rationality, and sapience, are considered to be defining features of what constitutes a “person”.

Like most higher primates, humans are social animals. However, humans are uniquely adept at utilizing systems of communication for self-expression, the exchange of ideas, and organization.

Humans create complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups, from families to nations. Social interactions between humans have established an extremely wide variety of values, social norms, and rituals, which together form the basis of human society.

With individuals widespread in every continent except Antarctica, humans are a cosmopolitan species. As of January 2013 the population of humans was estimated to be a little over 7 billion.

Humans are noted for their desire to understand and influence their environment, seeking to explain and manipulate phenomena through science, philosophy, mythology, and religion. This natural curiosity has led to the development of advanced tools and skills, which are passed down culturally; humans are the only species known to build fires, cook their food, clothe themselves, and use numerous other technologies

The hue of human skin and hair is determined by the presence of pigments called melanins. Human skin hues can range from very dark brown to very pale pink. Human hair ranges from white to brown to red to most commonly black. This depends on the amount of melanin (an effective sun blocking pigment) in the skin and hair.

Most researchers believe that skin darkening was an adaptation that evolved as a protection against ultraviolet solar radiation. However, more recently it has been argued that particular skin colors are an adaptation to balance folate, (a B vitamin) which is destroyed by ultraviolet radiation, and vitamin D, which requires sunlight to form.

The skin pigmentation of contemporary humans is geographically stratified, and in general correlates with the level of ultraviolet radiation. Human skin also has a capacity to darken (sun tanning) in response to exposure to ultraviolet radiation

Put succinctly human beings are creatures all of one species whose skin comes in a few colors of which there are many shades depending upon their prolonged relationship with the sun. (and with each other I might add)

They also can think, socialize and create, sometimes unfortunately and with great misfortune, to their own detriment. And that, like it or not, is about as different as we get!

Racism 101:

5 Jan

Racism 101: Are Hispanics: The New Race?

One day in class a young African American student raised his hand and asked a question.

“Mr. Picone, I just don’t understand it. Why are white people afraid of me?”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Wherever I go, whenever I see a white person or they see me, they always look scared and afraid. I don’t get it. What did I do?”

One of the things that can make being a teacher so difficult is that we don’t always have the answers to questions that students ask, even though we want to have those answers. It’s been over 30 years now and I still don’t have the answer to that students question…and I still wish I did.

Teachers know that when it comes to life, there is always more to learn and perhaps one of the most confusing and complicated problems in the public schools involves learning what to do about the complicated problem of racial inequality and injustice that is still plaguing our society today…and yes, it still is a plague on our society.

And just when you think that the question of racism in the public schools couldn’t get more complicated a new race comes to town! Now the question is are Hispanics white or black?… and who cares? Are racists simply people who believe in races? After all what does the division of people into “races” really mean? Aren’t people just people after all? Your nose belongs where mine does, right in the middle of my face! Eyes, heart, liver, lungs, legs toes, you name it and we’ve all got one…same number of bones and muscles too and all in the same places on our bodies and all interchangeable! Even our blood! In fact the only thing that really separates us is our blood type and the only thing that can really identify us, one from the other, is our DNA. Isn’t everything else really all just about looks? What races would exist in a land where no one had eyes?

What we have learned in the public schools is that when young children first go to a school with a culturally diverse population they may first notice that there are different skin colors and different faces but as they interact they quickly understand that kids are kids. Pre school and kindergarten teachers know this also. There’s no “race” of children who know how to share or play fair or smile or make friends better than any other children. They all have to learn the basics of how to interact and get along with one another, just like everyone else.

So my question is: with all that children need to learn and with all that adults need to teach, then why do we still insist on teaching them about races and differences when we should be concentrating on our sameness and shared needs and shared interests? Over my 33 years in teaching I have had many Hispanic students tell me that they don’t consider themselves “white” because their white friends aren’t being profiled and asked for identification papers and threatened with deportation, and they don’t consider themselves “black” because their black friends aren’t being profiled ID’d and threatened with deportation and they don’t consider themselves Asians because (you can see where I’m going, right?)

So, do we have a new race?

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