Systemic Rhetoric and Schools

As a young child I was taught the concept of head in the sand. At an early age I also realized the adage, never cry wolf, and its impact on our actions and lives. This summer began with an explosive mandate on recognizing racism for what it is and how it affects all of us, not simply POC but everyone. Certainly there are central arguments with the reaction to George Floyd’s death over memorial day weekend, the spark that merits a broader response to the tragedy.

One may realize it is difficult to conceptualize how to make change in the midst of such systemic reaction to racism in our society. One of the issues at hand is these ideals can no longer remain philosophical discussions. There is no time. Our children, students, young minds meant to be most impressionable at this age need to have optimism and hope in their lives. They need to feel heard rather than be subjugated to the same rhetoric following the lives of their elders down to them. Society is speaking loud and clear and we need to listen.

Recent events have shined the focal point of change and awareness upon school districts across the twin cities and country as well as our own in (pick a district). We need to be that change that begins to shed a light upon a privilege that interferes with progress in a far more ignorant manner than people would like to believe. Now ignorance is a powerful word, and its usage is not meant to offend as it is to make a point. If there is not action on an issue that has evidence before our eyes, we cannot get ahead of the crisis, and it eventually becomes yet another lost moment.

A sampling of k12 mission statements across the country speaks to the following: ensure that all students learn; each student continuously achieves one’s highest aspirations; embraces the diversity of the entire community; each student’s unique needs and abilities are merited; providing an equitable learning environment that embraces diversity and individual student needs. In each sampling there is an expressed need to recognize equity and inclusion as we try to move our children forward with pedagogical resource and focus.

The truth is nobody needs remain alone with their own personal response to a need for change. How we address our student needs going forward is paramount. We can believe we have an opportunity to make change only if we are consciously trying. Words alone have brought us to the edge, now it is time we step into the challenge.

These are difficult times, fighting through a pandemic, asking our students to focus on distance learning during a time when educational gaps are obvious, and finally, addressing the need for equity in a diverse community. Which one takes precedent in our mind falls upon a need to know what we value the most in our society. Each suggested problem could argue proportionate value.

The issue of recognizing there is a climate of implicit racism in our world comes to the forefront for me. We need to understand the individuality of our educational policy. Our students need to be able to be called upon as individual rather than being masked as a certain population that affords discrimination. Student voices need to be heard before we can begin to feel we are on the right road toward fair and inclusive treatment of POC and society as a whole.


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

Misplace Design

We believe we are,

a contemporary to what once seemed

a regularity,

yet we cannot seem to get past

the truth.

 

Do you, we, can everyone

feel it in the moment,

when we least desire to be noticed,

that fear returns,

always knocking on our door.

 

This thing about love,

when least expected,

human beings crossed paths,

in the eyes of hate we fail

no longer knowing how to feel.

 

Pull back and reject that moment,

travel on,

find a newer horizon,

funny thing though,

there might appear on your doorstep.

 

A quiet tear will always remain when unrequited

certain love becomes contained in societal fare.


© Thom Amundsen 5/2020

inspired by Joy Williams – Front Porch – 2019

 

An Observation In Absence

MLK JR.

Martin Luther King Jr.


The other night I attended ‘Just Mercy’ at our local theater complex. It was a late showing, but still I was struck with wonder about the emptiness of the room. I was actually the only person in the theater, it was a rather surreal experience. Now I’ve been to shows with limited audience in the past, shows of little consequence, a comedy that has run its course, the latest version of Die Hard or Transformers after a several week run at the theater house. However, the lack of eyes on this show about Brian Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative upset me on many levels.

In theaters nearby, people poured into the late night showings of Star Wars, and 1917. I wondered to myself, as I gazed around the empty space on a Saturday night, is this really due to the content of the film? ‘Just Mercy’ is receiving rave reviews, and it opened ten days ago on the 10th of January. Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day and I have thought about this movie’s impact on me all weekend long.

Brian Stevenson began the Equal Justice Initiative in the late ’80’s to defend the false imprisonment of the incarcerated on death row. He has dedicated his life to this cause as executive director and founder of EJI. “Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned” (eji.org). His central focus is to give a voice to those whose lives are marginalized by bigotry and social injustice. Do not for a minute believe he is wanting to release a criminal to the streets, that would be the short answer to defend injustice. His voice is meant to defend the innocence inside a legal mindset bent upon maintaining systemic atrocity in our society.

The movie is focused upon his commitment to releasing several prisoners, namely Walter McMillan, a falsely accused black man who was sent to death row a year before his eventual trial and conviction. Stevenson managed to get the case reopened through avenues only he could challenge as a young black attorney walking directly in the fire of a racist prosecution in Alabama. His case eventually won the attention of a 60 Minutes expose that revealed the truths of McMillan’s plight in a closed door, self protective, small-minded community filled with hatred and denial.

‘Just Mercy’ focused on the familiar haves and have nots, a poignant moment being when at the start of a heated hearing, the sheriff and his deputies refuse to allow McMillan’s family and friends to enter the courtroom until the room is filled with white community members leaving little space for additional seating. The scene that follows is compelling. While all the seats are taken the room is filled with a community who stands together in strength and courage despite living their lives in fear and injustice.

The poignant message in this movie speaks to a familiar issue in our society today. The color of your skin will have a demonstrable impact upon the treatment and respect received in a confused and racist society. Today, in social justice there is a new mantra being heard that would suggest we practice being anti-racist. The idea of being non-racist no longer being enough. I believe that was the central argument in ‘Just Mercy’ not only creating another intriguing and frightening appraisal of the horrific treatment of blacks in a white dominated region of our country. More important is the implication of not stepping forward, not feeling a need to speak, not recognizing our responsibility to be human beings rather than misguided classes of distinction.

Today on MLK day, I try to celebrate the truth, and the timing and message in ‘Just Mercy’ cannot be denied. For years I have had to work on this day, and always struggled with not being able to focus upon the spirited and remarkable nature of Martin Luther King Jr’s amazing legacy. In the background I’m listening to an MLK celebration at the Apollo Theater with responsible and outstanding voices, including moments ago, Brian Stevenson, speaking not to a movie made about his life, more specifically about his continued journey with EJI. I miss Maya Angelou today.

I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the message of MLK Jr.

Peace.

 


© Thom Amundsen 1/20/2020

Another Lovely Summer Day, another shooting.

In El Paso, a gunman used an AK-47, walked into a crowed Walmart on a Saturday afternoon, and took 20 lives before being arrested by surrounding law enforcement.

So on a day when people are celebrating summer, barbecues, bicycle rides, recreational sports, boats on a lake, our country has become immune to the reality of another mass-shooting in America. All the news outlets are 12 hours later showing the same initial video of the incident, and we will watch that for the next few days.

Meanwhile society will react, the same agencies will argue for gun control, the same politicians will fill the air with empty promises, the same gathering of empathetic souls will react all of the country. The same has became no different than the first horrific past of a massive shooting in a public venue.

Its not in my neighborhood, who wants a brat. The waves are perfect today, I could layout in this sunlight on my boat sevens days a week. Baseball, America’s game, tonight when we get home.

Wait, twenty people’s lives ended today, including that of a young child. Another lovely summer day including a mass shooting, like any other day. When or where will be the next one?

Another tragedy will rock America. Polarization of cultures will continue, and yet a blatant ‘manifesto’ exists with this evil person’s philosophy behind the cowardice of an assault weapon and a lost mind.

While we wake up tomorrow and continue planning our cabin drives, fishing trips, golf games, tea parties, happy hours – please! Let’s not forget our voice can be heard!

Our voice needs to be heard. We need to be okay with wanting to save lives by changing laws that give allowance for safe measures in our society, so that people from all walks of life will not gunned down for the color of their skin, in America.

On Racial Disparity and an Unwillingness to Look Racism in the Eye.

In reviewing this tragic incident at Chaska high school this morning, I couldn’t help but feel some direct takeaways from the thread that follows this article. Clearly there is commentary that speaks to many sides of the issue, but the glaring reality for me is the ease we have with using blame and judgment to help us feel better about a situation that causes a certain anxiety in our lives.

With social media we are christened with an arm-chair response mentality, that we have seen can be as equally damning as the central idea of a topic. In this case a direct assessment of racial disparity in a public high school.

In the same article that speaks to the victims of the incident being asked to walk into a room and receive forced apologies from the students that created the mess, there is also reporting that suggests the administration sat on their hands about the incident at a timely Equity conference with parents and members of the community.

See this is the part I have a real hard time with. We cannot continue to hide ourselves behind the idea of racism when the reality of its impact occurs every day in our lives. We cannot simply hope incidents like this will go away without being dealt with directly. We cannot miss opportunities to open doors to this challenge of understanding how such moments interfere with our students of color and their desire to engage themselves in a community that openly ostracizes them, only to have the instigators receive perhaps public slaps on the hand for doing something they thought was ‘funny’ and harmless.

We cannot pretend that there is no harm that occurs beyond the incident of blatant racism itself. There is a great deal of damage that occurs when something of this level happens in any community. The traumatic nature of not being liked, or respected or appreciated for who we are cannot be measured in the eyes of a staged public apology. There has to be more.

Our students need to feel like they are being heard, their issues matter, they take the front seat and receive time and attention rather than a quiet dismissal to prevent a public outcry.

In reading the threads on Facebook that follow this article, I came across a number of personal assessments of the environment – “Oh (community) will never learn” or “same old ‘trash-**’ summarily beating the issue into the ground in such a manner to put it away, blow it off, call it unimportant, and try to put a ‘funny’ light on the issue. In fact, one thread noted, ‘this happened a week ago’ in a manner to suggest we move on. Really?

It is a sad reality that our students could continue to have such behaviors be condoned by society because of an internalized fear to have the difficult discussions. We cannot allow these moments to drift away because we are almost at the end of the school year. We cannot continue to rely upon our political horizon as the reason for such attitude and disparity in our communities across the country.

We must have the conversations and listen rather than simply join the outcry of ‘oh this is bad, but I have no commitment to helping change.’

We need to try to openly become a part of the change and move forward rather than continue to drift aimlessly backward.

“We Are All Human”

I’ve been thinking about New Zealand along with the rest of us since Friday morning.

Yesterday evening I was sitting in a coffee shop that is a frequent meeting place for a group of Somali men. I go there often enough to recognize their faces and exchange pleasantries. Last night was different. They along with a community of their family, friends, colleagues had to endure the tragedy of a mass shooting in New Zealand where 50 (current count) people of Muslim faith where gunned down in senseless violence by a white terrorist. The killer carried with him a manifesto that attributed the influence of our current POTUS and his remarks toward the Muslim faith. The dead are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, grandparents, elders, friends … the list goes on and ought to sound familiar to everyone. They are people, like you and me.

I am a high school English teacher. Earlier in the day, my students watched a Ted Talk by Suzanne Barakat titled Islamophobia which spoke to the loss of her brother, his wife and their friend in a senseless shooting in North Carolina in 2015. Same situation, different white terrorist, a hate crime against the Muslim faith. Looking at her Facebook page today, I discovered her brother and his wife and friend were killed four years ago on February 10th, 2015. Just over a month ago, and her comment on her page last night after the news of the New Zealand tragedy was very brief, “I can’t. I just can’t.” I have to wonder how frightened or angry or defeated she feels today.

As I left the coffee shop last night, I looked at the men in conversation together and felt compelled to approach them. I told them they were all in my heart, and they thanked me and nodded their heads in understanding. One man looked at me and said, ‘We are all human,” and I shook his hand and he said it again.

We are all just human beings. Is there any other explanation to give people of the Muslim faith, or people of color, or people that are different than ourselves a reason to be respected? One of the messages from Suzanne Barakat is to speak to your neighbors. Even if it feels like a small gesture , she said it will have miles of impact. It is a start, and today, the healing needs to begin.

We are all simply human beings.

Please practice love today.

 


 

Islamophobia – Suzanne Barakat

Trials Defining 45’s Racism

Racism 

noun

Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.                    – Oxford English Dictionary

A friend of mine asked me recently to give a good definition of racism and what it means in our society. So I went to the best source I could – the Oxford English Dictionary. When I read the definition itself, I thought about my own prejudice, and wondered about my own bias, and then tried to translate that to the point of this commentary.

I only have to look as far as the first three words and I have found enough evidence to attach this derogatory practice to 45’s exploits over the last year and a half, and evidence would suggest we include the many years before he even imagined the highest position of office in the United States.

In the word ‘prejudice’ it is defined as ‘preconceived opinion’ not based upon reality. We are all familiar with the original stump speech that introduced a philosophy toward Mexicans with the following words, “they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (Donald Trump 2016) Now any number of people will qualify that and say he did add the ‘good people’ in the end of the insult. Is that well enough? Or should we look more closely at the greater influence of the sentence – drugs, crime, rapists – and focus on how the words themselves impacted the response to his description of Mexican people to a crowd of supporters.

I want to say lathering supporters, but it took a few months for us to really begin to see his method, and today his campaign rallies time and time again, have become venues for spewing toxicity. I know this personally, because I did attend a rally earlier this year in Duluth MN and was appalled by the general pitch of the speech and crowd reaction. In that particular speech, there was no presentation of substance, only the same rhetoric we have grown accustomed to – hostility, isolation and blame. Therefore, his ‘preconceived opinion’ became the center point of his words and the crowd loved it. They relished it, and if anyone was in opposition, well they had better well keep their mouths shut, or have it shut permanently by rabid supporters. Incidentally, those rabid supporters would also receive direct support from the POTUS at the podium jeering them on.

See I find a problem with that. To me that is a clear case of bullying, and this is something that Donald Trump is the master of in his current position. If he doesn’t like someone, or they go against his own personal agenda, he will rip them apart with a lacking social decorum that leaves a lot of people feeling fear. Trust me when I say to all of those readers that are jumping on the bandwagon to pummel liberals, it is not simply a democratic issue. It is a national crisis that clearly blurs all party lines. To state it simply, 45 uses other people’s weaknesses to bolster his own agenda. That is prejudicial behavior.

Next word, discrimination. How many readers just suddenly had this wave of ‘this is too easy’ come over them when they associate that word with the POTUS? How about we begin with the NFL? Wait too easy, ok let’s talk about Maxine Waters and ‘low IQ.’ Not satisfied, well then moving on, how about Lebron James and education for youth versus cages on the Southern border. Oh, hot point, ok, well, then let’s just wrap it with calling a former White House aide, a woman, a dog. Fill in the missing blanks please.

Finally, when I first looked at the definition of racism as it applies, the word antagonism just lit a fire under me because there is so much evidence out there that Trump has expressed, suggested, mandated to describe his personal agenda with antagonizing people of a different social status, a different political background, a DIFFERENT color of skin. Quite apparently, Donald Trump ran his candidacy and now his current office on a platform of outward antagonism.

Remember, he did say, ‘fire the (s.o.b.) player’ that protests at an NFL game. Ignore the whole idea of free speech and the ability to demonstrate a peaceful protest. Hell, this is a person of stature and they should be held accountable. Paint it however way you like it, but the message that 45 is putting across is that the color of your skin in the NFL has merit to be criticized and thrown out with the trash. Yeah, that’s my opinion, and I say it clearly because the whole idea of supporting this man’s ignorance just makes me sick.

So we can do two things with the definition as it stands. We can take out the word ‘race’ and exchange it with ‘status’ for those of you that genuinely believe that Trump is not racist, but do have misgivings of how he treats people of a different stature than his own. Or we could leave the word ‘race’ in the definition of racism where it belongs.

The fact is, our leader of our country uses racist language to persons of color to antagonize and lather his crowd of supporters. While he stands before us and suggests he is cleaning out the swamp, what he is actually doing is lining his own pockets with the finest opportunity to create a financial network towards his benefit with not just the nation but the world, the global economy. He really could care less about race unless there is a benefit for him.

That said, I am not letting him off the hook. He has made far too many declarative statements toward people of color in so many capacities, and yes, he has lumped certain white people into his analogies and disgusting rhetoric. But right now, I don’t really care about the white people, because they don’t have to operate on a different level to make sure their lives are safe and fulfilling. They just, like me, will go out the door in the morning and begin their day without any worry of profiling or discrimination while a person of color walking down the street with them side by side will experience mental and physical roadblocks completely out of their control throughout their entire day.

Think about it for just a minute. This isn’t political. This is reality, and the sooner we begin to acknowledge it is NOT about us, and it is more about the people in our society that have been oppressed for the ages, the sooner we can begin to carry out a realistic and healing dialogue. The sooner we accept that just maybe the words coming out of this president’s mouth can be construed planned, methodical and easily perceived as racist, nothing ‘fake news’ about that – only a reality.

( to be sure I wrote this after a weekend blues festival – my apologies for rambling. )

When We Find We Are The Same

Rules need not be broken

to identify our true selves

we haven’t the demand

to walk upstream, to push

the elements aside

for personal gain,

in essence,

it is true that we all

do find the similar grounds

for which

our bodies

strike the earth

as feeling landed, secure,

understanding of time.

 

Oh, we do battle to separate

our lives

from those we disagree,

the them we conclude

are far astray from you and me,

and yet,

who is it we might observe

when the feeling

of not so assuredly confident

might cause dreams

aspirations,

the fantasy of our completion

to become more stirred

angst driven rather

than a peaceful protest.

 

We do,

we can,

we will inevitably

live our lives the same,

if for a moment

we step off the pedestal,

we let go of our divining rods,

loosen our grip on the main-hold

let our bodies, mind, heart

set sail and when we find

we have crossed a boundary

toward some simple freedom,

well then,

be sure to say hello

to everyone whom have all arrived

the same.

White Privilege

white privilege

what I have
would regrettably could
be different as
standing alone in a crowd
without indifference
disguised
preconceived judgmental
scrutiny

let me stand
side by side
in a world of true
compassion
love, human, free
then we will perhaps
all believe
we are not
racist
we live in a
dream