I returned tonight from the first night of the annual Race and Pedagogy Conference, and with a renewed sense of community. The problems in our society which exacerbate the racial Achievement Gap are foremost community problems, and I am glad most of the community leaders of color share this belief. It is true that the social cohesion of African American communities in 1967 was stronger (albeit much more oppressed) than communities today in 2007. Why is this exactly? American culture in general has distanced itself from community. Minorities are distanced even further from community centers through renaissance development projects. Hilltop Tacoma, for example. And furthermore, most American cities lack substantive community centers. Again, Tacoma, for example. After spending the summer in European city centers, the differences in urban development are powerful.
Another part of the reason is due the expansion of the welfare state during the Great Society period. Since welfare’s reform into the TANF, program, however, communities of “needy families” have begun taking initiative instead of being characterized as a helpless situation under a system of oppression. This is my ideological position, of course. But it seems apparent that to ask government to solve achievement problems is unlikely to see successful results. Empowering citizens by granting them the same legal status and liberties to choose their own paths, seems to be the only productive path to development. Government has stepped out and community has begun to thrive once again, where community allies from the “agent groups” (i.e. mostly the white population) are becoming more committed to a new kind of community development.
The focus of the conference is on pedagogical ways to interrogate race: the interrogation of practices and ideologies about racial issues in the classroom. These are very real, and it isn’t surprising that it goes unnoticed by many in the agent groups. Target groups, on the other hand, are those who become devalued by racial ideology. Upon hearing these words at the conference, I initially thought of how I had heard this before, and that it wasn’t really new information. Yet there is still a great deal to learn from reflecting on this information. All too often, I tend to overlook something dismissively like this. It’s not a big problem, I tell myself. But then I understand that, even according to the logic of this analysis, as a European-American male I am supposed to minimize its importance. I am expected to misunderstand. I am expected to not understand that I never see these racial issues lived out, since I my experiences are phenomenologically different from those of an African-American or a woman, etc.
The way White America thinks about race is further promulgated by the evening news. For example, the Virginia Tech shooter was demonized as an Asian student. It was also said simultaneously that this was the largest mass murder in U.S. history, which in fact was false. Yet Virginia Tech, as I’ve said before, ought to be prevented with greater community measures. To opt for higher ‘security’ without cohesive communities, is like purchasing an expensive dental insurance plan and never brushing your teeth.
These community, where all these problems arise out of, is in trouble. A community’s distancing mechanisms are due, as Psychologist Leticia Nieto pointed out, to oppressive and even “neutral” strategies exhibited by most in the community, from community leaders to smaller players. Members of the agent groups, whites, hardly seem to notice their behaviors. We hardly seem to notice doors that are largely open for us, are in fact closed for other people. The mechanisms manifest themselves in the subtlest ways, such as building a fence to keep the neighbor’s children out of your yard. And yet that divide separates the chances of community growth, welcomes crime and, for our purposes, exacerbates low achievement in education. I admit that I am largely completely unaware and unwilling to be aware of racial realities. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, and I know the issues are staring me in the face, and yet I act as if there were no remaining difficult racial issues. Perhaps then I occasionally contribute to this community problem, and I’d like to begin using these opportunities differently.