The perso-professional website of Maurice E Dolberry, an educator, public scholar, and consultant.

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Waters Point

“I Hate Myself!”: What are Respectability Politics, and Why do Black People Subscribe to Them?

Sgt Waters

Adolph Caesar as Master Seargant Vernon Waters in the movie A Soldier’s Story

You may not be familiar with the term “respectability politics”, but you’ve heard them before.  Maybe you’ve even engaged in them.  Whether it’s Don Lemon’s recent rant, actor Romany Malco’s open letter to Trayvon Martin sympathizers following the George Zimmerman trial, Bill Cosby’s 2004 “Pound Cake speech” and even The Talk co-host Sheryl Underwood’s remarks about nappy hair, respectability politics remain an enormous part of our conversations about Black American culture.

So what exactly are respectability politics?  In short, they are an undefined yet understood set of ideas about how Black people should live positively and how we should define Black American culture.  Ironically, they’re usually a huge hindrance to both.
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Common Core Banner

Common Core Standards

I’ve worked directly and intimately with Common Core standards in a large urban school district. My problem with them isn’t that they exist, it’s how assessment occurs, and determining what test scores actually tell us.

They’re all attached at the hip though.

Broad curriculum standards lend themselves to broad, standardized testing measures.  Standardizing tests means a lot of students are going to take  them.  That requires a whole lot of grading.  And when a whole lot of tests need to be graded, they’re going to end up being sit-down-and-fill-in-these-bubbles-for-a-long-time affairs that can be placed into machines for assessment.  Does this test a student’s love of learning?  Their desire to be a lifelong learner?  Their love of reading?  And don’t we want those things to be a part of a “quality education” for our children?

Broad, standardized testing measures also introduce a whole lot of variables into play that  might not have been considered before. For example, a student’s zip code, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (and I know “zip code” and “socioeconomic status” can be a bit redundant) can be used to predict their scores on standardized tests with alarming accuracy.  So what happens when we use these tests as the primary determining factor for whether students are learning within schools?  What are we really finding out when we analyze these results on a large scale?

Common Core standards sound like a great idea, and may seem like they’re a way to improve education, but figuring out how to assess educational outcomes using them is really difficult, complex, and ultimately may not tell us what we think it’s telling us.

Bobby_Jindal_by_Gage_Skidmore_2

Gov. Bobby Jindal Wants to End Race? No Thanks.

Louisiana Governor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal

I used to believe people were confused about the meaning of words involving social justice.  I figured when someone referred to any discussions about race as “racist” he or she was simply misinformed.

Now, I know better.

Some people have redefined words like “racist” in order to avoid talking about race.  Others do so purposefully in order to maintain the power and privilege that come with being in a racial majority.  And you can actually find people who are members of racial minorities in both of these groups, even when it works against their own best interests.
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Only Your Coach Can Say That

“Man, I’ve seen prostitutes stay on their feet longer than you!”

Ernie Gillum

Ernest C. Gillum, III, my coach and mentor

Those were the first words Ernest Clay Gillum, III ever said to me.  He caught me in the hallway the day after witnessing me getting pinned in a home wrestling meet the night before.  It had been my first high school match (after being pretty successful in middle school), I was scared shitless, and I think my opponent ended up placing 5th in the state that year.  That ass-kicking was inevitable.  Thankfully it went quickly.

Mr. Gillum had been the head wrestling coach at Ann Arbor Huron High School up until the year before I got there.  He’d coached state champions and future Olympians, and had been the first Black high school head wrestling coach in the state of Michigan.  He’d been a two-time state champion, a multiple time NCAA All-American, Midlands Champion, and a vital member of a national championship team at Iowa State during his own career.  Amidst controversy, Mr. Gillum had resigned/been forced out of the head coaching position.  Ernie Gillum had his demons.  He was flawed.

Just how I like my role models.
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Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, announces in a Sports Illustrated that he is gay

You Can be “Like Mike”. I’d Rather be like Jason Collins.

Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, announces in a Sports Illustrated that he is gay

Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, announces in a Sports Illustrated that he is gay

Before yesterday, the reality was that there had never been a person in major American professional sports to discuss their being gay.  With the online release of Jason Collins’ forthcoming Sports Illustrated article, that shameful reality met its overdue demise.  At 34, Collins is at the sunset of a largely unremarkable 12-year NBA career during which he’s never averaged more than 7 points per game, never been to an NBA final, and never been an all-star.  He’s considered (and generously so) a defensive specialist who makes the most of being tall and having six times to hack an opponent before he fouls out of a game.

By contrast, at 34 years of age, Michael Jordan was winning his 6th NBA Championship, averaged more than 30 points per game for his career, was a perennial all-star, and was widely considered the greatest basketball player to have ever played.  That’s debatable, but certainly possible.
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Senator Rand Paul (R - KY)

Rand Paul Visited my Alma Mater: Thanks for Trying…

…no really.  Thanks for trying.

I do recognize the importance of Rand Paul being the first Republican elected official in decades to speak at Howard University.  And while I think it’s silly at best to call such an effort “courageous”, it does speak to the importance Paul places on reaching out to voters his party has marginalized at about a 90% clip

…or does it?
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A Hip Hop Perspective on Critical Race Theory and Breitbart’s Obama “Controversy”

President Obama, Derrick Bell, and Critical Race Theory

Mo the Educator’s take on the alleged controversy, stirred posthumously by Andrew Breitbart, about President Obama’s relationship with Harvard Law professor and  critical race theory founder Derrick Bell.  This video also appears on alumniroundup.com.

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Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label

Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label

This article appears in the Spring 2012 online newsletter for the John Perkins Center at Seattle Pacific University 

Russell Simmons, Lyor Cohen, and Kevin Liles 
New York : Publishers Group UK (2011), 311 pages

by Maurice E Dolberry

Bearing the subtitle The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label, the Rizzoli published coffee-table damager Def Jam Recordings is a hefty tribute – literally and figuratively – to hip-hop’s flagship business endeavor.

Equal parts historical timeline, picture vault, and cultural archive, this enormous 311-page purple book (what other color could it have been!?) chronicles the rise and rise of Russell, Rick, Lyor, and Kevin’s vision for hip-hop. The story in Def Jam Recordings is told primarily through pictures, essays by Bill Adler and Dan Charnas, and interviews from various other sources. It serves as an eclectic chronology of events, beginning with stories from Def Jam’s inception in 1985, and concluding with praises of its status as an industry stalwart in 2010.

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