This is a podcast from the Super Fantastic Show in which I am discussing violence used by police officers in classrooms, the ramifications, and alternative solutions. We’ll fix the bandwith issues in subsequent casts!
In the wake of the protests against police brutality and the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis released a video meant to deter people who used the outcry as an opportunity to destroy property. The passion he brought to his Hall of Fame football career is there, but his rambling, out-of-touch commentary is missing almost every important historical aspect regarding why the protests and property destruction happened in the first place.
This is my take on what Ray was saying…
Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry has taught grades 6 through 20, and has worked at both public and independent schools from Minnesota to Florida to Washington and other places in between. He is currently an adjunct college instructor while working on his PhD in multicultural education at the University of Washington. Maurice has way too much time on his hands and a head full of pop culture references. Game time!
Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry ©2015
Tomorrow in my class, we’ll spend part of the time discussing the irony of people who complain that protesters stopping traffic today are “in the way” and should “protest somewhere I don’t have to be bothered with it”. Especially on a day which honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of our country’s most itinerant irritants.
But what if you were bothered by “it”? What if “it” was such an important part of American life that you needed to stop traffic so people would pay attention? Would Dr. King have stopped traffic to call attention to “it”?
If “it” is the same cause as Dr. King’s, then the answer is yes, whether you agree or not.
What may be a welcomed day away from work for some has a completely different meaning for others. Dr. King and his message have regularly been appropriated and distorted. It is also important to understand, that just as protesters today are a “bothersome nuisance” to many Americans, so was Dr. King and his message shortly before he was murdered. The apathy and disdain shown – or not shown – for protesters who stop traffic today is similar to that which punctuated Dr. King’s time. For most protesters, the fundamental respect for Black lives is an issue important enough to stop traffic for a few hours to draw attention. The pessimist in me assumes that most Americans don’t agree with either premise: 1) the fundamental respect for Black lives nor 2) that it is more important than traffic. As I have (rhetorically) questioned of my students, “If most Americans were morally and ethically opposed to the chattel enslavement of Black people, then how could it have continued unabated for a total of almost 300 years on this soil?” I ask the same about general American support for the idea that Black lives do matter.
The media coverage I’ve seen today, I think, sums up the general American spirit: “Sure ‘Black lives matter’, but I need to drive my car on this road. Right now. That’s definitely more important.” I’m betting that 200 years ago in 1815, most Americans would have responded in a similar fashion about enslaving Black lives.
Maybe the message tomorrow shouldn’t be “irony” after all. Maybe it’s “continuity”.
I love the South. I love country folks. I love country Black folks from the South. I have two of them for parents. And if you have them southern roots (pronounced “ruhtz”) like I do, you probably have more “play cousins” than you can count.
For those of you without it, I’ll give you some cultural capital in context. Stick with me, because I’m about to engage in come circuitous storytelling:
I’ve been outside the country for the latter part of the last few months, so I missed a rack of happenings in American popular culture. Amongst the movies, new songs, and references I noticed when I got back was this “Ooh kill em”, often used in hashtags. A quick internet search had me landing on this gem:
The Detroit Free Press posted an excellent piece on why Detroit declared bankruptcy. It’s long as hell but well-written, well-researched, and as much as anyone can, tells in simple terms what is a complex set of issues. No one person or entity is wholly exonerated or held wholly responsible, but all are analyzed for their roles in helping to fight against and/or causing Detroit’s downfall. . Some unions are taken to task – and as a pro-union guy, I’m sensitive to those things – but not unfairly so. Ultimately, this is an excellent example of public scholarship, and the type of research I do.
(And I like how they try to end once and for all the scapegoating of Coleman Young for Detroit’s decline!)
I’m interested to know what you all think:
If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the news story about 7-year-old Tiana Parker. She’s a former student at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Deborah Brown Community School, whose father ultimately pulled her out after being repeatedly told by the school to change his daughter’s hairstyle. Tiana’s dreadlocked hair was in violation of the school’s dress code which clearly states, “Hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” (see page 13).
That’s the basic story, but this goes so much deeper.
This isn’t a simply a question of where Tiana Parker should go to school; thankfully she’s got the privilege of having an involved parent who has taken her out of DBCS. This debacle actually invokes larger questions of what we’re teaching children about their ethnicity and how to combat respectability politics.
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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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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