Racism first

Seattle’s school board has committed itself to stamping out “institutionalized racism,” reports Shark Blog. Even though the district is spending its reserves and the finance director is buying lottery tickets, money is no object. The district is spending $200,000 to create an Office of Equity and Race Relations.

In a written statement, the board didn’t put a price tag on (eliminating “institutional racism”): “While unable at this time to quantify the resources necessary to accomplish this goal, we anticipate a major shift in the way existing resources –including staff time, materials, supplies, and money — are utilized, now and in the years to come.”

Stefan Sharkansky asked board members what they meant by “institutionalized racism,” and prints one substantive reply, which cites the board’s training by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. Two board members refuse to reply because he’s a critic of the school board.

If the board focused on improving the achievement of low-achieving students, it might do some good. For example, it could change seniority rules and teacher compensation so that inner-city principals could hire the best teachers. It could insist that elementary schools use reading and math curricula proven effective for disadvantaged students. The board could adopt a “no excuses” policy, instead of letting students, parents, teachers and administrators off the hook by blaming a gaseous form of racism.

About Joanne


  1. So Sharkansky, as a crtitic of the board, does not merit the courtesy of a substantive reply despite being a taxpayer and constituent? Of all the unmitigated gall! These people seem to have forgotten the minor details that the government works (or is supposed to work) for the people, and that our system of government elevates speech about government officials and policies to the highest level of protection.

    And who knows, a substantive explanation of the policy might get the man to come on board as a supporter.

  2. Sorry TT: “…a substantive explanation of the policy might” expose the board as a bunch of ignorant hypocrites..or worse…

  3. Alex Bensky says:

    Actually, proponents of the theory of institutional racism can seldom, if ever, point to any actual evidence of it. That shows, of course, how insidiously hidden it is.

  4. Hello!

    Thank you for your efforts. I think we share similar ideas. As an educator myself (university professor of biology) I gain a lot from reading and sharing thoughts with others in the same “fold”.


  5. “Even relatively poor white people enjoy some privileges they may be unaware of just because of their race.”

    I guess when my mother watched her father die from black-lung when she was in grade school, she didn’t notice how privileged she was because of her “whiteness”. Or maybe it was because she and grandma were busy being evicted from their house by the coal company.

    “only half of Seattle’s white children attend Seattle public schools”. I wonder why …

  6. Bob Diethrich says:

    Just think good taxpayers of Seattle. This was probably crafted by a bunch of incompetant principals who were bumped up and out of the schools to make-work administrative jobs at higher salaries!

    God, the American Education System is wonderful ain’t it?

  7. Every now and then on the black radio stations I am privileged to listen to at work, a caller talks about how The System keeps black children down and systematically keeps them from getting an education. I will say that the talk show hosts don’t give them much encouragement. But I’d like to call in one day if it were possible to talk to those callers:

    1 – We have a black superintendent, and have had for probably 20 years.
    2 – We have a majority black school board (and majority black city council.)
    3 – The public schools are overwhelmingly (~90%) black; most of the individual schools are 100% black, so if there’s any education happening at all in those schools the black kids are getting it; and
    3 – Many if not most of the schools have black principals and more black teachers than white.

    So who is it keeping the black kids down? What is this shadow “system” that we can’t see, that apparently has more clout than all these people we can see whose job it is to educate the kids?

  8. I have to agree with some of these posters. Institutionalized racism sometimes amounts conspiracy theories. Jim Crow was institutionalized racism. Except for Affirmative Action (which obviously doesn’t count), I’m unaware of any structures which, in-and-of-themselves discriminate against race.

    As a comment, there has been much made recently about speech discrimination, where people who sound black are discriminated against over the phone. I had a phone interview today, and they asked me to “read anything” to gauge how well I could be understood. I wonder if it was obvious that I wasn’t black? Given that it was with the U of Michigan, would they care about my race, or care about my diction? (Temp job for political polling, so its no big deal)

  9. I love the way that “The Peoples Institute” almost keeps their language race-neutral:
    Internalized Racial Superiority
    The accepting and acting out the definition of self, given you by your self, rooted in a race construct that designated your race as the superior race. It is a multi generational empowerment process that internalizes and often makes invisible to the designated superior race their white skin privilege.”

    Wait a minute. If you give yourself a definition of self which designates your race as the superior race, then aren’t you a member of the “designated superior race?” I wonder if this is what turned Michael Jackson white?

  10. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Necessary disclosure: I am white.

    San Jose, CA, the 1980s: (For those who have never lived there, San Jose is a liberal city that celebrates diversity. Not even black politicians are allowed to be racist, as one city Councilwoman found out the hard way.) I picked up a VCR at a repair shop and took a bus home. At the bus stop, a middle aged black woman commented on how I had more courage than she did, blatantly carrying a VCR on the streets. I was perplexed. Further conversation revealed she thought if she did that, a cop would assume she had stolen it.

    On black English: In Bill Cosby’s remarks, often mentioned here, he said he blamed black children for speaking improper English until he heard their parents. Sounds to me like some kids grow up speaking Black English.

    Conservatives both castigate blacks for not speaking proper English and deny Black English exists and should be addressed in schools. There is a word for this kind of logic: conservative.

  11. Jack Tanner says:

    You can always count on fools like the above poster and the Seattle school board to do the work of true bigots by trivializing racism. Recently I read an opinion piece in the local paper attributing the lack of appreciation for hip hop to racism. Certainly there are real problems faced by people in trying to succeed in the world and racism may very well be one of them. But attributing any failures of black people to some undefinable force which is described as institutional because it’s not attributable to any individuals accomplishes nothing is a guarantee that whatever the causes of the failures are they never get resolved.

  12. nobody important says:

    Isn’t the Seattle School Board the institution? Thus, they are saying that they themselves are guilty of racism. If so, perhaps they should resign.

    And what about extremely poor whites? Do they get some unnoticed privileges? I know I didn’t get mine.

  13. Rita C. says:

    One of the issues is that students will sometimes feel they are being discriminated against because of race when they’re just being disciplined because they’re being idiots. Since adolescents of all races commonly have persecution complexes (the world revolves around me me me!), I’m often in the uncomfortable position of being labeled racist. These have been extremely difficult moments.

    As for Black English, it does exist as a dialect of English. Many AA children learn it as their home language. The best way, in my experience, to teach them Standard English, is to talk about the differences of the dialect explicitly (and without judgment — I speak a dialect, too, after all) so they can identify the differences and more efficiently code switch. Somebody here will poo poo me for this, but I’ve found it works very well. It usually isn’t the vocabulary the kids have a hard time with, but the grammar. When I show them the grammatical system (and it is a rule-based grammar just like any other spoken by human beings), a little lightbulb goes off and suddenly all those marks on their papers make sense. This is, at most, a two-day lesson.

    As for sounding black or white, yes, we do. I have a book that cites a study that showed people could identify race by voice accurately 81% of the time. There’s nothing genetic about it, of course; we speak like those we grow up around, and since AA populations tend to be segregated, the accents and speech patterns are preserved, much like the accents and speech patterns are preserved in the South, Boston, New York, etc.

  14. Steve LaBonne says:

    “Somebody here will poo poo me for this, but I’ve found it works very well.” And why shouldn’t it? This kind of linguistic duality is the norm in much of the world. Kids in, say, the German-speaking parts of Switzerland don’t seem to have any trouble with speaking Schweizerdeutsch at home while mastering Hochdeutsch (quite a different language)at school. I think Rita’s approach is terrific and I’m not surprised that it’s effective.

  15. well said Rita

  16. mike from oregon says:

    Pretty incredible, I had never heard of the “People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond” but I did click on this link in this article and was opened up to a world of paranoia that I didn’t know existed. Appears to me to be another group that sees every problem as a nail, and we’ll use the same tool (a hammer) to fix every problem, even if that isn’t the real problem or the right tool to fix the real problem. Amazing!

    To Richard (above) – you state “Conservatives both castigate blacks for not speaking proper English and deny Black English exists and should be addressed in schools.” Richard, as a card carrying member of the huge conservative conspiracy, I can state you are wrong. Conservatives do not DENY that Black English exists, we just acknowledge the need to make sure that one – it is not taught or propagated in the schools. Two – that students of every color need learn how to write and speak proper English.

    Finally, no one commented on the fact that school board (in Seattle) was spending it’s reserves and still hadn’t figure out how much money it was going to cost to get rid of this phantom racism. I can see some tax hikes coming as they have to increase the budget to fight this phantom.

    This is just pathetic.

  17. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Can you imagine what the next generation of race pimps will come up with to scam the system?

  18. J_Crater says:

    This doesn’t seem to pass the smell test.
    While stamping out “institutionalized racism” may well be a good thing, the fact that the school board can “anticipate a major shift in the way existing resources –including staff time, materials, supplies, and money” should demand at least a definition of what it is that is to be stamped out.
    The board’s action can only be explained by one of four reasons:
    1) they are going to get a lot of money from somebody (i.e. feds, foundataions, etc) to do this.
    2) this is part of a court or out-of court settlement
    3) they just want to waste a buch of taxpayers money (while hiring some partisans or relatives)
    4) the whole thing is a sham (i.e. a creation of the boards lawyers to dodge future actions) and nothing will change
    Taxpayers should hope for #4 as it is the cheapest.

  19. JimInNOVA says:

    My favorite part:

    “the Board resolution acknowledges that its principles are applicable to any student who has been disadvantaged or discriminated against, including those who are negatively impacted because of their gender, culture, economic status, or other personal characteristic”

    In short form: failure is never your fault, and success is never earned. Unless you’re in the 80+% of students who are “disadvantaged” under this definition, in which case you have overcome great suffering and are deserving of a college scholarship and the forced attendance of your peers at an assembly in your honor.


  20. John Doe says:

    Whites have more money (mostly because they are older on average) and less political power. Non-Whites have less money and more political power. It is unsurprising to see political power applied in order to achieve a transfer of money. As the United States transforms into a non-White majority society over the next 40 years, this process will only grow stronger.

  21. I want to echo the praise for Rita C. for her approach to linguistic diversity. I wish all teachers were aware of this. The thing is, the first time the media got wind of a school system’s intent to recognize black English, or “Ebonics,” it got blown all out of proportion, and paranoid ultra-conservatives thought someone was advocating teaching Black English in school or requiring teachers to learn it, and so the issue got squashed in the public dialogue.

  22. Rita C. says:

    UrbanEduc8r: that’s why I hide it in a lit lesson plan. I may be a liberal, but I’m not dumb.

    I did have to learn BE/AAVE (or at least the most common grammatical forms, like the various present tenses, invariant be, etc.), actually, but since I’m an armchair linguist, I found the experience a lot of fun.

  23. Eric Brown says:

    UrbanEduc8r: Aren’t you rewriting the past a bit? Ebonics blew up because Oakland School District was planning to teach Black English in a bilingual education program. I.e., Oakland was planning to abandon the teaching of standard English to Blacks, much as they have already abandoned teaching English to Hispanics.

  24. Actually, Eric, that’s not what they were planning to do. They were planning to use a bridge program to transition children from BE to SE and thereby increase reading scores. Research shows this program works quite well. After the debacle in Oakland, however, few districts will touch it.

    See Rickford (a linguist at Stanford):
    … US experiment was the Bridge readers co-authored by Gary Simpkins, Grace Holt, and Charlesetta Simpkins in 1977 (Houghton Mifflin). These provided reading materials in Ebonics, a transitional variety, and Standard English. The 417 students across the United States taught with Bridge showed an average reading gain of 6.2 months over 4 months of instruction, while the 123 taught by regular methods gained only 1.6 months–showing the same below par progress which leads African American and other dialect speakers to fall further and further behind.

    Note, also, that this method has been used in Norway with children who speak a non-standard dialect to good results, as well, so it isn’t just an American or African American issue.

  25. Black Seattle resident here. The first thing I have to say is, the Seattle School District is a complete joke. This “Department of Racial Equality” or whatever they’re calling it is a front. Everything is about politics here and we do things for the external “look” in order to glaze over all the internal issues. Oh gee, local elections are coming up, I wonder if this has anything to do with it. Of course it does.

    I’d venture to say that a good percentage of Seattle teachers don’t teach the subject in which they’re knowledgeable. An even larger percentage of them have failed standardized aptitude tests. These are the same people who went on a strike a few years ago for more pay. Please.

    If they want to eradicate institutionalized racism, it’s not going to take money. They need to start shifting around their dollars. Stop spending millions of dollars on stadiums and high school sports teams in the inner city and start buying books and computers. It is shameful that a high school has a brand new sports complex and students can’t even take home textbooks because there aren’t enough. Hire some teachers and administrators that give a care. Fire these principals that are having sex with their students. I’m so tired of us throwing dollars at everything.

  26. Boy does this topic take me back. ‘The People’s institute for Survival and Beyond’. For you youngsters, this is a retread of the drug ‘education prevention’ groups of the late ’60’s. Same thing, different hat. Run away. Bury your women and hide your treasure.

  27. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Time to turn the pyramid upside down. Teaching at the apex, admin and staff in supporting rolls. Salary commensurate with teaching load/results. Pay principals and janitors by the square foot.

  28. “Stop spending millions of dollars on stadiums and high school sports teams in the inner city and start buying books and computers.”

    OMG, institutionalized racism – I know what it is now. Thanks.

  29. hi


  1. DaveShearon says:

    Seattle … model for Nashville?

    A few years ago, Seattle and Houston were being held up by Vanderbilt as models for Nashville to follow. So much so that, when I was applying for the Director’s position, I went to Seattle and spent a day with