The eighth-grade graduation ceremonies at the Hawthorne Avenue School this morning–the last of their kind–provided an island of sanity and goodwill in the ocean of madness that is state educational policy in Newark. One of the best-achieving schools, not just in the city, but also in the state, has ben stripped of its leadership, declared a failure, and is ready to be turned over to Chris Christie’s corporate wolves who devour the poor and what little they have. Parents and teachers and even some students shook their heads and wondered how this could happen. There is an explanation. It’s called racism.
Racism. The implementation of policy based on race–implemented in such a way that members of a dominant race realize an advantage over members of a less powerful one. Just 12 hours before the graduation ceremony, Deborah Gregory Smith appeared at yet another useless school board meeting and used the word. Racism.
“I know I have been told not to use the race card,” said the head of the Newark NAACP. But she did. Giving Cami Anderson another contract, she said, was racist. Gov. Christie, who refuses to come to Newark to face the people his family ran from 30 years ago, is racist.
“That is racism,” she said. And she is right.
What else do you call it when Lamont Thomas, the principal of one of the most spectacularly achieving high schools in the country (yes, I said country)–Science Park–gets a “partially effective” evaluation, probably because his students were the core of the Newark Student Union? What else do you call it when Regina Sharpe, the principal of the highly successful University High School, is fired?
Racism. I call it racism. Anderson certainly hasn’t offered any alternative explanations.
Racism. General and specific. Generally, not following the law to insist that New Jersey schools be integrated. Not following the law to insist that New Jersey schools be fully funded. Not following the law to provide decent jobs, housing, and health care in areas that are predominantly black and brown. Not following the law and allowing a return to local control. Not following the law and allowing Newark to become, in the words of Cory Booker, the “charter school capital of America.”
And here are the specifics in Newark:
Let’s face facts. Cami Anderson is a white woman living the life of white advantage thanks to her $300,000 salary and to her friends in Montclair and Glen Ridge like the Plofkers and the Cardens and the Cerfs. Her sponsors and bosses, Chris Cerf and Chris Christie and David Hespe, are white men, also well advantaged, enjoying the advantages provided by the politics of racism to help ensure their maintenance of power.
Oh, yes, I know. Cami has a black domestic partner and an inter-racial child. Does that excuse her from implementing policies that help advantaged whites–like her friends in the charter movement and Teach for America–to the detriment of disadvantaged people of color? Does anyone remember Strom Thurmond? He had a black domestic partner and an interracial child, too.
So what has Cami done? She has fired strong black school leaders–she has suspended, humiliated and then fired men and women like H. Grady James IV who should be the leadership core of a newly independent Newark school district. She has ignored the wishes of scores of black ministers who pleaded with her months ago to think of the children and suspend “One Newark.” She has defied the political will of the predominantly black and brown city of Newark as illustrated in the election of Ras Baraka as mayor–she even asked white-dominated foundations in Newark for money to promote her “One Newark” in the middle of the campaign.
Her “One Newark” plan, as has been shown by clear and convincing evidence, disproportionately hurts black and brown school employees. It trifles with the lives of the poor and people of color by dispersing them out of their neighborhoods and sending them to unfamiliar areas. Indeed, it destroys neighborhoods that, in the face of the historic assault of racism on the poor, provided havens of support and centers of political strength.
Cami Anderson is out to destroy public education, an institution that, more than any other, contributed to the gains made by poor people of color. It wasn’t places like Christie’s Delbarton–and it wasn’t charter schools.
I know I am white. I know I take a risk by going beyond what some in the black leadership of the city are willing to do or say. But I will do it anyway because, what the hell, no nervous editor is going to stop me. I’m the only person who can fire me now.
And, besides, it’s true. State policy in Newark is racist.
State Education Commissioner David Hespe’s offer of a new contract to Cami Anderson despite her assault on the people of Newark was an unforgiveably racist act.
(Hespe and Anderson are trying to spin the new contract as a defeat for Cami–she’s even saying she will only be an “advisory” superintendent. The only act more shameful than putting out this lie is believing it.)
The firing of successful black adminstrators is a racist act.
The dismissal of the achievements of the Hawthorne Avenue School and other improving schools and the firing of their staffs are racist acts.
“One Newark” is a racist policy.
Without racism, none of this would happen.
Racism. Face it. Deal with it. Stop running from it.