Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, January 02, 2004  

Privatizing education will further stratify society

I have been skeptical about the school voucher movement since it began because it is spearheaded by reactionaries and funded by far Right foundations, such as the Pioneer Institute. These are people and organizations who have never shown the slightest positive interest in the poor or minorities, so why the supposed empathy for them now? Dirtgrain, a teacher, is even more wary of this movement. He has observed the machinations in his state and believes privatization is an ideologically driven effort to divide American society by class.

Having lived with John Engler as the governor of Michigan for so many years, I got used to the notion that there were those in power who sought to promote privatization of education through the implementation of voucher programs and charter schools. I always had a sneaking suspicion that those like Engler were trying to destroy public schools and see them fail in order to reach their objective. The organization, People for the American Way, has found a corrupt use of public funds from the U.S. Department of Education to spread the voucher agenda—about 75 million dollars of public funds in the last three years.

We must understand the basis of the voucher movement (note that I connect the charter school movement with this voucher movement—they both operate to privatize public education). The agenda is simple. Do away with public schools and teachers’ unions, while systematizing for-profit schools that will supposedly be more competitive and efficient (like Enron? Adelphia? Global Crossing? Halliburton? WorldCom? See my post about using big business as a model for educational “success”). Open up funding so that private schools (religious schools included) can receive public funds. Segregate schools by socio-economic class. Is the idea of improving education for all part of the agenda? I don’t think so. Rather, it is a movement to improve education for rich, upper-class kids—but not for the poor and the ever-disappearing middle class.

If families were to be given absolute freedom to choose the schools for their children, to spend the voucher money wherever they please, private schools as well as public schools, then a gradated system would unfold. The poor inner-city kids will be stuck in the poor inner city. They will not be able to afford transportation, and those with parents or guardians who are not active in their educations (this tends to be more frequent in inner cities, no generalizing offense intended) may not even have alternative schools considered. Additionally, financial restrictions will force them to go to schools that only charge the amount of the voucher. What about schools that charge slightly more than the voucher—say $500? Those families who have an extra $500 dollars to throw in along with the voucher and who have some means of transporting their children to one of these pricier schools will get a slightly better education for their children—and a slightly “better” socio-economic group of peers. Yes! Finally we can have an acknowledged caste system in the United States. So, the spectrum of wealth that gradates from the poor inner cities to the rich suburbs will be more clearly defined. The farther you get from the inner city and the closer you get to the rich suburbs, the better, and more expensive, will be the schools. An expensive school might charge $20,000, only some of which would be covered by the voucher, but a rich family could afford to add $12,000 dollars of their own money to an $8000 voucher. The number of gradations in our already segregated society will multiply. Rich kids won’t have to mingle with poor kids—in fact they will get to mingle with kids who are exactly as rich as they are. And the best teachers will get to teach the “best” students; the worst will teach the "worst." It’s a dream come true for the priveledged and a nightmare for the rest of us—the majority.

A very early entry at Silver Rights described African-American fronted groups set up to lobby for far Right causes such as for privatization of education. People for the American Way reports the conservative groups involved have expanded and reinvigorated their efforts with funds from the Bush administration's Department of Education.

“As the Bush administration has closed the tap on education funding, even abandoning much of its commitment to ‘No Child Left Behind’ and other critical education programs like IDEA and Headstart, money is flowing to private, pro-voucher advocacy groups,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. “This administration is sending millions of taxpayer dollars to groups that have been built by an interconnected network of right-wing foundations dedicated to privatizing education in America.”

PFAW’s analysis traces the millions from the Department of Education to various initiatives sponsored by pro-voucher, pro-privatization groups such as the Black Alliance for Education Options, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Education Options, the Education Leaders Council, and the Center for Education Reform.

“The mission of the Department of Education is to advance and promote public education,” said Neas. “Why is the Department handing out $75 million to groups whose work undermines public education?”

As Dirtgrain observes, the people who will profit least from a privatized education system are the low-income and lower middle-class. That is because the amounts of money considered for vouchers, usually pegged at $200 to $500 per year, will not actually pay for educations in private schools. As he predicts, parents not so economically strapped will combine the voucher funds with their own to buy seats for their children in such a system if this stealth campaign succeeds. The poor, low-income, and disproportionately minority will be left holding vouchers no one will accept. The front groups working with far Right foundations to privatize education have been given misleading names to suggest their cause favors the disadvantaged. It doesn't.

posted by J. | 8:04 PM

Wednesday, December 31, 2003  

News: Hoarding syndrome harms the very vulnerable

Know someone who never throws anything away? Here's a cautionary tale.

A Bronx man trapped for two days under an avalanche of newspapers, magazines and books was rescued by firefighters and neighbors yesterday in a small urban drama that recalled the macabre 1947 tale of the Collyer brothers.

The victim, Patrice Moore, 43, of 1991 Morris Avenue, near Tremont Avenue, was found shortly after 1 p.m. in a 10-by-10-foot room crammed with paper and other detritus that completely filled it, except for a small corner where he slept, neighbors and city officials said.

A reclusive man who lived alone and had been saving magazines, newspapers, books, catalogs and junk mail for a decade - and had apparently thrown none of it out - Mr. Moore was buried standing up under the collapse on Saturday, according to neighbors, who heard him moaning and mumbling through the door, which had been blocked by all the paper.

The landlord broke in with a crowbar and neighbors began digging into the entombing piles of publications, communications and advertisements. Calls to the city brought the police, three companies of firefighters, health and buildings officials, and officials from the Office of Emergency Management.

It took more than an hour to extricate Mr. Moore - 50 garbage bags of his paper had to be hauled out just to reach him - and he was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital with leg injuries, apparently the result of the weight that fell on him and the fluid that accumulated in his legs during his captivity. He was reported in stable condition last night, a hospital spokesman said.

Deon Baitmon, 35, a next-door neighbor who was one of a few people who knew Mr. Moore had been living in a room filled with paper, said she had tried to persuade him to get rid of some of it, without success. "I told him, `You've got to be able to get in and out,' " she said, "but he didn't really want to hear about that."

The Collyer brothers were wealthy recluses whose bodies were found after one was buried in the accumulated rubbish and the other starved to death.

Hoarding is often associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental illness that causes people to become obsessed with thoughts and engage in repetitive acts.

It may particularly impact people who live in urban areas and the elderly.

Such compulsive hoarding is being recognized as a widespread behavioral disorder, one that is particularly acute in cities like New York, where space is at a premium. The pack rat behavior ranges from egregious cases that endanger lives to more commonplace collecting that resonates with anyone who has ever stacked magazines to read later or bought more shoes than the closet will hold.

One woman, for example, found throwing out a newspaper so unbearable that her therapist instructed her never to buy one again. Another could not pass a newsstand without thinking that one of the myriad periodicals on sale contained some bit of information that could change her life.

And a third, trying to explain why she had bought several puppets that she did not want or need from a television shopping channel, spoke of feeling sorry for the toys when no one else bid on them.

The emotional investment that goes into hoarding makes it much harder to overcome than landlords or housing court judges often understand, said Randy O. Frost, a professor of psychology at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and a national authority on the disorder who helped a group of medical, legal and social service agencies establish the New York City Task Force on Hoarding a year ago.

Similar groups exist in a dozen places, Dr. Frost said, including Seattle, Ottawa, Fairfax County, Va., and Dane County, Wis.

"I don't know if it's more of a problem in the city than elsewhere, but certainly the limited amount of space makes it come to a head," Dr. Frost added. "Most of this new attention is not coming from the mental health side of things, because many people with this problem don't seek help. It's coming from the housing side and services to the elderly."

Income also plays a role in hoarding. The problem is likely to become more obvious the less space a person has to stuff things into. So, a roomer like Moore was more likely to be discovered than someone with more square footage at his disposal.

If you have ever examined the items collected by bag ladies and homeless people pushing shopping carts, you doubtlessly noticed the uselessness of most of them. Life on the streets can be the ultimate result if hoarders aren't able to conform to rental guidelines by keeping their homes sanitary and fire hazard free.

Meanwhile, from his hospital bed, Moore has said he may sue his landlord, the man who saved his life, for throwing away his avalanche of junk.

posted by J. | 9:02 AM

Tuesday, December 30, 2003  

Colorism taints African-American culture

The last time I wrote about color discrimination within a minority group was when discussing a discrimination case filed against an immigrant from India who had mistreated an underling, also an Indian immigrant, on the basis of caste. However, I know color prejudice is a problem among nearly all African, Asian and indigenous peoples exposed to slavery and/or colonialism. Recently, I've become aware of a situation involving an African-American practicing colorism.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the settlement of a rare color harassment and retaliation lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against Applebee's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, an international restaurant chain headquartered in Overland Park, Kan. The settlement provides $40,000 to Dwight Burch, an African American former employee who was discriminated against based on his dark skin color by a light-skinned African American manager, and terminated when he complained to corporate headquarters.

The lawsuit was resolved through a Consent Decree filed with the U.S. District Court in Atlanta that sets forth the terms of the settlement. In addition to the monetary relief for Mr. Burch, the Consent Decree requires training and reporting by Applebee's. Prior to the lawsuit, Applebee's did not have a written policy in effect at any of its nationwide restaurants prohibiting discrimination based on color.

Applebee's now has amended its harassment and discrimination policies to include color as a protected basis in accordance with Title VII. In both its answer to the lawsuit and in the Consent Decree, Applebee's denies any liability or wrongdoing.

Mr. Burch filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that the store manager, a light-skinned African American, had consistently made derogatory remarks to him about his dark skin color, and had discharged him when he threatened to report the store manager's harassing remarks to Applebee's headquarters office. Mr. Burch began working for Applebee's as a server at its Tara Boulevard, Atlanta, Ga., location on Dec.1 6, 2000. The store manager, assigned to the facility on Jan. 1, 2001, terminated Mr. Burch on March 26, 2001 -- less than 90 days after his arrival at the restaurant.

I am grateful that the EEOC filed this lawsuit, not just for me but for other workers too," said Mr. Burch. "I liked my job and got along well with everyone. No one should have to put up with mean and humiliating comments about the color of their skin on the job. My mother taught me that we are all God's children and each one of us is special. It makes no difference that these comments are made by someone of your own race. Actually, that makes it even worse. That person should know better, especially if he is a manager."

Burch's tormenter has not been identified by name, as far as I know. However, people who believe as he does are not rare, though most probably have better sense than to blatantly act on their bias in public settings. I most recently observed this kind of discrimination at a nightclub. A light brown-skinned African-American woman made it clear that she considered herself hot stuff in comparison to darker skinned women at our table. I was the only one of the half-dozen people present to challenge her. Another reason the topic has crossed my mind is the Essie Mae Washington-Williams episode. It is impossible to review photographs from her college yeas and not notice the often glaring absence of dark-skinned black people in them. Even her mother, Carrie Butler, who may have been dark, is missing.

Bill Maxwell, an older man who is a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, has given the topic some thought.

Each year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receives about 85,000 discrimination cases, a phenomenon to be expected in a society that touts itself as a "melting pot."

Many of these cases involve the complaints of minority groups against majority groups. We rarely expect a member of a minority group to discriminate against someone else in the same group. But that is exactly what happens among African-Americans.

More than any other minority group in the United States, blacks discriminate against one another. The discrimination, called "colorism," is based on skin tone: whether a person is dark-skinned or light-skinned or in the broad middle somewhere.

Most African-Americans refuse to discuss this self-destructive problem even in private. According to the EEOC, though, the number of such cases are steadily increasing, jumping from 413 in fiscal year 1994 to 1,382 in 2002, a figure that represents about 3 percent of all cases the agency receives yearly.

Maxwell describes the way Burch was treated explictly.

The most recent case making news in the black press involves two employees of an Applebee's restaurant in Jonesboro, Ga., near Atlanta. There, Dwight Burch, a dark-skinned waiter, who has left the restaurant, filed a lawsuit against Applebee's and his light-skinned African-American manager.

In the suit, Burch alleged that during his three-month stint, the manager repeatedly referred to him as a "black monkey" and a "tar baby." The manager also told Burch to bleach his skin, and Burch was fired after he refused to do so, the suit states.

I defer to the columnist's greater knowledge about colorism. However, I don't agree with some of what Maxwell has to say about history. Most European genetic contributions to African-Americans originate with white males during and after slavery. However, I don't believe most of the fathers did much to forward the careers of their colored offspring. Favoritism for lighter skin may have already been rooted among African-Americans by the time slavery ended.

But, when the practice began is not really the issue. When it will end is. It will not end until more people, of whatever ethnic makeup, object when they see it occurring. It will not end until producers of media, including influential videos, use more representative models of race/ethnicity. It will not end until African-Americans, and other nonwhites, stop teaching their children there is something wrong with having dark skin or ethnic features.

Colorism will not just disappear. People must choose to end it.

posted by J. | 3:56 PM