Civil Rights Aren’t Just for Minorities – They’re For Everyone

civil-right-museum-mural

 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

It’s still shocking to me that so many white people seem to think civil rights are just a black issue.

 

As if they’re something that only concerns people of color.

 

White people can’t be the victims of discrimination? We can’t be mistreated on the basis of gender, religion, sexuality, or age?

 

Of course we can! And many of us are. But we are rarely discriminated against on the basis of our race. And somehow accepting that fact seems to turn us against the very idea of civil rights.

 

We act as if talking about civil rights is code for black issues. Many of us refuse to even admit that black people have legitimate grievances in this area, that they’re just needlessly complaining and looking for sympathy, that they’re trying to get something for free or get one over on us.

 

It’s pure bullshit. Black people are authentically aggrieved. They are the victims of a systemic racism that rarely even becomes visible to white eyes. And that same system either ignores whiteness or even privileges it.

 

The criminal justice system, alone, is rife with examples including racial profiling, stop-and-frisk policies, police brutality and the failed War on Drugs. Add to that voter ID laws, redlining, and credit scores. Add to that the use of bigoted and prejudiced textbooks, punishing non-white students more harshly than white students, underfunding public schools, and closing them down if they’re attended mostly by students of color.

 

Yet that doesn’t mean white people are impervious to civil rights violations. It just means that people of color are targeted much more often and are in much greater need of help than we are.

 

Yet many of us refuse to admit it. We refuse even though doing so actually puts ourselves at greater risk.

 

Think about it. If we ignore the civil rights concerns of those most victimized, who will be there for us when we’re targeted?

 

Take police brutality.

According to the Guardian’s The Counted, 1,092 Americans were killed by police in 2016. If we look at it proportionately, a much higher percentage of minorities were killed than white people. Specifically, Native Americans were killed at 10.13 per million, black people at 6.66 per million, while Hispanics and Latinos were killed at 3.23 per million. By comparison, white people were only killed at 2.9 per million.

 

So minorities were killed at much higher rates than whites given their smaller percentages of the population. However, if we look at the raw numbers, more white people were killed than any other group. Specifically, the police killed 574 whites, 266 blacks, 183 Hispanics/Latinos and 24 Native Americans.

 

So, yes, the African American community is right to be angry that they’re being disproportionately targeted by police. However, more than 500 white people were killed by law enforcement, too. That’s a troubling figure all by itself. Why are American police killing so many of us? Why is law enforcement so trigger happy in the USA?

 

It’s a problem for everyone. Police should not be killing such high numbers of civilians. In fact, in other countries, they don’t. Police kill more people in the U.S. in days than they do in other countries in years. Yet very few police officers actually serve jail time. Several officers went to trial in 2016, but only a handful were convicted.

 

This is a real problem, yet many white people dismiss it as a black issue – and an illegitimate one at that. As a country, we have a real concern with the way police are trained, protocol for when deadly force is allowed and how officers are held accountable. But we’re letting this issue fall through the cracks because it’s being delegitimized as a “mere” civil rights complaint.

 

Things have really changed in this country.

 

In 1963, when the all black 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed by four members of the Ku Klux Klan, the entire society took notice. Even whites who had been unsympathetic to the civil rights struggles of African Americans up to this point were disturbed at the murder of four children and the injury of 22 others. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called it “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” and it marked a turning point in our history. The fight for civil rights became a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, American struggle to secure equality for our brother and sister African Americans.

 

However, just two years ago when Dylann Roof was inspired by white supremacist Websites to kill nine people at all black Charleston Church in South Carolina, the response was… meh. Though it has been categorized as a hate crime, it has done nothing to wake up the society at large to the realities of modern day American racism. At most, it’s dismissed as an isolated event.

 

However, it’s not. White supremacists have long targeted African American churches as objects of their hatred. In 1991 it took a series of 154 suspicious church burnings for Congress five year later to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act, making it a federal crime to damage religious property because of its “racial or ethnic character.” More recently, a black church in Massachusetts was burned down the day after President Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009.

 

For some reason, these continuing hate crimes fail to rouse the public at large. Perhaps the Internet culture and the perpetuation of so-called news sources that only support partisan confirmation bias has something to do with it. But it’s harmful to all of us.

 

When white people ignore the legitimate claims of black people, they make it easier for everyone to be mistreated. Often white people have acted as if prejudice could never be perpetrated against them, and when it’s cropped up, we’ve defined it narrowly to fit only the immediate group targeted. That’s an LGBT issue. That’s a Jewish issue. That’s an issue for people with disabilities. We rarely see them as they are – human issues.

 

In the age of Trump, violations of individual rights are popping up every day: journalists receiving felony charges for covering unrest at the inauguration, a Louisiana bill that makes resisting arrest a hate crime punishable by 10 years in prison, proposed laws in 10 states to criminalize peaceful protects – and on and on.

 

Nor is it partisan. Here are a list of human rights violations under Obama: drone strikes outside active war zones, ongoing use of massive civilian surveillance programs, failure to close Guantanamo Bay, harsh penalties for whistle blowers and no accountability for those they expose.

 

We live in an age where our rights are being eroded by ignorance, indifference, and the uncritical acceptance of prepacked political narratives. The powers that be use racism and prejudice to keep us divided so we’ll never mount an effective opposition.

 

Today as ever we need each other. We need to be there for our brothers and sisters in humanity. That starts with white people waking up to the harsh realities of black life in America.

Our Martyred Brothers: What 43 Missing Mexican Student Teachers Share with US Educators Fighting Factory School Reform

A-young-woman-takes-part-in-a-demonstration-demanding-information-on-the-whereabouts-of-the-43-missing-students-in-Mexico-City-on-Nov.-5-2014-AFP-800x430

Death is the ultimate exclamation point.

We walk through life blissfully unaware until someone dies.

Such is the case for 43 someones in Mexico. These rural first-year teaching students were kidnapped on Sept. 26 by police and allegedly handed over to a drug cartel who tortured and killed them.

Why such violence against a group of young men from one of the poorest states in the country who had dedicated their lives to care for the needs of Mexican children?

They opposed the country’s education reform policy.

That’s right. They were just like us.

Just like the 53,000 members of the Badass Teachers Association or the 99,000 people who follow Diane Ravich on Twitter or all the parents who stand in the back of a school board meeting holding a sign against toxic testing.

They had come from rural Ayotzinapa to the city of Iguala to peacefully protest but were fired on by police. Six died on the scene and 43 more were taken into custody and are presumed dead. Students who survived the attack but escaped capture said army personnel were in the area and aware of what was happening, yet did nothing to stop the massacre.

Mexican school reform is apparently a bloody business. But reading the background of this tragedy is like looking in a mirror.

In February 2013, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed an education reform bill with the support of the three main political parties. The bill reads like it was plagiarized from the United States federal Race To The Top program. In fact, it’s much worse.

It includes hiring and promotion based solely on “merit,” new allegedly more rigorous educational standards, and reappraisal of teachers deserving tenure. Local control of public education is almost completely negated in favor of a new federal National Institute for Education Evaluation.

Like it’s American counterpart, it ignores the realities of poverty in favor of vilifying teachers.

Millions of Mexican school children suffer from a dismal lack of funding and infrastructure. Many schools lack floors, bathrooms, Internet, or even telephone access, and in rural areas roads to schools often are non-existent.

At least a third of schools face severe infrastructure problems, according to an April 2014 census report on pre- through middle schools. A total of 41% lack sewage systems and 31% have no drinkable water. Fixing the problem would cost at least $4 billion.

Just like in the United States, the Mexican reform agenda was created and pushed through by big business. In this case, the right-wing business group “Mexicans First” is hoping to undo much of the liberal reforms associated with the Mexican Revolution. The goal is to subordinate education to the profit needs of big business.

The strategy includes singling out and slandering educators in the mass media for the supposed failures of public education. As in the US, the position of the teachers unions has been not to reject the reactionary plan, but to demand that they be included as partners.

Public outcry against the massacre has been massive. Students have called for a general strike on Nov. 20. On Saturday, Nov. 8, demonstrators set fire to the door of Mexico City’s ceremonial presidential palace. Protestors chanted “it was the state” and called for the resignation of President Nieto and the Attorney General.

The most popular rallying cry seems to be “Ya Me Cansé.” It means: “Enough. I’m tired” or “I’m already tired.”

Would it take similar bloodshed for the American public finally to be fed up with our own factory schools movement?

Our own government pushes these same counter-reforms.

Just like in Mexico, US privatizers drool all over the prospect of de-professionalizing teaching, and raking in education funding as profits. The only difference is we haven’t started murdering protestors yet.

I’ll admit it’s a big difference, and I’m thankful for it. Otherwise, my body would have been tossed on the rubbish heap long ago.

But after investigating this tragedy, I can no longer look at our own self-proclaimed reformers the same way. They look like Mexican gangsters.

There is very little to distinguish them from the corrupt Mexican government and its drug cartels. If you put Bill Gates, Barrack Obama, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee and Campbell Brown in a room with their Mexican counterparts, there is much they’d agree on.

Common Core State Standards? YES!

Merit Pay? YES!

Abolishing teacher tenure? YES!

Murdering dissidents?

No?

I hope so.

But before we let them off the hook, it’s best to look at the blood on their hands.

Oh, yes, they are dripping with blood.

Our American government is complicit in this tragedy because of our never wavering faith in the drug war that feeds it – American demand, Mexican supply, American guns, Mexican bloodbath.

As we ponder how far our own politicians and corporate leaders are willing to go to ensure their agenda, let us pause to remember our brothers who died in Mexico.

They were someone’s sons. They had been born, loved, cherished and wanted to make a difference.

They didn’t want to be martyrs. They wanted to be teachers.

Sometimes that means the same thing.

Ya Me Cansé!

Ya Me Cansé!

Ya Me Cansé!

YA ME CANSE!

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This article has also been published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.