See Color! Ethnic Studies K-12 redux. Part One.

 

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Wisconsin Indian Education AssociationTaskforce  Logo. Artist: Barbara E. Munson (Oneida). 

About seven years ago, when I was teaching a course on Race in the United States, at St Cloud State University, I had a student who was hard reach. Nothing seemed to interest her. She spent the class filing her nails, updating her date book.  Until the day we talked about Indian Mascots. Suddenly this student was sitting at the edge of her seat, hand thrust in the air.

She had a story to tell.

Her small Wisconsin town high school had a beloved Indian mascot, she told us. Until one day, they didn’t. Just like that.  The kids received an announcement over the PA system. The mascot had been changed to some bird or mammal. No explanation. In fact the students and faculty were not allowed to talk about it.

Explanation for the silence? Lawsuits.

My student was livid. Here anger was fresh.   She knew what it was like to be oppressed, to have a part of your identity stolen from you.  She was eager to talk about it — finally.

My purpose in telling this story is not to set up my student and her story of misappropriated misappropriation for ridicule. To the contrary, it is her school, and their color blind policy of silence that I would like to condemn.

Pressured by American Indian organizations, the school had made a policy change. Fine. Good. Over due. But I agree with the student. The manner in which they did it insured the growth of ignorance. It gave status quo anti- indigenous, White animosity another half life.

From a pedagogical standpoint the school made a tragic mistake, throwing away a golden teachable moment. No presentations from representatives of Indigenous groups, no reading, no writing, NO TALKING. No critical thinking.No debate. No perspective broadening, no empathy-building. No history, sociology, or psychology.  Just mandated anger-stuffing. I imagine some of the teachers and administrators were as pissed as the students that they lost their beloved mascot.  Banned from all discussion, their opinions were bound to come out  sideways, in the treatment of Native students and their families.

As a result, my student came to college with a deficit hampering her academic development, requiring remedial catch-up.

Ethnic studies K-12 movement can combat this type of color-blind subtractive  education in three ways. 1. Include stories that reflect the realities of  students of Color and American Indian students in your classroom. 2. Teach ALL students the history and reality of U.S. racism. 3. Use current issues, local to global, that address inequalities — like the  Indian Mascot issue — to teach critical thinking skills.

Blinders off. Time to educate.

Anne Winkler-Morey has been teaching college-level ethnic studies courses since 1994. She initiated and coordinated the national campaign for Ethnic Studies Week October 1-7, k-gradschool, in response to Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies in 2010. 

Can you draw a toilet?

 

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Help wanted. Emergency Cartoonist to extract a picture that lodged in my head after an illness last week. I don’t think I’ll be better until you help me remove it.

There is a semi circle of toilets.  About ten people who look like men and a couple who look like women, are standing with their butts in the air and heads in their respective toilet bowls. Each has one hand on the flusher. Out of their butts are ostrich feathers.

An arch overhead says North Carolina State Legislature.

A male-appearing figure is standing at the front of the semi circle. The bulb over his head says “1,2,3, flush!”.

In the corner are six small figures. Their shirts read: Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wisconsin. They are childlike in stature with ostrich feathers and feet. One of them has a bubble over its head: — “Hey that looks fun, let’s do that too!”

In the other corner are seven figures – adult-like, holding signs that read, HEALTH CARE, EDUCATION, BRIDGES, CLIMATE CHANGE, CLEAN WATER, POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY, JOBS. Out of their bubbles are a series of questions marks and exclamations marks.

In the top are three figures holding a banner that says, Boycotting  North Carolina:  D.C. San Francisco,Portland,  New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota, Washington and 100 companies. 

On the bottom is a note:

“Contrary to popular belief, ostriches actually don’t let their heads hit the ground. They have learned over the generations that such actions endangers their species– because if they did they might step on their own heads, think they were being attacked and kill themselves in self defense.

North Carolina legislators are not that smart”.

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Special Thanks to Emily Winkler-Morey and her friend, the Ostrich farmer from New Jersey, for Ostrich insights.

Deep apologies to all ostriches everywhere.

And thanks in advance to the cartoonist who can draw toilets. And Assholes.

 

Celebrating Kirk Washington Jr. Day

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Today, May 9, 2016, is Kirk Washington Jr. Day in Minneapolis. Today is his 42nd birthday. There is an event at the Capri theater this evening. There is a gofundme site to continue his work and support his wife and daughters. How else can we celebrate? I suggest going to the core with someone. Maybe it is someone you just met, someone you work with, someone you’ve known all your life. Skip the niceties, or move beyond them quickly, and move to the heart, using any communication medium at your disposal, — to find out how that person is living on the planet.

Because that is what Kirk did, and it is why people who just met him, who worked with him a few months, and those lucky enough to be connected to him for a life time feel such a deep connection to this man who left this realm in April.

I met Kirk in the fall of 2015 when he entered my classroom. Disappointment at the sight of me was written on his face. He sat in the back most corner seat, turning his attention away from the white woman at the front who had the audacity to think she could teach about race, and toward the other students.At the middle of the second session however, after the break, he moved up to the first row — where I could clearly see his eyes drift closed if I turned down the light for video. When he got up to leave he shook my hand and said “Thank you. I like what you are doing here, Anne.”

The class was filled with people well beyond 18-21, with intense life stories and strong personalities. Tears and anger were not uncommon. But love developed, in large part due to Kirk, who was not afraid to get collectively intimate. He would say “Love you all” as he left the room. The first time he did it I felt a perceptible adjustment in the room. Love? Well, yes!

Kirk broke through the atomization that is college these days, especially at commuter institutions. His interactions were intense, as if to say, we have precious work to do, lets not waste time. He got angry when conversation moved to a shallow realm. He took a young student who was skeptical, under his wing, encouraging him to speak his doubts. He was in LA (or San Francisco?) on the day of a group presentation so we skyped him in: Kirk, larger than life, sipping coffee, studying a menu, ordering a meal, and riffing on the New Jim Crow with his group.

The last day of the semester I invited the class to my home. The agenda was to share race autobiographies. Although every classmate had a beautiful and profound statement to make, there was a collective decision made half way through, that Kirk should be the last to speak.

Group, choreographing its own final moments together.

I saw Kirk a couple weeks before he died, when he read a poem at the Loft Literary Center — words that seared and soared. Afterward I introduced him to my husband David — also born on May 9. He asked if it was OK if we hugged. We planned to have coffee in the next weeks.

May 9 is a big day in my life. In addition to Kirk and Dave, it’s my grandmother’s birthday. She would be 125 today. When I was little she used to take me aside and say “who loves you the most?” and I was supposed to answer “Grandma.” In truth, our relationship was not close. She lived to be 99 1/2. The only time I remember sharing real intimacy with her is when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I was her caregiver for a few days while my parents moved her. She was agitated and scared. I decided to draw her, to see if that would calm her down. I have no drawing skills, but the process of sitting quietly at her feet for several hours, talking admiringly about her face as I penciled it, was just the right medicine.

Thinking about love and art. Hoarding it. Sharing it. Making connections that are real. Happy Kirk Washington Jr. Day to you