Archive

Archive for the ‘race’ Category

Criminal Laws Matter (Even When They Can’t Matter)

March 24th, 2011 No comments

I’m using the word “matter” in two different senses, obviously. The point is that even an unconstitutional statute can “matter” in terms of the signals it sends out to the group who is the law’s target, even though it can’t legally matter.

In this week’s column, I explore the issue as it applies to interracial marriage and sodomy laws. The motivating event for the piece was the decision by a couple of Kansas legislators to strike a proposed amendment that would have removed the now-unenforceable ban against sexual intimacy by two people of the same sex.

Justice Kennedy’s admonition in Lawrence v. Texas is particularly apt here:

“When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres.”

That’s no less true when the law can’t be enforced.

Wax-y Build-up

November 14th, 2010 3 comments

I spent most of Friday at St. John’s Law School in scenic Jamaica — the one in Queens, New York — participating in yet another symposium on marriage equality. The students and administrative staff did a great job in putting the event together, and the dean and faculty were welcoming and thoughtful speakers and moderators.

Unlike many similar events, though, this one featured quite a number of speakers from the right — far right — side of the spectrum. That the event was called Legal, Secular, and Religious Perspectives on Marriage Equality/Marriage Protection/Same-Sex Marriage was in itself telling. Let’s make sure every perspective is represented even if doing so requires a tongue-tying title. (Even that wasn’t enough for the angry Jane Adolphe of Ave Maria Law School though, who opined that same-sex marriage should be placed in ironic quotes since it “can’t exist.”)

Balance is good. But I always find odd and more than a little off-putting that most of the anger in these debates comes from the right — you know, the side without the immediate personal stake. As fellow panelist Courtney Joslin told me during a break, it had “been a long time” since she’d been around so many people who thought that she was worth less than they were. And they’re not shy about that sentiment.

In the first of what will likely be a series of posts on the conference, I’d like to focus on the very offensive scattershot of arguments spewed forth by Penn law professor Amy Wax. She’s better known for her insidiously racist book Race, Wrongs and Remedies,1  in which she cheerily relieves government of the obligation to do much of anything about the effects of the centuries-long political and social subordination of African-Americans. She also suggests that efforts to improve their lot  might have limited effect even with the sort of good ol’ self-help she prescribes, because (citing IQ tests) “blacks have lower cognitive ability than whites or Asians.” Continuing in this essentializing mode, she then writes that “[a]t this point it is not known whether different groups are equally endowed with all the abilities that make for success in modern technological societies.”

Biology is (mostly) all that matters and there’s no use trying to do much about it. This is the underpinning of Wax’s simplistic world view, and it suffused her presentation on Friday in which she savaged the marriage equality movement. In a bizarre and undertheorized version of the natural law argument, she seemed to ground her opposition in an idiosyncratic version of the procreation argument: Gay or lesbian couples can’t procreate without outside assistance (I wonder what her response would be to a change in that fact), and since biology matters, well, QED.

That view was centrally on display in Wax’s neo-eugenic view of families, which exist in a “hierarchy,” with opposite-sex couples with their own bio children ensconced permanently at the top of the pyramid. Yes, she said, she’d be “somewhat disappointed” if one of her three kids turned out to be gay because that would mean they wouldn’t be able to produce their own biological children.

When I suggested, during Q&A, that it might turn out that having a gay offspring who adopted a child might turn out to be a gift rather than a “disappointment,” Wax began her response by acknowledging the heroism of adoptive parents, but then added the non-responsive and obvious point that an adoption also involved a loss at the other end of the adoptive pipeline — the birth parents. Well, duh. That doesn’t explain why her kid’s hypothetical act of heroism wouldn’t take him or her out of the disappointment category. Based on her worldview, I’d suggest that the intractable problem is that the adoptive kid — who might, after all, not have the same cognitive ability as a mini-Wax — wasn’t as good as a bio offspring would have been. (Adoption, she said, was “second best.”) “I stand by what I said,” she offered, without further elaboration.

Wax also decried the constitutionalization of the marriage issue, stated that sexual orientation classifications were no different from discriminations based on looks or intelligence, and accused the other side of being interested only in rights and not in the normative meaning of marriage. Oh, and she also said that “gays hate the polygamy analogy,” a comparison she finds persuasive.

I have neither time nor stomach for addressing these latter points here, but may do so in a subsequent post.

For now, let me end with this: Like Maggie Gallagher, Wax ends up doing marriage equality a favor. Sitting next to me during the jaw-dropping presentation was an attorney who told me that, because of her Catholicism, she was “struggling” with the idea that same-sex couples might be allowed to marry. (She was unequivocally in favor of civil unions.) She was there to listen and to learn. But as she listened to Wax’s uncharitable presentation, she became increasingly agitated. The part about adopted kids really offended her.

Yesterday, this thoughtful and undecided woman — and, I’d guess, many others in the audience — moved a step closer toward the pro-equality camp. The bigotry she was hearing had made her realize the need to protect and strengthen GLBT families — families that exhibit the very humanity that Wax denigrates.

  1. This is the correct title. I had originally misnamed the book “Rights, Wrongs, and Remedies”. Professor Wax called the error to my attention and was very gracious in doing so.

What is Wrong With Ann Althouse?

March 21st, 2010 5 comments

Ann Althouse’s blog features many funny and deliberately irreverent observations. I can’t always tell whether she’s being serious, and that’s OK — if not a job requirement — for a blogger. But it seems that her love of blog traffic (of which I’m admittedly envious) has overtaken her best judgment. Her recent post on the ugly racist and homophobic incidents that unfolded at yesterday’s Tea Party protest in Washington, as reported by, among others, that left-leaning MSM outlet known as “Fox News”, is just nuts. Here are some choice nuggets from her defense of the nasty people who hurled racial and anti-gay epithets at several African-American congressmen and at Barney Frank:

“There’s nothing wrong with showing anger at the thing that motivates you to protest. That’s what protests are for! The members of Congress have a lot of power, and they ought to have to hear the anger their exercise of that power is causing. It’s outrageous for them to pose as victims without very good cause. So what if some idiot said a bad word?”

Yeah, so what?  And how do we know that it was just “some idiot” and not a broader swath of the protesters? Althouse has the goods: Her husband told her (apparently he saw everything), and there’s a 48-second video that doesn’t contain any nastiness, posted on her website. Then she concludes, on that basis, that the race card was being played for nothing. “Shame!” (The fact that she actually uses the term “race card” is a problem by itself, but never mind.)

Nice evidence. Let’s look at some reliance  evidence, shall we? Here‘s a story, told by witnesses, recounting how Barney Frank had to call the capitol police to haul away some protesters who were banging on his door, shouting through the mail slot (classy!), and calling him “Homo communist” and telling him, cleverly, to “go homo to Massachusetts.”

Althouse might not know, somehow, that gays live in a society where our physical security is often at risk. (But by saying that, I’m sure I’ll be accused of playing the “gay card.”) Frank might well have believed that people banging on his door, shouting, and calling insults, might be about to do him harm. But that doesn’t seem to have occurred to her.

Later, she added a final inanity to the post, disputing the account that one Congressman had been spat upon by noting that no arrest had been made. Therefore, she’s assuming it’s a lie. What? Perhaps the offender eluded detection, slipped away, or the police weren’t right on the spot — to name just a few other possibilities in the real world of imperfect law enforcement. But she needs to provoke, so there it is.

All of this might be tolerable, barely, but for the willingness she has to post any and all comments, without editing or comments of her own, no matter how horrible. Andrew Sullivan repeated a few of these that her readers had for him this past Fall, and they’re far worse than anything accompanying this story. But some of these are bad enough. . As a law professor and a member of the profession, she should show some minimal discretion. Here’s an example of the kind of comment she allows (this from a reader reacting to a gay commenter’s offense):

Hey downtownload, you dumbfuck of a homo, did it ever occur to you that the more you show your naked hatred of “straights” the more it will be returned? It is good, profoundly good that normal America is getting it full in the face from all the marginal shits, it’s a lesson that will be well and truly learned and never forgotten. A tidal wave coming your way in November, fagellah.

At the least, she might have edited out the more vituperative epithets. But that’s not what drives traffic to her blog.

Public Health Gone Mad! (Manipulations on Abortion and Marriage Equality)

March 15th, 2010 1 comment

Public health has a lot to answer for. Aside from its many justly celebrated triumphs from the mundane (clean water and improved sanitation) to the dramatic (the polio vaccine, the development of antibiotics), it has also been guilty of using people, especially African Americans, as a means to an end. The best-known example of public health gone wrong is of course the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male conducted by the Public Health Service (predecessor to the CDC) in conjunction with the Tuskegee Institute. The CDC has a good timeline and explanation of the study here, but the essential point is that the researchers allowed the study subjects’ syphilis to go untreated even after the development of penicillin. The study began in 1932 and wasn’t discontinued until forty years later. Since then, compensation and a national apology have followed, but the damage has been done. Many African Americans harbor a deep, and to an extent justified, distrust of public health authorities.

At its more extreme form, this kind of sour taste spins off theories of vast conspiracies to wipe out the population. During the early stages of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a rumor that the virus was a plot to cause genocide against blacks had some currency. Even more recently, about half of African-Americans surveyed either believed that HIV was a man-made virus created for black genocide or were “unsure” whether that was the case.1

It should be obvious that such distrust, and such theories, can impede prevention efforts. Nowhere is this more depressingly apparent than in a recent effort by the Georgia legislature to pass what must be the stupidest — just stupidest — bill ever considered in the effort to prevent abortions. Under the proposed law, aborting a fetus because of its race or gender would be a serious crime by a health care provider (not the woman who has the abortion). This piece of cosmic idiocy is being supported by an unlikely coalition of conspiracy-theorists and “traditional” anti-abortionists. A horrifying stew of toxic conspiracy theories can be found at this site, which seems to be a clearing house for several groups claiming, variously, that abortions are being performed on black women because doing so is profitable for abortionists, that abortion is some kind of plot to eliminate African-Americans, and that abortion is a way of controlling the birth rates of blacks (and the poor).

As with many conspiracy theories, this one has some basis in historical fact: This page does offer some useful information and links on the eugenics movement, which not surprisingly targeted African-Americans to a greater degree than the majority population. But the idea that those who are willing to perform abortions — in the face of protests, threats, and often for little financial reward — are part of some whispered effort to control or limit the African-American population is…well, nuts. But it’s this theory that accounts for the idea of punishing doctors for performing abortions: “They’re aborting to get rid of African-Americans! These genocidal maniacs must go to prison!”

How many cases do you expect would be brought, or would be successful? Very few, obviously. But the radical edge of the pro-life wing is willing to abandon principle or reason in service of any law that might possibly cause a drop in abortion rates. The hope is that by adding another threat to abortion providers, the increased in terrorem effect will be enough to drive more of them away from helping women to realize the full range of their options.

Now it’s true that black women abort their fetuses at a much higher rate than do white women. The Radiance Foundation brought forth the numbers on Georgia here, but their effort to dismiss this report by the Guttmacher Institute doesn’t work. The plain fact is that a higher incidence of unintended pregnancies, which is itself caused by deep and systemic inequalities plaguing the African-American population, is a sufficient and much more plausible explanation for the disparity. The author of the analysis had this to say:

Antiabortion activists in minority communities who are trying to protect African American women and Latinas from themselves by restricting access to safe and legal abortion have it backward. They should instead focus their efforts on reducing the disparities in access to quality health care and in health outcomes more broadly. And if they are most concerned about the disproportionately high abortion rates, they should begin by advocating for improved access to high-quality contraceptive services to reduce the disproportionately high rates of unintended pregnancy in these communities.

But the Operation Rescue crowd will take whatever allies, and whatever arguments, they can get.

Distrust of public health shouldn’t lead to an abandonment of the scientific and population-based tools that public health uses; principally, epidemiology. But the inability or unwillingness to use public health where convenient is common. Let me finish this long post with a quick note on another disturbing case, this one from Iowa. Here is a statement from the President of The Iowa Family Policy Center:

“The Iowa Legislature outlawed smoking in an effort to improve health and reduce the medical costs that are often passed on to the state,” said Chuck Hurley, president of the group. “The secondhand impacts of certain homosexual acts are arguably more destructive, and potentially more costly to society than smoking.”

He continued: “Homosexual activity is certainly more dangerous for the individuals who engage in it than is smoking.”

Hurley was relying on a recent CDC report on the disturbing incidence of HIV and syphilis on MSM (men who have sex with men). And these statistics are disturbing. But will his solution — rolling back marriage equality in Iowa — do anything to fix the problem? And is he right on the smoking comparison? No and no. And this shows that talking-head ideologues should try public health only at home, to twist a well-worn phrase.

Gay men in stable relationships are less likely to have multiple partners than those who aren’t in such relationships. The more partners, the higher the likelihood of STDs. Marriage improves stability, as its proponents tirelessly remind everyone. (And by the way, he makes no case against lesbians.)

As for the smoking comparison? He has no evidence — none — for the assertion that homosexual activity is certainly more dangerous to the individual than smoking. But who needs evidence when demonization will do?

  1. As the survey shows, they’re not the only ones with this belief, but the percentages are highest among African-Americans, and, according to some studies, Latinos.

Projecting A Cyber Snowball from my Laptop

February 25th, 2010 1 comment
A useful spell in the tub.

A useful spell in the tub.

Just a few short minutes ago, as the snow began to really pile up and the wind to howl, I hit “send” on the manuscript my seven co-authors and I have been working on for what seems like a decade. (In fact, the project began with a symposium almost two years ago; we signed with Cambridge almost a year ago; and the chapters began coming in by this Fall). I’m the editor of the volume, with all of the great and challenging tasks that position commands. So what is this book, and when will you be able to find it at a bookstore near you? Thanks for asking.

The book takes some of the most red-hot, and polarized issues on the political landscape and puts them through a public health, population-based wringer. The topics are: reproductive (abortion) rights; end of life matters; marriage equality (my chapter); the persistent connection between racism and health disparities; gun violence; domestic violence; and tort law and reform. How might these questions and issues be illuminated by looking at them from a perspective that didn’t focus so much on rights and morality, but on the health and welfare of the population? Through some cosmic stroke of good fortune, I managed to convince some of the very brightest and most thoughtful legal and public health scholars to participate, and editing the book was a special privilege (albeit an exhausting and occasionally frustrating one, as when documents wouldn’t do what they were requested, then commanded, to do. I hate Word but that’s another issue entirely.)

I’m guessing at this point that the book will be out later this year, but it’s a bit early to say for sure. But now I can say with confidence that it’s going to happen. (Now where did I put that Grand Marnier?)

I’ll be shamelessly flogging the book in the months to come. What is its title, you might wonder? Well, that’s the one thing I’m not crazy about — it has a tentative title that can still be changed. I’ve been wracking my brain, but for some reason the perfect title yet eludes me (and all of us). Any ideas, readers? Please? A valuable prize to be named later awaits whoever can bring me to my feet in an Archimedes-inspired exclamation. (Archimedes might never have actually yelled “Eureka!” — but I will.)

Instant Uplift

September 17th, 2009 No comments

Feeling despondent about the current course of debate, and the persistence of racism? This should help; it gets me every time:

Categories: race Tags:

Race and Swimming (Part X the Unknown)

July 21st, 2009 1 comment

This story just keeps getting more absurd. Now Tyler Perry, with a “creative step” of his own,  is footing the bill for a trip to Disney World for the Creative Steps kids who were subjected to racist comments and actions, and booted from the Valley Swim Club. According to CNN, which has been following this story, he says:

“‘This [treatment by Valley Club was] awful, and for anyone that has grown up in the inner-city, you know that one small act of kindness can change your life,’ he wrote, adding that with the trip to Disney World, ‘I want them to know that for every act of evil that a few people will throw at you, there are millions more who will do something kind for them. This is all about the kids.'”

All about the kids? Here’s what they are being taught so far. (Stay tuned for future lessons.)

  • If you’re aggrieved, sue. Don’t try to mediate. Don’t forgive. Don’t try to understand anyone else’s point of view. Just sue.
  • If you garner enough media attention, maybe some publicity-hungry celebrity will shower goodies on you,  to “compensate” you for what happened. Never mind the countless other city kids who have little or no access to recreational facilities. Let them get their own celebrity benefactor.
  • Racism can be cynically mined for cash.

Again, I don’t doubt the racism here. It was clear, and has essentially been admitted. Nor do I think that it should pass without consequence. But enough, already.

    Zeitoun — One Katrina Family’s Story

    July 21st, 2009 2 comments

    In the compelling Zeitoun, Dave Eggers (best known for “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”) has created a piece of advocacy journalism that deserves to be read and discussed. I plowed straight through the first 200+ pages on Sunday night, stopping only when I simply couldn’t stay awake. Then I finished it last night, after impatiently putting the kids to bed. Positive reviews and summaries are starting to come in, and there’s a nice interview with Eggers over at Salon.

    This non-fiction work chronicles the lives of Abdulrahman and Kathy (nee Delphine) Zeitoun, a Muslim couple living in New Orleans in 2005, when the city was brought down by Hurricane Katrina.

    Eggers masterfully sketches out the successful but somewhat plain lives of the couple in sympathetic detail, using the lead-up to Katrina for descriptions of and digressions into:  their successful contracting business; Abdulrahman’s ancestry and childhood in Syria (including a lavish description of his aquaphobic father and his late brother, who became arguably the greatest ocean swimmer in the world); Kathy’s Christian upbringing and her conversion to Islam; and, most significantly, the couple’s loving relationship and their warm family (including Kathy’s son from a brief, early marriage and the couple’s three daughters).

    Like any good documentary work, Zeitoun ties the joys, stress, travails and humiliations of the Zeitoun family to the larger issues of our collective national failure during and after Katrina. (The story doesn’t dwell on the failures that allowed Katrina to devastate the city; for that, see this and this.)  As was typical when severe hurricane warnings were posted, Kathy and the kids evacuated the city while Abdul remained behind to protect their home and the many rental properties the Zeitouns owned and managed. The book effectively cross-cuts between Kathy’s odyssey (involving nasty relatives, interminable traffic, and — finally — escape to her best friend’s home in Phoenix) and Abdulrahman’s heroism and subsequent incarceration.

    After the flood, Zeitoun (as he’s mostly called) used his canoe — which he’d bought for no real reason some time ago, but now saw as providential — to rescue people who might otherwise have drowned, and to feed dogs who would otherwise have starved. Eggers effectively reflects Zeitoun’s own sense that he was meant by God to stay, and that his actions were heroic (although Zeitoun would never have used that word himself). Yet from the start, Zeitoun and other residents are treated as annoyances by the very government rescuers who were supposed to be helping them.  At one point, two government speed boats zoom past the canoe, almost capsizing it and ignoring his plea to stop. In another inexplicable incident, Zeitoun is unable convince government workers to do anything to rescue an elderly couple that will surely otherwise drown. (Zeitoun and a friend are forced to return and improvise a risky strategy of their own.) Yet for the first two-thirds of the book, the reader is somehow buoyed (sorry!) by the can-doism of Zeitoun and his fellow residents (especially Todd Gambino, who might have rescued as many as 200 people).

    Then the book turns dark. Kathy can no longer contact her husband, and, assuming him dead, falls apart by degree (It can’t get worse than this, she thinks.). But Zeitoun isn’t dead; he’s been imprisoned. Zeitoun and others (including Gambino) captured in a house that Zeitoun owned were arrested, placed in a makeshift prison at the New Orleans Greyhound station, and then transferred to a maximum security prison. For almost three weeks, Zeitoun was given no reason for the arrest (there were unofficial statements that he and one of his fellow prisoners “were al Qaeda”), not arraigned, and not even allowed to make a phone call to his wife. The conditions in the prisons made sleep or comfort almost impossible. Despite severe and disabling pain, he was never granted access to a doctor. He was given food (pork) that he couldn’t eat. This is the man Kathy found after those three weeks:

    “He looked like a different man, a smaller man, with longer hair, almost all of it white….He’s so small, she thought….She could feel his shoulder blades, his ribs. His neck seemd so thin and fragile, his arms skeletal. She pulled back, and his eyes were the same — but they were tired, defeated. She had never seen this in him. He had been broken.”

    Why, though?

    The reasons for the treatment of Zeitoun and thousands of others (Gambino spent five months in prison, and after charges were dropped, never recovered over $2,000 that had been taken from him) are complex, but a few realities emerge:

    Once FEMA was made subordinate to Homeland Security, the focus — even in a situation that was clearly a natural disaster and not a terrorist strike — changed from public health and emergency management to law enforcement. Homeland Security had thought through how terrorists might exploit the aftermath of a natural calamity and then, doubtless fueled by hysterical media reports about looting, rape and murder, worried less about rescue and provision of basic services than crime prevention. Consider the construction of the emergency prison and the vast amount of time and money that went into it; this isn’t what one does in regard to a public health catastrophe. (See pages 236-237 for a vivid account of this issue.) As Professors Wendy Mariner, George Annas and Wendy Parmet state in a recent article: “Since September 11, 2001, emergency preparedness policies have shifted their focus from public health to national security….[T]his shift is both contradictory and ineffective.” Zeitoun makes this point graphically.

    Further, once the issue moves away from emergency management and public health to law enforcement, the potential for abuse soars. Law enforcement will avail itself of all available tools, and, given the opportunity, will come to reflect the worst prejudices of the society. Thus, it’s never entirely clear what impact Zeitoun’s Middle Eastern appearance had on his treatment (was it really all about looting? but then why no chance to explain, no chance to make a phone call?), but it is plain that his African-American cellmates were there at least in part because of their skin color and racial profiling.  This story is the worst:

    “One man said he was a sanitation worker from Houston. His company had been contracted shortly after the storm to come in and begin the cleanup. One morning he was walking from the hotel to his truck when a National Guard truck pulled up. He was arrested on the spot, handcuffed, and brought to Camp Greyhound….He was in uniform, and had identification, the keys to his truck, everything. But nothing worked. He was charged with looting and put in the cages….” (pp. 258-59)

    Don’t even get me started on the FEMA trailer debacle that forms a kind of slapstick sideshow to this extraordinary work. (It’s detailed on pages 308-310. Preview: a trailer is pretty much useless if you can’t get into it.)

    The book concludes with a chapter about the Zeitouns’ life now. Abdulrahman is more of a workaholic than ever, seemingly trying to forget by rebuilding. And “Kathy has lost her memory. It’s shredded, unreliable.” Because of what happened to her husband, she’s become a fretting mother, afraid to allow her kids the freedom they need to develop.

    The Zeitouns (especially Abdulrahman) emerge as particularly resilient, emblematic of the American optimism and capacity for reinvention that may have led this Syrian national here. Not even the Department of Homeland Security was able to crush that spirit.

    By all means, buy this book. Eggers is getting none of the royalties, having committed them to various relief organizations that are spelled out at the end of the work. And it will keep you up late.

    Affirmative Action in the Year 3000?

    July 20th, 2009 No comments

    Well, I hope not. In today’s New York Times, Ross Douhat compares Justice O’Connor’s “expectation” that the need for affirmative action will fade within the next generation with soon-to-be Justice Sotomayor’s “hope” that the end is near for such preferences:

    “O’Connor didn’t hope; she expected. And Sotomayor’s record suggests that there’s a considerable difference between these postures — that for the nominee, as for most liberal jurists, as long as racial disparities persist, so too must racial preferences.

    “This is the big question underlying both the ‘wise Latina’ contretemps and the controversy surrounding Sotomayor’s role in Ricci v. DeStefano. Whither affirmative action in an age of America’s first black president? Will it be gradually phased out, as the Supreme Court’s conservatives seem to prefer? Or will it endure well into this century and beyond?”

    Douhat is firm that, as America moves into an age where whites are no longer the majority, affirmative action must end:

    “As this generation rises, race-based discrimination needs to go. The explicit scale-tipping in college admissions should give way to class-based affirmative action; the de facto racial preferences required of employers by anti-discrimination law should disappear.

    “A system designed to ensure the advancement of minorities will tend toward corruption if it persists for generations, even after the minorities have become a majority. If affirmative action exists in the America of 2028, it will be as a spoils system for the already-successful, a patronage machine for politicians — and a source of permanent grievance among America’s shrinking white population.”

    Douhat’s error is in placing all minorities into a blender, and then hitting “puree.” It’s not that simple. African-Americans  are differently situated than other minorities. While the percentage of all minorities increases, the African-American population, while to a small extent enriched by African immigrants, remains fairly stable and still tied to a slave ancestry that bears no resemblance to voluntary immigrants and their descendants. It is the increase in these latter groups that mostly explains the “post-white” majority to come.

    There are all kinds of arguments and data that one might muster in support of this position. But here’s something much simpler, a snapshot of statistics from just one Philadelphia High School:

    SCHOOL PROFILE
    SAYRE HIGH SCHOOL
    Location #110

    HIGH SCHOOL REGION

    Demographics

    School Year: 2008-2009
    Grade Organization: 9-12
    Enrollment: 640

    Race/Ethnic Composition

    YEAR African
    American
    White Asian Latino Other

    So this is a school that’s almost entirely African-American. Now here are some scores on the standardized Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (“PSSA”) tests for that same school:

    Percentage of 11th Graders Scoring Advanced in Math

     

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    School    

    0.0%

    0.0%

    .7%

    Philadelphia

    9.7%

    9.8%

    12.4%

    11.6%

    12.7%

    Pennsylvania

    24.8%

    26.3%

    28.1%

    24.2%

    25.9%

    Percentage of 11th Graders Scoring Proficient in Math

     

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    School    

    1.1%

    7.6%

    11.2%

    Philadelphia

    13.2%

    13.3%

    14.5%

    19.4%

    19.9%

    Pennsylvania

    24.3%

    24.6%

    23.9%

    29.5%

    30.0%

    Percentage of 11th Graders Scoring Basic in Math

     

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    School    

    12.4%

    18.5%

    16.4%

    Philadelphia

    16.8%

    16.8%

    13.9%

    18.3%

    15.7%

    Pennsylvania

    19.8%

    18.7%

    17.7%

    19.8%

    17.6%

    Percentage of 11th Graders Scoring Below Basic in Math

     

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    School    

    86.5%

    73.9%

    71.7%

    Philadelphia

    60.4%

    60.1%

    59.2%

    50.7%

    51.8%

    Pennsylvania

    31.0%

    30.5%

    30.4%

    26.6%

    26.6%

    Percentage of 11th Graders Scoring Advanced in Reading

     

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    School    

    0.0%

    1.1%

    3.3%

    Philadelphia

    8.2%

    10.4%

    10.8%

    9.6%

    13.3%

    Pennsylvania

    26.8%

    33.6%

    31.2%

    28.9%

    31.8%

    Percentage of 11th Graders Scoring Proficient in Reading

     

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    School    

    10.1%

    20.9%

    17.9%

    Philadelphia

    18.8%

    20.2%

    22.3%

    25.5%

    24.0%

    Pennsylvania

    34.0%

    31.4%

    33.9%

    36.5%

    32.9%

    Percentage of 11th Graders Scoring Basic in Reading

     

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    School    

    20.2%

    28.6%

    29.1%

    Philadelphia

    19.6%

    14.4%

    19.7%

    19.4%

    20.9%

    Pennsylvania

    17.4%

    12.9%

    16.3%

    15.3%

    16.2%

    Percentage of 11th Graders Scoring Below Basic in Reading

     

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    School    

    69.7%

    49.5%

    49.7%

    Philadelphia

    53.4%

    55.0%

    47.2%

    45.5%

    41.8%

    Pennsylvania

    21.8%

    22.0%

    18.5%

    19.3%

    19.0%

    71.7% in 2008 are below basic in math; about half are below basic in reading. Since 2006, the numbers have begun to improve, but that’s cold comfort. For 11-grade math, the state defines “basic” as the ability to do simple algebra and geometry, to read and interpret graphs, and to perform operations with square roots and exponents. For reading, it’s quite simple: The student is competent with “below grade -level text only” and “requires extensive support to comprehend and interpret fiction and non-fiction.”

    Those are facts. It’s Douhat who’s trading on “hope.” He’s right about the importance of class, but the idea that class and race (especially “black”) can be separated so as to yield a more representative society (or college entering class, anyway) seems fanciful in light of these data. The two are often inseparable.

    Here’s more of Douhat’s piece:

    “Affirmative action has always been understandable, but never ideal. It congratulates its practitioners on their virtue, condescends to its beneficiaries, and corrodes the racial attitudes of its victims.”

    The last sentence has a nice cadence, but doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny. The first piece seems defensive (maybe it is virtuous, and perhaps even morally required; if so, there’s nothing to congratulate oneself for any more than one should praise oneself for not robbing a bank). The second is in the eye of the beholder: Justice Thomas hates affirmative action; Justice Ginsburg, who identified herself as a beneficiary, defends it. The third is ambiguous: What does Douhat mean by “corrodes the racial attitudes”?(Does he mean something different from “condescends to its beneficiaries”? I can’t tell.)

    President Obama’s story is remarkable. But it’s an immigrant, polyglot story; not a tale of someone from the ‘hood rising to prominence. Spend a week in a Philadelphia High School and tell me whether you think the end of affirmative action is near.

    LZ Granderson’s Shaky Defense of Obama

    July 17th, 2009 No comments

    Yesterday, ESPN journalist LZ Granderson wrote a provocative opinion piece for CNN, taking the gay community to task for its criticism of Obama. While he makes some valid points, overall the piece is disjointed, unpersuasive, and borderline irresponsible.

    First, what he’s right about: Like white society in general, the white gay community has not exactly been welcoming of African-American gays. For social and historical reasons that are perfectly understandable, many black gay men more readily identify with their community of color, not of sexual orientation. Thus, they mostly remain enthusiastic about, and uncritical of, Obama. Granderson is also accurate to write that the history of the gay rights movement is much shorter than that of the civil rights movement.

    But as to this latter point: So what? It’s not a contest. And Granderson seems to be equating Stonewall to the beginning of gay oppression, rather than to the beginning of the end of it. He writes:

    “The 40th anniversary of Stonewall dominated Gay Pride celebrations around the country, and while that is certainly a significant moment that should be recognized, 40 years is nothing compared with the 400 blood-soaked years black people have been through in this country. There are stories some blacks lived through, stories others were told by their parents and stories that never had a chance to be told.”

    This is dangerous and wrong. It can’t go unchallenged. Why is Granderson comparing the 40 years since Stonewall to the 400 years of black oppression? This makes no sense on its face. The oppression of blacks didn’t start at the dawn of the civil rights movement, and the oppression of gays didn’t start with Stonewall. That event represents a turning point (perhaps, but even that point is too easy), but for millenia there have been “stories that some [gays]  lived through, [and] stories that never had a chance to be told.” As for “stories…told by their parents” — even more than blacks, gays were isolated and cut off from any stories that might have affirmed their existence.

    Again, though, it’s not a contest. I make my point only to illustrate the pernicious character of the “Rank That Oppression” Game. The two situations are different, making comparisons parlous. More importantly, Granderson misses one of the central insights of the civil rights movement: All oppression is connected. If some black gay men are giving Obama a complete pass, they’re missing that point as surely as Granderson is. Are they  thinking about their brothers in the military who live in fear of being exposed and kicked out, or of those who don’t even bother enlisting? Are they thinking about black lesbians raising children who could benefit in tangible economic and social ways from the repeal of DOMA or the full marriage equality that he-who-must-not-be-criticized opposes?

    And speaking of African-American lesbians, they’re left out of Granderson’s story. It seems he wants to give a pass to Obama and to other black men, but to one else. White gays are accused of singing the blues without “living them.” This is just as offensive as whites “blaming” African-Americans for Prop 8. Enough.

    This is identity politics at its least appealing. But don’t take my word for it. Read the article.