Friday, November 10, 2006

smart stuff

These guys have brains so big I'm afraid they might pop out their nose...

25 Comments:

At Fri Nov 10, 10:52:00 AM PST, Blogger jay are said...

Totally, utterly amazing. Scary almost.

 
At Fri Nov 10, 10:41:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Julie, you could be right. Or it could be that a person of one race can live for years in, around, and among people of another race without ever exploring the other POV in any meaningful measure or without acquiring an empathy for the language issues involved, choosing instead to defend an imaginary right to speak in a way that the majority of the other group would find offensive, and disregarding any caution on the subject as irrelevant and outdated PC rhetoric."

Taking it off Cecily's blog and bringing it right to your door. . .

Jesus Christ. I've been teaching for 14 years. I'm frustrated as hell. My students are failing-- only 9% graduate from my school. I have the right to speak as honestly and clearly as the situation warrents, not to tiptoe around and make shy white-bread noises. You call that empathy; I call it being a pussy.

Any black person with his or her eyes open will take one look at the students of whom I refer and see the problem. The ones who don't pass? They aren't doing the work! It's not the fauly of 400 years of oppression nor is it the fault of whitey. It's their own damned fault. And the solution isn't PC language or patronizing pity, a kind of backhanded racism-- it's them getting up off their asses and cracking a book.

You have no idea who I am or what I do all day or how I think about my students or how much I love them and am frustrated to death when I and my colleagues bend and twist this way and that trying to accomodate and understand and remediate and counsel, and the kids fuck up anyway. Not all of them, to be sure. There are some breathtaking successes. But sadly, the vast majority.

Do you read about these issues at all (and attend conferences and work on committees and begin initatives as I have done for years) or do you just pop up from suburbia to pass judgement on those of us who do? And have you ever actually talked to black people about this stuff? I have, and my many black colleagues say essentially the same thing I do.

Julie

 
At Sat Nov 11, 10:50:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah! What Julie said.
?????????????????????

 
At Sat Nov 11, 05:33:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

Is there some kind of disconnect on the thread of comments realting to the Rubik's Cube video? I'm missing something here. How did the dialog on education get started?

 
At Sat Nov 11, 05:42:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must have missed something too...but it does sound like a great argument...

Anon #2

 
At Sat Nov 11, 08:30:00 PM PST, Anonymous Cal said...

Since Bryan seems to have stepped out for a minute, I can clarify.

Julie is continuing a discussion that began on another blog. For context, check out the comment thread to this post, which Bryan linked to a few days back in his post about voting .

 
At Sun Nov 12, 03:49:00 PM PST, Anonymous si said...

thx for the clarification, cal. (maybe julie should have linked it herself.) bryan: you're really getting your wish lately of lighting the "phone-bank lights" up on your blog, and apparently others also.

back to this subject -- you're right, too big of brains for me to fathom. i can't solve a rubik's cube on my own w/my eyes open, ashamed to say, let alone creating a machine/solving w/a blindfold. i found myself holding my breath on the 2nd video (maybe because i thot he was stopping and i could tell he shouldn't -- but then why would they release the video if he failed? i make for a good audience -- i get easily caught up.).

so, what other topics do have in your arsenal that could p*ss people off? :)

 
At Sun Nov 12, 04:28:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

Apparently, the record for blindfolded solving of rubik's cubes is three cubes in a row. This means the solver looks at three mixed up cubes then is blindfolded and then solves all three without taking the blindfold off. Here's a site.
http://www.recordholders.org/en/records/rubik-blindfold.html

 
At Sun Nov 12, 09:06:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

incredible cube stuff. thx, unca.

julie,
i don't disagree that the majority of what is going make "the black experience" in america better is going to come from within -- maybe it's not fair, but i think it's the way it is.

and i wouldn't argue with what you say about your students, or question your dedication to them -- kudos to you for working hard to make things better – but I do have a serious problem with the way you said it, and I still question your sensitivity to the underlying issues.

Your students are black. They are lazy. They fail. What connections do you intend that we draw? Is their laziness connected to their blackness? Is the blackness irrelevant? Are you merely seeking to highlight what liberal white people like to call Black Despondency? IOW, what is the point of your statement?

As I said before, context is everything. In a conversation between you and your colleagues, where you’ve established that you have your students’ best interests at heart, you might be at liberty to say all manner of things that could be taken badly by some hyper-vigilant guardian of PC. I’ve had conversations where friends or acquaintances -- black as often as white -- have speculated about things in a way that might end careers in other contexts.

But in a blog post or comment, everything’s shorthand, and details -- especially about race -- need to be relevant or need to be left out.

Cecily posted about young men discussing how cops behave in black neighborhoods – a HUGE issue. But this group of young men, rather than being bitter, appeared fairly resigned (as I read Cecily’s account).

But Cecily ended her post with “Sigh”, which I took as both a lack of empathy for the young men, and quite patronizing. The sigh coupled with the title of the post gave me the impression she was saying, “How frustrating that these young men are so short-sighted. Their lack of enthusiasm is why nothing is going to change – ie, things could change if they’d only vote – ie, the status quo is their fault because they don’t care.”

Apparently I read Cecily wrong, and her sigh was merely frustration with the entire situation. Fine.

Then you said essentially: “Hey, my students are black too, and you know what? They don’t succeed because they’re lazy.” The common thread here is young black people and how they’re to blame for their situation.

I don’t care who you are and how much you give to the UNCF, that juxtaposition sounds at worst racist and at best *extremely* patronizing.

Which may not be a disaster – you can explain where you’re coming from, make a case for your POV.

But you know what happened? When people brought up the fact that it sounded a bit racist, you launched into Defensive White Person mode. You were scornful of the idea that anything could possibly be considered racist. You suggested it was PC run amok. You sounded like the kind of white person who says “Well, *they* say the N-word, I don’t see why *I* can’t…”

At first I thought you were saying
“Only PC-mongers would have a problem with juxtaposing two ways that groups of young black men are lazy”

Now it sounds more like
“We have a serious problem here in black america; a lot of the young people are lazy”

I’m still not sure which it is, or if you’re saying something else.

 
At Sun Nov 12, 09:13:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite refreshing, someone who's not kissing Bryan's butt for a change...thanks, Julie.

Sorry, Bryan, I gotta agree with Julie. Lazy is lazy. No excuses. Period.

 
At Sun Nov 12, 10:13:00 PM PST, Blogger anya ransuns aka Roxy said...

Bryan: Why do you allow Anonymous posts on your blog? If you didn't, we would have missed out on the above, in which Anonymous so artfully and simplistically reduces the whole argument to three meaningless words. What a shame that would have been.

 
At Sun Nov 12, 11:31:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What I find in teaching at a majority-black urban college is that my students quite happily dismiss their civic duty to vote because "they" are all "bunch of crooks." They very often cite the 2000 election as a reason to never grace an election booth. I point out easy it is to latch on to conspiracy theories when you feel overwhelmed by how much you don't know about something (government, the electoral process). Usually we spend a little time on it then.

I think Viv is being incredibly reductive in blaming the legal system and cop behavior for what I clearly see as educational underpreparedness/laziness."

Okay, this is exactly what I said on Cecily's blog. What, exactly, do you have a "serious problem" with?

What you see as "defensive white person mode" is me being shocked at your selective listening.

 
At Mon Nov 13, 12:05:00 AM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Just a quick comment on the misplaced thread : I think I would be cautious to mention a possible PC error or suggest an alternative word that could be determined less offensives to someone on the front lines and to someone who is trying to make a difference. (Unless I walked in those same shoes) Bryan, say you decided to go for a ride with a social worker who happened to be white. This social worker has worked in the same neighborhood for 14 years which happens to be mostly black. While you’re driving around you pass a bunch of guys hanging out on the street corner and the social worker says to you. “You know it’s really a shame, I have known some of those black guys for 10 years and it’s so frustrating to me that most of them are just too lazy to get off their butts and get a job” Bryan, would you say or feel like saying something like “You know (Social Workers name) I think you’re being a little careless about your language and I know you’re not prejudice or anything but I think you could have used a better word than lazy”

So many black communities are facing so many serious issues. I think the least of their problems is the need for white people to walk on egg shells all the time worrying that they may say something that might trigger something from their oppressed past. I think it is far more valuable to be in involved in the situation itself and trying to make a difference.

 
At Mon Nov 13, 12:56:00 AM PST, Anonymous Mark said...

I agree with blogball. I come from the community environment myself.

 
At Mon Nov 13, 10:20:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

Here’s what I have a problem with:

1) Cecily’s post sounded (to more folks than just me) like she was suggesting young black men’s apathy was a bigger issue than police harassment, lack of representation, etc. In that context, you made a statement that sounded like “I know some other young black men who are also lazy” and followed it up with a comment I saw as dismissing a very real, very powerful, and very serious issue: cop behavior and a legal system that works better for some people than for others (“in blaming the legal system and cop behavior for what I clearly see as educational underpreparedness/laziness”).
2) Curiousgyrl pointed out what I (and others) saw as insensitivity in those remarks.
3) Jodell O (who I misread as you, btw) said “You make yourself look pretty silly automatically assuming that anyone who would use the words "black" and "laziness" in the same paraphraph is implying that there is a connection.” As if it were pure coincidence that the words were used together (it wasn’t – AFAIC you weren’t saying “all black people are lazy”, but you WERE making a connection), and as if there *isn’t* a reason to be cautious about language.
4) Curiousgyrl apologized and made an honest declaration of what I think is a defensible position: “I believe its more important to be careful about calling black people lazy than careful about calling white people racist.”
5) You told Curiousgyrl she was still being offensive. Again, as if caution on the subject of loaded language is somehow more offensive than the language itself.
6) You added “How is Cecily blinded by color???? Does merely mentioning race now make one racist or "blinded"?” As if race had been merely *mentioned* in passing, when in fact citing your students’ race made it by that time a major connecting factor in the discussion.
7) That’s what I call Defensive White Person mode, and that’s what I have a problem with. I hope and trust you’re as energetic defending your students from racial slander as you are defending Cecily and Jodell.

Blogball,
We’re all somewhere in our lives, learning and growing; I don’t pretend to have arrived at enlightenment on this issue or any other. And I respect the contributions of many people, and don’t think it’s my place to follow people around and criticize their efforts. But sometimes things seem clear enough and important enough to say something if I think it will have an effect on the overall picture.

And I agree that being there and doing the job gives someone a little leeway on the less-important issue of language. It’s absolutely most important to be *doing* something to have a positive influence.

However, one can do a lot of really good stuff for people but still have a long way to go in empathizing. The Aussie govt thought they were doing a great thing for the mixed-race kids they took away from their mothers and placed in adoptive (white) homes – some people were doing hard work with good intentions; they were also woefully out of touch, and screwed up the lives of a generation of kids.

Bottom line: I think one can do much better work if one has the understanding that “I might do exactly the same as this person if I were in his shoes” as opposed to “I can’t figure out why this person doesn’t get with the program.”

And yes, I might indeed be tempted to have an opinion about a white social worker who refers to a random group of people as “some of those black guys”, if for no other reason than it suggests that he/she sees them primarily as “black guys” instead of “guys”. It’s part of Other-ing people, and of propagating associations between race and negative behaviour.

I’m not primarily concerned about this because I think black people will be offended; if you’re black in America there are plenty of things – some reasonable and some not – to get upset about if you want to.

What I’m on about is white attitudes. I think it’s useful to identify the powerful undertow that wants to sweep all of us toward simplistic analyses, especially those that absolve us of responsibility to change. It’s the same force that moves young black men to say “I don’t vote, they’re all crooks” – it means we don’t have to DO anything, like educate ourselves, or be careful about language, or whatever.

When a person says “some of those black guys are just too lazy to get a job” it’s suggestive. Consider if you were riding around in Boston – would you say “some of those white guys are just too lazy to get a job”? Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Why mention “white”? So if you mention “black”, it carries the suggestion of relevance, as though the subtext is “and that’s one of the problems with black America.”

And you know what? Let’s pretend it IS – for any of a million reasons, young black men being lazy is why they’re not getting ahead. It would STILL have several good reasons NOT to be leveraged into the conversation (except in particular contexts), not the least of which is how much it sounds like the previous 150 yrs of white people saying how lame, lazy, and to-blame for their situation all them coloreds is…

Consider: white america has been holding black america’s situation against it for a long time. In the last 50 yrs we’ve come to identify some institutional barriers to success that much of black America faced and much of white America was blissfully unaware of. Maybe white America will come to a similar realization WRT education & voting as well.

Or maybe not – maybe I’m wrong, and it’s all young black men’s fault. But in the meantime, I feel it ill behooves me to pass too much judgment on the young men, and such a simple thing to avoid potentially offensive language.

Maybe the language issue doesn’t resonate for a white person who is not a racist and just wants the best for everyone, but I know enough people for whom it DOES to make me want to make the effort.

And the nice part is that it’s not that difficult. The simplest test is this: when deciding whether it’s relevant to mention race, consider whether one would use the word “white” if one were talking about white people.

Just my two dollars’ worth. I’m imagine it may sound condescending or arrogant – please consider that it’s something I feel strongly about, and that I don’t consider anyone here a racist -- I’m merely giving my perspective.

Anon,
I could be inferring too much again; if so, sorry. But if you said, “Hey, someone not kissing Bryan’s butt for a change” I’d find that funny; the fact that you find it “refreshing” makes me feel you think I need to be taken down a peg, or find it irritating that people are nice in this space.
Anyway, I no longer need everyone to like me, but when they don’t I like it to be in person, not anonymously.
As to “lazy is lazy”, I envy you the simplicity of your analysis.

 
At Mon Nov 13, 12:44:00 PM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Bryan, thank you for your perspective and I do respect it.
Just a quick point: My analogy pointed out that it was a mostly black neighborhood. The social worker was pointing out a few people that he or she knew for 10 years who happened to be black. Maybe I should have made it a little clearer that there were more than one race of people hanging out on the street corner. This is why I said a bunch of guys in the beginning not a bunch of black guys. Let’s say there were 3 whites 4 Hispanics and 6 blacks. The Social worker said those black guys so you would know who she was talking about. If she would have said you know I have known those white guys for 10 years and it’s so frustrating to me that most of them are just too lazy to get off their butts and get a job. This would not strike me as strange at all. I have known a lot more white lazy people (including myself when I was in my early 20s) than black lazy people. The social worker is letting you know who he or she is talking about by the color of their skin. I just don’t see a problem with that. Why is this offensive language? Don’t you think it is a step forward towards a color blind society when we can all just talk to each other and not have to be careful how we say it or cringe when we hear words that might have been offensive a long time ago?

 
At Mon Nov 13, 01:43:00 PM PST, Blogger sonicmolasses said...

Julie O + Julie = same person.

Bryan, you've really twisted things out.

Curiousgyrl was saying that these young black men weren't voting because of cops and the legal system. I said that was bunk-- in the case of my students, they weren't voting because they didn't know what was up (I had to explain to college students what congress is the other day) and because they didn't take the time to learn about it. I was never at any point dismissing problems black men have with cops and the legal system, just that that fact does not excuse them from voting.

And in fact yeah, I do think it's incredibly lame to call white person racist in the knee-jerk way she did and then run back and say, well, it's less dangerous for me to call you racist than for you to call your students lazy.

And yes, I DID intend to talk about young black men, not white men or hispanic men. They are the most at-risk group at my school, dropping out sooner than any other group. In the city in which I live, we are close to hitting 400 murders for the year, mostly young black men shooting other young black men. On my own (racially mixed working-class) block, kids who were in junior high a few years ago are now dropouts selling drugs in front of my house. The following article in the NY Times earlier this year chronicles the issues and the reasons behind the issues:

"http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/20/national/20blackmen.html?ei=5090&en=57e0d1ceebcbc209&ex=1300510800&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1162779260-Uv+J

There is a problem. Pointing out that it's a problem for young black men does not make anyone a racist. I am so tired of anyone just metioning race getting jumped all over, like the whole thing is just not happening.

You, Bryan, write as a white person of privilege who, I would venture to guess, has never lived in a mostly-black city, worked with a minority educational/socioeconomic underclass, cared deeply about a demographic who increasingly baffles and saddens one, yet feels quite smug criticizing those of us who aren't afraid to talk about what is very real in the world.

 
At Mon Nov 13, 01:44:00 PM PST, Blogger sonicmolasses said...

ps: sonicmolasses = julie o = julie

Why did you suddenly deny anonymous comments?

 
At Mon Nov 13, 02:14:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

bb,
i agree with you in that i see nothing at all wrong with using race if it's the easiest way to identify someone, and there are no other contextual factors that might make the issue sensitive. "see those three guys there? the chicano one is my buddy from high school."

to NOT do that is stupid -- as if "black" or "white" (or whatever) were bad words.

but i see the context of the conversation julie and i are wrangling about as very different. to me, her comments amounted to "black folks who complain instead of doing something? i work with those, too." perhaps i'm hyper-PC, but i don't think so. i wouldn't even be keeping at the issue except for two things:

1) I'm very used to white people not understanding the connotations of their words. Our history is full of cliches of well-meaning folks who betray their lack of perspective with things like:

- I don't think of you as a black person. (which suggests that I think of black people in a certain probably negative way, but that i'm giving you a promotion to white status in my mind, which is sure to be an honor)

- I met Joe. He's black... very *articulate*.

- So-and-so is a credit to his race.

- Some of my best friends are __.

- etc.


2) I'm also used to white people getting their back up if they're called on this type of thing (rarely by me, btw). It's natural. I have felt the same way (ie, defensive) when I've become aware that I've inadvertently said something offensive. When we're well-meaning, we don't like to think we've offended someone. We'd rather go into defensive posture and insist that people are too sensitive, that PC is out of hand, that we're just trying for colorblindness, etc. And maybe we are. But IMO there's still much value in being careful with language.

As to your clarified example, i appreciate the explanation. I still find "I've known some of those white guys for 10 yrs" a little weird. Would anyone really say that? I think I would say "some of those guys", and if it mattered which exact guys it was I would say "the four white ones". And especially if I was going to follow it up with a comment preloaded with meaning by recent history, I'd be extra sure it was necessary to heave race into the conversation.

How do you feel about this one:
You see those Jews there? I've known them for 10 yrs and most of them are just plain greedy.

 
At Mon Nov 13, 03:13:00 PM PST, Blogger blogball said...

I agree with most of what you say here. The black articulate thing has always bugged me too. As if we are surprised to hear someone black speak articulately.

As far as : "You see those Jews there? I've known them for 10 yrs and most of them are just plain greedy."

This is quite different because the social worker in my analogy is speaking in line of what his or her work is about. The SW is mentioning the fact about some individuals work status and the reason for it. This is a big problem for social workers when they visit families with out of work fathers or mothers. The SW is showing concern and frustration over the situation.

Bryan, I think our goal is the ultimately the same for this country as far as equality but we have some differences on how to get there. Hopefully with some of your efforts and some of mine we can make it better for our kids.

 
At Tue Nov 14, 10:47:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

Julie,

Twisting things out is my job.

Miscellaneous thoughts in no particular order:

I’m having trouble reconciling what I read from you. On the one hand, it sounds like you have a lot of genuine concern and do tremendous things for young people.

On the other hand, how can you not see that in the context we’re talking about, it’s not just reasonable, it’s very easy to infer what curiousgyrl and I did. You said “I am so tired of anyone just mentioning race getting jumped all over, like the whole thing is just not happening”; but my whole point is that it wasn’t just *mentioned*. Mentioning race is great. Propogating offensive stereotypes in a high-level discussion of causes & effects is not so great.

To you, the voting issue comes down to laziness. To me, that’s picking up on an *effect*, and end-product of a hundred different cultural factors, every one of which deserves to be mentioned on the way to “and it’s created a culture of non-involvement, abdication of voting responsibility, etc.”

I am, as you say, privileged and white – and I’m in the middle of arguing that sometimes I don’t see the point of voting. How much less would I want to vote in a system that fails me in fundamental ways like equal protection under the law, discriminatory sentencing patterns, etc.

And let me be clear: I don’t “blame whitey” for everything. Every culture or subculture has its pathologies, and IMHO there are several things that black america faces that could be avoided by different choices – whether about education, or whatever.

But the question is this (and I assume you’ve already had this conversation, read all the books, etc): Why is this happening? Why are your students ill-prepared and unmotivated? Why the lack of family cohesion, blah blah blah.

To me, there are two choices:

Either A, black people are fundamentally different from white people – stupider, more short-sighted, less ambitious, whatever.

Or B, we’re all more or less the same, but growing up black (and incidentally, growing up poor no matter what race) may present a young person with different choices, different models, a different world-view – one that doesn’t always groom one for success in the dominant culture.

If it’s B, and I believe it is, then the causal factors (how’s that for white-liberal-speak?) – including police/legal problems – are absolutely relevant, and in a conversation about causes & effects it’s lazy and irresponsible to focus solely on an end-product like “they don’t vote because they can’t be bothered to get involved.”

I understand that when it comes down to individual students, where you work, it’s a little late to discuss all that – it’s the past, and can’t be changed. You *must* focus on getting individual students up off their ***es and taking charge of their own educations and their own lives. Of course that’s what’s needed, of course that’s the relevant issue to the individual, of course that’s what can be done. Self-flagellating white people droning on about 400 yrs of oppression, sniping at each other for violating made-up PC rules, etc, does nothing for your students.

You said, “There is a problem. Pointing out that it's a problem for young black men does not make anyone a racist.” And I absolutely agree – talking is not racism, there IS a problem, it’s a problem for young black (and/or poor) men, and the best way it’s going to get fixed is through the direct efforts of these same young men, and possibly people like you helping them.

But again, I’m back to context. For me, in a blog post like Cecily’s (That’s Why Things Will Never Change), we’re discussing things at an abstract level. The blog audience is probably 90% white, very few of them with your exposure to the issues, any number of them still operating at the level of “Black folks seem like a naturally jovial people”
In that environment, it sounds a terribly jarring note to zero in on laziness as opposed to cynicism, distrust, victim mentality, educational opportunity, family modelling, or any of the other things that don’t sound so much like 1960’s white Alabama.

Re me:

Haven’t lived in a mostly-black city.
CORRECT. Met lots of people who *have*, tho, and as a credential it doesn’t necessarily impress me much. I’ve listened to people (white and black) say some pretty bigoted things about their fellow humans and follow it up with “Well, you’ve never lived with them, have you?”

Haven’t worked with a minority educational/socioeconomic underclass.
CORRECT, assuming you mean “worked with” in the sense of having a job working with these issues directly. I *have* had quite a few co-workers and clients from a “minority educational/socioeconomic underclass”; not sure how many books one needs to read, or conversations one needs to have, or how many minority friends of how many different races & backgrounds one needs to gain a little understanding of the issues. I guess all I can say is: show me where what I SAY is wrong or misguided, rather than saying merely “You sound like an X.” I’m not above learning I’m wrong about things, but specifics work a little better for me than a general ad hominem stmt about my background.

Never cared deeply about a demographic who increasingly baffles and saddens one
NOT CORRECT.

feels quite smug criticizing those of us who aren't afraid to talk about what is very real in the world.
I SURE HOPE NOT. If I come across as smug, I apologize. I do know what you’re talking about – well-meaning white folks with no exposure to the real issues. I live in Seattle, after all. As to being afraid to talk about reality – in the right context -- you might be surprised.

PS. Couldn’t follow the NYT link.
PPS. Stopped anonymous comments to try to reduce drive-by negativity. Contradiction is welcomed/hoped for, but I’m thinking if we all have to stand behind what we say we’ll make an effort to be as thoughtful and constructive as possible.

 
At Tue Nov 14, 10:47:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

blogball,
point taken about the jewish example.

 
At Tue Nov 14, 04:02:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

eekkk... I have posted anonymously a few times, but these weren't from me...

 
At Tue Nov 14, 04:07:00 PM PST, Blogger sonicmolasses said...

Okay, then, now we're having an actual conversation. Thank you.

One thing you should know-- Cecily and I are old friends in real life, live in the same city and have walked the same somewhat offbeat life path. When I respond to her blog, it's often in the manner of talking just to her, as though we were hanging out. Sometimes I'm not really cognizant of the fact that her blog is read by thousands of people.

You are also right that there are causes for behavior. Sometimes I just see a room of students, half of whom have their jeans hanging over their asses, sitting way way back in their seats, a basball cap on their heads affecting this stupid gangster pose that is not really going to get them anywhere. You are right-- this did not just spring out of nowhere. There are loads of theories about the where's and the why's, from Michael Eric Dyson to Bill Cosby to Snoop. The causes go from lack of male role models to poor public schools to, yes, 400 years of oppression to rampant materialism to probably too much TV.

But sometimes I don't see the causes, just the results.

Here's a funny thing: a few weeks ago I asked a class to work on a self-assessment. One of the questions was in what ways they still had trouble as college students. One of my more particularly not-successful young men answered that he has a big problem with laziness.

I told them that I actually don't believe in laziness. I find that resistant is actually a defense when we don't understand something or feel overwhelmed. I tell them that as a writer, I get terribly lazy when I don't know what's going on in the book I'm working on and I often just want to take a nap or watch TV all night.

I think in repsonse to Cecily's voting post, I was relaying how easily my students resort to consipiracy theories when they don't understand something. The thing is, the only way they WILL understand is by recognizing it and making the effort to find things out. Just like the only way a novel gets written is when I keep at my characters until I figure out what they are doing.

As far as living/working enviroment, I grew up in a white suburban bubble. I thought race relations were all peace, love and happiness. When I moved to a city and started living in poorer mixed neighborhoods, I was really surprised. There's a lot of tension out here! I've definitely become more jaded and sad and sometimes angry.

I live in a strange neighborhood where I can't afford to buy (houses start at a half million) yet like living because I rent a cheap large apartment and it's really close to where I do things. But the racial strife is probably worse than any neighborhood I've ever lived in. House in the middle of the block with a crackhead mother that draws teens from all over the area who spill out into the street, climb on our cars (mine looks like it's been in an accident tho it never has), deal drugs minorly, hang on the corners day and night, occasionally fight. The other night I was riding my bike home and kids were tossing a football. It bounced in front of my bike (into which my bike shoes were clipped, which would make a spill pretty sucky). I said, in a normal tone, "Please watch the ball," and was met with the following (from a 13 year old): "Shut the fuck up."

So I have issues. I no longer think MLKing's dream came true. One the one hand, I love my students and want them to succeed and want to help them work through whatever stuff in their background (tough-guy anti-academic postures etc) hold them back. On the other hand, I get pissed about what I see outside my window and have a lot less sympathy for those kids because they directly screw with my quality of life.

The Times piece is really provocative and I recommend it mightily. If I knew how to link it properly, I would.

You know, this "argument" with you and others on Cecily's blog has been good for me. Things at work are interesting college-wide in terms of new help-stduents-succeed initiatives so we are always talking about race, language etc. Increasingly I am feeling that what we do doesn't really matter- are students will do whatever they will do. I hope I am wrong.

I still argue that I was not propulgating racial stereotypes. I think, if anything, I was speaking out of context about a very particular context.

Thanks for continuing the conversation.

Julie

 
At Wed Nov 15, 07:48:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

Julie and others,
Thank you for your willingness to participate in this dialog. For me, this is the best part about blogging.
-Bryan

 

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