The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Researching Inequities in Pittsburgh Arts Funding!

imbalanced-scalesVery excited about The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council forming a Learning and Leadership Committee to study issues of equity in funding for the arts in greater Pittsburgh, both current and historical. The committee will collectively determine an approach to examine the allocation of arts funding in Pittsburgh through the lens of race and will then share their findings with the larger community. In no small issue of equity, participants will receive a $1,000 stipend for their labor and since there are ten people on the committee, they essentially become a collective $10,000 consultant, but with the dollars going to the people who are to benefit, namely Black artists, the issue of trickle down community engagement is prevented. In the past, looking at Heinz giving by race, one of the things that I’ve found interesting is trying to figure out what I think defines the racial classification of an organization. Is it the CEO? The majority of staff? The majority of staff & board? The majority of staff, board and audience? What if the grant is for Black led work in a predominantly white organization? Is that the same as dollars to a white led organization for work primarily impacting white people?

In a study done by consulting firm TDC called The Unsung Majority, which was commissioned by The Heinz Endowments, an anonymous foundation & the Pittsburgh Foundation, an organization was racially defined by saying “it’s race” was whatever its majority was in 2 of the 3 categories of board, staff and audience. The Equity in Funding project will work on answering those kinds of questions as well as deciding what are the critical questions to ask funders when it comes to thinking about how our funding is dispersed in racial terms. I’m super interested in what they come up with.

The research is supported by a grant from a program jointly funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments called the Advancing Black Arts Program. To see more about the project copy and paste the link below.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfJZCiFCJykxtRl-X6sTnIANqwYfV8nNEb9KJUfg2dLieTaxw/viewform?c=0&w=1

Black Teachers and Black Students: The Unromantic Love Story

From Thursday to Saturday, I attended Teach For America’s African American Corp Member Summit, where about 200 2nd year Black TFA corp members convened to share their experience as black educators. While I often think about my role as a Black teacher and how I can be most effective, rarely have I thought about what my presence as a Black teacher means for my students. While there is some research that has been done, which shows Black students often perform better academically when they have a Black instructor, this framing does little to explain why this is the case. Moreover, it is limiting to confine the value of Black teachers to data metrics which our students are able to meet under our guidance. Here is my attempt to give some light to the value of Black teachers.

First and foremost, Black teachers inherently recognize the humanity in our students. Often people say, “Black teachers can identify with their Black students,” however, this ignores the multiple dimensions of the Black experience. Yes, Black teachers can identify with the race of their students, but good teachers have the ability to connect with a large amount of their students on the individual basis. Our students are still developing their racial identities and figuring out what it means to be Black. Most of my students, if I were to ask them how race has impacted their life would they would not identify the segregated community they live in, the segregated school they attend, the fact that the government has worked to suffocate both their black community and predominately black school as effects of their race; rather they would look for their rather limited experiences with White people. Consequently, the Black teacher’s gift of connecting with students comes from Black teachers connecting very personally with their students and seeing their problems as our problems that we must work together to solve.

Still, the problems of Black students are not only outside of school, but a fair amount are created in the schools Black teachers work for. Solving the problems that your employer does not see as a problem is quite the challenge. For example, Black teachers are forced to negotiate oppressive school policies (some examples: forcing students to walk down the hall silently in a straight line with their hands behind the back, not allowing students to the bathroom without an escort, rules on hair) with keeping their job, managing their students who are rebelling against often dehumanizing policy, and attempting to give their students the education they deserve and are so often deprived of. The ability of Black teachers to reach their students in the face of the aforementioned challenges (plus countless others) comes from a place of love. Here, love is not always manifested through affection and is not the romanticized story of the Black teacher who gets results by simply telling his or her students “They are somebody.”

This is a story of love contextualized in learning, in which Black teachers in the process of building personal relationships with their students (not to get them to score well on a test – which students see right through anyway – but because they recognize they are human beings) and set sky high expectations for our students because we know Black students must work three times as hard to get 1/3 as far as White counterparts. This is a story of love involving Black teachers risking their job security, as we challenge administrations who often only see Black children as numbers and data points who are needed to get funding. This is a story of love where Black teachers create curriculum and resources to insure their students are not being fed lies about their history and identity. This is a story of love that is seen as insignificant by school administrations who think a good teacher has the ability to control Black children and prepare them for standardized tests whose original function was to prove the intellectual inferiority of Black people.

As I sat and talked with my fellow Black teachers, it gave us the opportunity to be for each other, what we attempt to be for our students. All of us spoke of our exhaustion. The school system exhausts us, the children exhaust us, and our personal lives exhaust us. Still, we have a deep commitment for our children which allows us to ignore our exhaustion, as we know if train our children properly they will be able to take care of us when we finally are able to rest.

We Are All Neoliberals Now

trump-devosBefore U.S. Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, was Betsy DeVos, she was Elisabeth Prince, older sister to Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, the private security (military) company.
(Shouts to my friend Chaka who mentioned this to me, but I didn’t catch it at the time). This book, the inside of cover of which is pictured below, Blackwater, was an eye-opener when I read it almost a decade ago. It introduced me to the issue of outsourcing public services to private contractors and writers like Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and who laid a framework for me to think about neoliberalism, the political ideology wherein taxes are cut and/or kept low, public services like education, prisons or military services are outsourced to private companies, and “the market” or competition is the model to answer any vexing policy question.

According to Scahill, in 2007 when this book was written, Blackwater had more than 2000

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My dusty old copy of Blackwater

private soldiers spread over 9 countries on its payroll with a database of more than 20,000 former U.S. Special Forces, troops, soldiers and retired law enforcement it could call at a moment’s notice. Blackwater had grown to this size thanks in no small part to Dick Cheney , who served as Secretary of Defense under Bush I and Vice President under Bush II, and Donald Rumsfield, who was the Sect of Defense under Bush II, and had a desire to see the U.S. military have a “smaller footprint” in terms of the size of the active force and to become more flexible by outsourcing  major services to companies like Halliburton, from whom Cheney made a fortune when he sold his shares earned from his time as CEO, a position he held between his terms as Secretary of Defense and Vice President. Prince’s company eventually unraveled due to a number of horrors, including convictions of employees for slaughtering 14 people while serving as private contractors in Iraq. Prince sold the company in 2010 although there are concerns he is attempting to bring back a new and improved security company under the Trump administration. Today, Prince has a reported net worth of $2.4 billion.

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Erik Prince testifying in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2007 in response to charges of abuse

But, despite these references to Trump, Devos, Bush I & II & Cheney, as Kufere Laing said in his last post, it’s too easy to tell ourselves that the privatizing we see in DeVos/Prince is a Republican problem. This is the state of U.S. capitalism, and we could not be here without active Democratic Party participation. However, I recently came across an article on an 1819 Supreme Court Case: Dartmouth vs. Woodward,  that has me considering  the non-profit sector as a whole area of privatizing public services and wondering why we criticize and point out the dangers of charter schools, while not making the same case about non-profits. Dartmouth vs. Woodward is thought by many to set the stage for the non-profit sector in that it decided that corporations, such as universities were not representatives or under the control of the state, as had originally been intended in colonial England, but were instead private corporations whose governance and thus direction could be decided by their boards without outside interference from the government. In this sense, the non-profit sector represents the idea that we should not look to government for our general human needs be they artistic, human service, higher education, job training or health care, but rather look to comparably small corporations that can serve these needs through the entrepreneurial management of staff and boards and the funding largely from the private sector. This is especially true in the arts where government support pales in comparison to financing from the private sector. Of course receiving this support feels great when we get it, but what does the largely private financing of our non profit art sector do to our sense of an artistic life as a public benefit or even right?

In 1971, Richard Nixon, had attributed to him a quote from Milton Friedman, the eventual friedman-and-reagan(1976) winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics and author of the paper linked above on neoliberalism, and was said to have remarked  “We are all Keynesians now”. What Nixon actually said was “I am now a Keynesian in economics” reflecting on how his coming budget was going to increase government spending and the similarity of that approach to the one recommended by John Maynard Keynes, the famous economist who advised increasing government spending in economic downturns. This was a dramatic statement since Nixon was a Republican and it was likened to a staunch Christian deciding Mohammed was right. As we in the non-profit sector rightly go hard on Betsy Devos for the neoliberal strategy of privatizing public education, we gotta ask ourselves, are we all neoliberals now?

DeVos’s Appointment is the Latest Attack on Public Education

In the recent days following the confirmation of Besty DeVos as Secretary of Education, I have seen a great deal of social media posts critiquing both DeVos’s nonexistent experience in public education and her pro-privatization, pro-Christian education stances. As a current Teach For America corps member and middle school teacher in a Detroit charter school I have an up close and personal view of everything that is wrong about Besty DeVos as the Secretary of Education. However, I am concerned that critiques focusing on DeVos and the Trump administration as extremist and not the logical progression from past administrations undeservingly assists the Democratic Party in its narrative of “the opposite of Trump or the anti-Trump.”

To understand DeVos as the next step in the privatization of public schools, we can look no further than the Obama Administration and his two Secretaries of Education Arne Duncan and John King. Duncan infamously stated, “I think the best thing to happen to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.” Duncan here is arguing that the Louisiana Recovery School District, composed of exclusively charter schools was an improvement from the New Orleans Public School District. While Duncan may not have argued for totally religious charter schools, he is arguing for the eradication of public schools. I might add, Duncan would never have dared to argue for charter school expansion in white suburban school districts where the public schools “work.”

Similarly to DeVos, John King’s appointment was met with criticism from the likes of Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klien, and Karen Lewis (President of the Chicago Teacher’s Union). The central critiques of King were his resume as a corporate education reformer and failed policies which led to protests that factored into his resignation as New York State Education Commissioner before being working for Duncan and eventually being appointed by Obama. Even Cory Booker, who has recently objected to DeVos’s appointment, worked with DeVos on the board of the Alliance for School Choice.

As I continue to resist the Trump Administration I feel the need to consider history and how Trump is using the decisions of previous administrations to further his agenda. If we properly contextualize the Trump administration as an evolution of past administrations, we have the ability to not only hold Trump accountable, but also to call for and make much grander change than just getting replacing Trump with business as usual Democratic Party

Ujamaa Review: Slavoj Zizek’s “First As Tragedy, Then As Farce.”

firstaszizekAs President Obama leaves office, it was a strange walk down memory lane to read Slavoj Zizek’s First As Tragedy, Then As Farce”, a 160 page, relatively easy to read book published around the time Obama was taking office. But though a walk down memory lane, like all walk down memory lanes, it is very much about what is happening right now. The title is a reference to a quote of Karl Marx’s “(Friedrich) Hegel remarks somewhere that all great events and characters occur, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Zizek begins by explaining the bombing of the World Trade Towers on 9/11 and the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector as examples of the tragedy/farce cycle and crises of liberalism. A prolific Communist writer, Zizek gets a lot of love (and hate) as the most insightful Leftist out. While, the title is not an idea he stays with throughout the book, it’s a short jump from 2009 to 2016 and an update to the tragedy/farce frame: Hitler. Tragedy. Trump. Farce. But, as a thoughtful Hegelian philosopher using “dialectics” or the idea that all symptoms are a part of a larger and unified whole, Zizek has powerful analytical tools and offers a number of really good insights. His opening on liberalism currently being so pervasive and all-encompassing that it operates as “non-ideology ideology” is still relevant as is his commentary on lberalism’s tendency to offer only one good “choice”.

However, Zizek’s Eurocentrism, which is really just a polite 90’s term for white supremacy, causes him to stumble when directly considering Black people. At one point, Zizek chides Stokley Carmichael, the father of Black Power, for Carmichael’s idea that Black people must “Fight for the right to invent the terms that will allow us to define ourselves and define our relation to society, and we have to fight that these terms will be accepted.” To Zizek, Carmichael has it wrong because this strategy of creating our own terms cuts Black people off from the “Western Egalitarian Tradition” (WET). Instead of creating our own terms, what Black people must do is use the terms of this tradition and in doing so “deprive from the whites the monopoly of defining their own tradition.”  While there is value in citing the egalitarian tradition, as Dr. King demonstrated, ultimately Zizek’s stance of offering a corrective is wrong. African people have a tradition of justice going back to the Kemitic idea of Maat and the 42 laws of justice, as well as many other traditions. To say Black people must root our ideological fight in an “egalitarian” tradition we’ve become acquainted with though slavery is farcical in itself.

It is an interesting question as to whether Black people have a history of overthrowing oppressive systems prior to colonialism that could be drawn upon today. However, as the West has yet to build any of its proposed utopias and Haiti, who Zizek offers as an example of Black people grounding a revolution in the WET, as we should, is still struggling against world forces that don’t seem to care what tradition it has grounded itself in, this argument comes up short. Actually, what he comes off as doing is reinforcing a core notion of white supremacy: African culture is ultimately incomplete and needs European culture to complete itself. Talk about abuser logic. This, in turn, undermines his core contention that his version of Communism is a big enough tent for all us. And somehow Zizek manages not to mention that Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Toure, a  name that is a fusion of leading African socialists Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure. It also goes unmentioned that Toure was also probably the most steadfast and visible American advocate for Socialism in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Strange.

On this the 4th day of Kwanzaa, Ujamaa-Cooperative Economics, it may seem odd to offer a review of a book by a contemporary white Communist. But Kwanzaa comes out of the Kawaida Theory which is an ongoing synthesis of the best of Pan African, nationalist and socialist thought. And Kawaida poses that culture always matters and even in its advocacy for socialism, race and culture still matter. Zizek’s critique of Carmichael/Toure shows how even in politics this is true. Still, First as Tragedy, Then As Farce’s penetrating critique of liberalism, introduction to the reader unfamiliar with the contemporary European Left (like this one) to many of its writers and thinkers, and the book’s relative brevity, make this a worthwhile read. 3.75 “hmmm that was deep”s  out of 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kujichagulia and teaching Chattel Enslavement by Kufere Laing

Habari Gani?!

On the day of Kujichagulia – self -determination, “To define the world in our own image and interest, placing African people and our history and culture at the center of our worldview and social reality” I would like to share teaching materials I have created for my unit teaching racialized capitalism, chattel enslavement and the foundations of colonial America. This unit should begin to give students the tools that are necessary to understand the role of racism and capitalism and the current definition of our world and elementary tools in redefining the world if they so choose.

The resources can be found here: – I have lesson plans, comprehension guides, a powerpoint, comprehension guides, and a new way to play monopoly. If you do choose to teach the unit or want to complete the assignments, Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States is needed as is the 4th edition of Dr. Maulana Karenga’s Intro to Black Studies. In order to answer the questions on the “Black and White worksheet” you will need to follow along on the powerpoint in addition to read Zinn’s A Young People’s History. Lastly, this unit is designed to teach students two main ideas: 1) capitalism and racism are intersectional – meaning in American history capitalism has functioned to strengthen white supremacy, and in the same manner white supremacy has been normalized or disguised through capitalism, 2) racialized capitalism is a foundation of America – meaning the very function of America as we know it is dependent on racialized capitalism – without the exploitation and dehumanization of African people America would not and cannot exist. If you choose to use any of the resources or just take the test or vocabulary quizzes or have questions feel free to shoot me an email at kufere.laing@gmail.com

Lentil Walnut Burgers

So, I like to cook a little bit and after seeing the film Forks over Knives at the behest of my DP and good friend, Chappale Burton, I’ve been on a vegan diet. Started as a 30 day thing, but I may hang out here for a sec, at least more often for sure. So, here’s an easy lentil walnut burger recipe and pretty tasty too. From the Moosewood Cookbook with a few extra spices added by me. Ingredients: cup of dry lentils, peanut oil, small onion, bunch of garlic cloves, 7-10 mushrooms, cup of walnuts minced fine, handful of spinach, black pepper, paprika, salt, cayenne and cup and half of bread crumbs. To make: Cook the lentils In just enough water that it is boiled away after 45 min of cooking the lentils (maybe an inch above the lentils). Simultaneously, sauté onions and garlic for 5 minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients except the bread crumbs. When the lentils are very soft and water is boiled away, so that you really don’t have individual lentils anymore, add the onions etc and then then read crumbs. The bread crumbs hold it together, so don’t scrimp there. The refrigerate for an hour. This refrigeration is what makes this more of a lunch next day meal then a same night prepare and eat meal. Maybe quick zapping it in the freezer would do it. The fridge and the bread crumbs are key. Tried it without this the first time and just had hot lentils in a pan 😳 With the tomato and lettuce it’s a solid 4 lip smacks out of 5.