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. 

Standing Rock & Negro Removal #NoDAPL

nodevelopmentbeyondthispointThanksgiving Day and sickened and angry about the physical, cultural, economic violence being perpetrated by Energy Transfer Partners against the #StandingRock Sioux Tribe and the more than 300 Indigenous tribes and other peoples standing with them as they prevent the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Thinking about the organizing against DAPL in relation to the Hill District takes me to when the Hill District and folks like Ms. Alma Speed Fox organized to say “no further” in response to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s forced removal of residents and businesses from the Lower Hill. The removal and redevelopment stopped and thank goodness, if it hadn’t been stopped I might not even be here writing this post. 50 years later the entire effort delivered almost nothing on its promises and had to be “fixed” by having its development rights essentially given to the Pittsburgh Penguins, so that they would not leave.  About ten years later there’s still really no development on the Melody Tent site in the Lower Hill. To make a contribution to support the protesters, here is a link to support those at the Sacred Stone camp. They have been there since April. #NoDAPL

Sixteen Hundred Below

In 2012, after the 2nd election of President Obama, I posted he had lost Hill District votes since 2008  and in reviewing Hill District voting data from the Allegheny County Elections Division, the trend of fewer people voting in the Hill District continues. Here is the raw data I’ve been compiling and there are some other interesting things here. The Hill District, as we Black people generally do, overwhelmingly votes for the Democratic Party. This past election the Hill gave Hillary Clinton almost the same % of our vote as we gave Obama in 2012, 92% vs 94%, and  70% of us voted straight Democratic and by this I mean hit the button to autofill the Democratic Party. However, alternative choices have crawled up a bit, and by this I mean Green, Libertarian or write-ins, with this number tripling its very small number since ’08 to go from  less than 1% of total ballots cast to about 3% total. I am one of those who can be counted in that number (Green), and, yes, I still feel I made the right decision.

But, the big news is the large drop in registered voters over the last eight years in the Hill District. In 2008, there were 10,507 registered voters, but in 2016 there were just 8,878 registered voters. That is a loss of 1600 registered voters in 8 years. 16%. Not good for Hill District power. How did this show up for Hillary? Well, Obama got 6,071 votes in ’08 and HRC got 4,786 this time. More than 1,200 fewer votes. My guess is that this is the result of all of the public housing that has been removed from the Hill District, but public housing has been taken down all across the city and country. What effect will this have on Black urban power over the next decade.

This is why my wife, Dr. Bonnie Young Laing and others have advocated for Build First anti-displacement policies that make sure people are found housing in the neighborhood before they have to vacate their house so that the housing can be replaced. Democratic President and a Democratic city, but somehow there is weakened electoral power for this community. Is there a neighborhood that has contributed more or been more loyal for the Democratic Party than the Hill District. When those voters come back, who will they be racially, economically, politically. The continued drop in Hill District registered voters represents one of the important indicators, although not the most important, to take away from Election 2016.

 

 

The Difference Between Unconstitutional & Unjust by Kufere Laing

Plaintiff Esther Kiobel joins protest against Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum in front of U.S. Supreme Court in WashingtonI wrote this piece in response to a NYTimes article which examines a current Supreme Court case which argues Detroit Public Schools are unconstitutional. If you have not read
the article, the link is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/21/opinion/are-detroits-most-terrible-schools-unconstitutional.html?_r=0. This article highlights a current Michigan Supreme Court case in which the plaintiff asserts that Michigan is not providing Detroit (Black) students enrolled in public education with an adequate education. The article argues the basis of this case revolves around the question “is it constitutional to provide the majority of the students with adequate education and a minority of students with an inadequate education?” In short, there is nothing in American history to suggest that this is unconstitutional – and that is the problem.

Of course, the catch 22 for Black people and justice in the U.S. is that the document that we must rely on for the highest order of justice, i.e the Constitution, was also the document that enshrined our oppression with the description of us as 3/5s of human beings. The document has never been overhauled to include ideas of restorative justice and so it is not equipped to  then really deal with justice when questions such as those raised by the Detroit school system are brought to it. Of course its not just for huge swaths of students to not get an education, but even the premise of the case, that students should get a modicum of education is not just. Actually, Black students should get a wholly different and more deeply invested in education to make up for the intentional under investment, but the Constitution shows no awareness of this idea and so of course that can’t be argued.

The challenge of proving that this is unconstitutional is two-fold. First, the lawyers of the plaintiffs must force a document that has been used to promote and defend the disenfranchisement of Black people to protect Black people. Secondly, in the process of forcing an inherently racist document to for once, not be racist, the lawyers of the plaintiffs must show that the state is intentionally disenfranchising Black children. White supremacy’s most powerful weapon is its disguise and forcing people to prove its existence using tools that were created to disguise it. Regardless of the outcome of this case, the Constitution has repeatedly protected the state and its refusal to educate Black children. So, NYT, let’s not confuse the arguments and “complex” debates of constitutionality with something much more simple, justice.