Author Archives: kuferelaing

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

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

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.

I’m With Jill

So, the core Clinton campaign message has devolved to “We can’t have Trump and not voting for me is a vote for Trump, so, you must vote for me”. But, I don’t. On the contrary, trump clintonI don’t think I want electing Hillary Clinton and her version of white supremacy on my head.  In the 2008 campaign, she co-signed a subtle but clear racism in her attempt to win the nomination, the most memorable examples being her surrogate, Bob Johnson, commenting that Bill Clinton was more of Black man than Barack Obama because he had slept with more Black women and her pressuring Obama to denounce both Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. She has argued Dr. King’s dream was realized with the passage of the Civil Rights Act,  made no attempt to apologize for her depiction of young black men as “super predators” and was an integral part of the team that has intensified The New Jim Crow.  As if this was not enough, Hillary Clinton has solidified American imperialism in Haiti by preventing an increase in minimum wage to .61 and her private server emails show she pressured Haitian officials to change results from the first round presidential elections in 2010. As Marian Wright Edelman stated in July of 2007, “You know, Hillary Clinton is an old friend, but they are not friends in politics.”

Following the 2000 election in which Nader received 2.75% of the popular vote, the Democratic Party blamed Al Gore’s inability to win an election on the 2.75% of Americans who chose to vote for the candidate they felt was most qualified and not their party’s platform or the Florida Supreme Court. Since that election, the Green Party has not received more than 1% of the popular vote (This year, Presidential candidates must receive an average of 15% across 5 polling bodies selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates is needed to gain entrance into national televised debates) which leads me to believe the Democratic Party’s argument that a third party is responsible for the Bush years has been successful.

My interests in this election are quite simple – it is about being a part of the long game to establish a legitimate third party that is a threat to win an election. I have conceded this election – Trump or Clinton – to me the difference is not enough that I in good faith would vote for either. I survived Bush, I survived Obama, I hope to survive Clinton or Trump – neither represents the radical change we need from the current status quo. Stein, like most “progressively left” candidates has shown limitations in her able to critique white supremacy, but she is in support of reparations, tuition-free public colleges, and the demilitarization of the police. This is a vision I will support. If we acknowledge a vote for Clinton or Trump is a vote for evil, why not invest in a third party? the evil is coming regardless.

 

Did The Clinton Campaign Appropriate The Good Words of Jesse Williams?

Jesse WilliamsSo, I want to add my reaction to the many out there re: Jesse Williams’ fiyah spoken word piece at the BET awards, and actually not his words, those I appreciate and recognize from social media, but to the backdrop of his speech, to the people I feel like benefited as much as us at home watching and that is the Democratic Party and presumptive Democratic Party Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton. To my eye, clearly the folks at BET have returned to the side of Hillary Clinton for the 2016 election (you’ll remember the former owner, Bob Johnson, endorsed Clinton over Obama). In most years, the musical performances dominate the discourse of the BET Awards, but this year the noteworthy performance was not the performance featuring both Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce, but from an actor – Jesse Williams – giving a speech reflecting his continued commitment to speak out against police violence. In the past days, the New York Times, LA Times, Time Magazine, and countless other media outlets (not to mention Twitter and Facebook) have spotlighted Williams’s speech, and of course I agree with all of Williams’s words, how could I not??, but I have been thinking a lot about the frame within which I saw his words and of course frames affect pictures.

For me, the core message of the evening didn’t come into view w/ Williams’ really well crafted combination of speech, spoken word and informal chat, but rather started with Terence J, who prior to introducing the hosts Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, told the audience “Your vote is your voice.” Shortly thereafter, Tracee Ellis Ross shared that the most important demographic in this fall’s presidential election was single women and that her vote (because she is a single woman) would decide the election and concluded by stating “Welcome to the White House, Hillary Clinton.” Throughout the show BET would include more messages on the importance of voting (and due to Ross’s quote – it was clear these messages are pro-Clinton) all of which set the stage for Williams to really put it down for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

To reiterate, everything Williams said was true and was quite poetic, “Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.” However, it is impossible for me to not see his words inside the context of the Clinton advertisement that was running throughout the 2016 BET Awards. So, the current Democratic political climate has ostensibly embraced the rejection of bigotry – in fact, the rejection of bigotry has become profitable (Apple was sure to announce they would not sponsor the RNC due to Trump). Clinton, despite her own history of bigoted politics (which were on display in her last attempt to secure the Democratic nomination and the mass incarceration policies of the 90s), has somewhat successfully turned herself into the candidate whose bigotry is acceptable while running a campaign that argues Trump’s bigotry is not. BET’s endorsement of Clinton from Black Girls Rock to this BET Award show assists in that cause. Still, without Williams, the night’s endorsement is incomplete.

Ashley Williams demonstrating at 2016 S.C. Fundraiser

Ashley Williams demonstrating at 2016 S.C. Fundraiser

Williams’s poetry legitimized the BET Awards as a “woke” platform as he bravely denounced whiteness and police brutality, gave deserved props to black women, and spoke against the appropriation of black culture. However, following Williams’s performance, Samuel L. Jackson, stated “That brother is right and he’s true.” He then added an interpretation Williams’ had not even remotely implied and said, “Make sure you vote and take eight more people with you. We gotta fix this. Don’t get tricked like they did in London.” So, who is the benefactor of the call to vote? What Jackson ignores (or doesn’t see) is that the whole Award show is part of the trick because by placing Williams’s spoken word in the context of this larger call to vote, Clinton benefits from Williams’ words without taking any of the risk or committing to any of what he offered. Williams made the BET Awards “woke,” and since BET is down with Clinton she is thus also “woke” or maybe more accurately “woke enough” or “not a Trump nightmare”. In case we had somehow missed the message, the show concluded with Usher dancing with an anti-Trump message on the back of his vest (i.e. a pro-Clinton one and since when is Usher making explicit political criticisms?) as social media pounced on Justin Timberlake’s cultural appropriation, I was also seeing the Clinton campaign’s appropriation of the evening, the kind of appropriation that Williams had just rebuked.

Habari Gani?! In Defense of Kwanzaa!

Habari Gani?!

Ujima! “To build and maintain our community together and to make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.” That said, I wrote this post on the day of Kujichagulia – Self Determination, to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves and so I am going to stay on Kujichagulia today as the issue on my mind -Twitter and social media slander of Kwanzaa- will, unfortunately, stay with us throughout the holiday. The crux of Kujichagulia i.e. self -determination through self- definition, is, for me, about building Pan African power that allows us to have spaces that are free from police brutality and murder, gun violence, to have work spaces where we are using the best of what we know to make change rather than constantly dealing with a system that clearly does not want to produce health & prosperity for Black people.  Spaces, as J-Cole says in Be Free, where we take the chains off.

Two nights ago, on the day of Umoja (ironic, right?) – I saw some Twitter slander of Kwanzaa that totally frustrated me. First off, I honestly don’t find how celebrating principles of principled unity (Umoja), creativity (Kuumbaa), self-determination (Kujichagulia) is at all objectionable? What positive or liberatory movement cannot speak of its work in those terms? But Kwanzaa has another project and that is what I suspect is at what drives a lot of the slander and that is to offer these principles in the context of a synthesis of African cultural traditions. I saw a lot of misinformed folks who simply didn’t understand Kwanzaa and had a great deal of anti-African ideas which were behind their criticisms (if you follow me on Twitter @LilGarvey, and scroll down my TL you will see some conversations). So in response, and in the Kwanzaa spirit, I decided to write and contribute on the night of Kujichagulia and add to the discourse on how we can further define, name, create and speak for ourselves.

I think a starting point of Kujichagulia is the restoration of the word Hotep. Black Twitter slander has taken anti-Africanity to a new level by changing Hotep’s Kemetian meaning of “peace” or positive energy and evoking a divine presence (in all honesty Hotep cannot be fully translated in English) to “shallow, fake deep, oppressive woman hating misogynist.” This change in meaning has been so powerful if you google “Hotep” the first page is full of negative Black Twitter references. In many ways, this is the anti-Kujichagulia, we’ve unnamed ourselves and taken a Kemetian word of divinity and used it to represent folks who are expressing harmful misogynistic ideas and thus not peaceful or divine. The Kwanzaa slander followed a similar theme, where people objected to the use of Swahili and argued Kwanzaa was “fake-African,” not widely celebrated, “Hotepian,” and “made up.” First, what holiday isn’t “made up?” Secondly, if all year we argue that we are opposed to divisive homophobic and misogynistic people in the Black Lives Matter movement, aren’t we arguing for Umoja – unity in the family, community, nation and race? We say we want space free of state violence where blackness is not under attack are we not fighting for Kujichagulia? I could go on and do this for each principle, the larger point is let’s not fight for Black liberation in America while rejecting our Africanity.

For more on the importance of language and the health and liberation of African people I highly suggest reading Ngigui Wa Thiong’o’s “Something Torn and Something New,” in which he explains the importance of African language and the liberation of African people.