I asked several African-American friends (Jewish) to comment on last week’s post regarding Blacks as examples of academic failure (and success). Their comments, edited for brevity:
Tamar: “I grappled with what to think about the [Sandra] Sellers audio [Georgetown Law Center] precisely because it doesn’t say much on its face, but what it evokes looms large. The actual words lead each of us to nothing more than conjecture.” Sellers’ “angst” about some Blacks having lower grades “perpetuates a stereotype that Black people are stupid. There’s always a bottom when it comes to rankings—so what? There isn’t a need to call out a certain type of student.”
Tamar continues, “Taking race out of it, if she graded students’ work blindly, would the work itself somehow be indicative of a certain type of person? No, it would simply be the student and what they produce against scoring expectations.” Sellers’ comment about “good ones” really “got my hackles up. She harps on the fact that some are at the bottom because they are Black.”
Nia: “We all have some form of bias, taught and/or learned.” This preceded a similar comment on my website from Sandy (not Sellers, Jewish–Ashkenazi). Nia adds, “The most difficult part is how to address our biases without being thought of as racist, homophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic.” As to the suspension of two Black students I taught in a writing class at Galileo High—”outrageous. Numerous studies prove that students, especially those of color, do not act out just because they want to be disruptive.”
Michelle: “If there are ‘some really good ones,’ why bring up the latter [Blacks with poor grades] at all? [Sellers] “is practically being self-congratulatory—I’m so sensitive to some of my black students’ grades.” She “set an environment in which fellow non-black students might think less of them, perpetuating stereotypes. She might question her own teaching methods first.”
So, Sandra Sellers’ comments may seem offensive. But, we’ll have to wait for the context of her remarks—if and when Sellers clarifies them.
Meanwhile, racism continues to challenge America because people from all ethnic groups can be “racist.” San Francisco School Board member Alison Collins, an African-American, lost her position as board vice president for anti-Asian tweets from 2016. One assailed some Asian-Americans as “house n*****s” for using “white supremacist thinking to assimilate and ‘get ahead.’” She’s suing.
A song from the Broadway musical Avenue Q proclaims, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” We know that humans are tribal, and that includes Jews like me. So, racism versus bias. Sandy writes, “Biases are so subtle and often part of the majority culture, that those people, in the majority, don’t even know they are being offensive.”
Should we accept racism’s violence and closed doors? No. Might we find opportunities to cut biased folks some slack? Yes.
NBA player Meyers Leonard (white) hurled an anti-Semitic epithet while playing a publicly viewed video game. He ended up fined, suspended, traded then waived. Yet New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman invited Leonard to his home for Shabbat dinner and a chance to understand who Jews are.
Like walking while chewing gum, we can shun racism, recognize our biases and also overcome them by joining hands across tribal bounds two at a time.
My short story “Mirror, Mirror” will appear in the spring edition of Avalon Review mid-April.
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