Monday, October 12, 2020
Today, I celebrate Indigenous People's Day. But to honor Italian Americans, whose profound contribution to this country should be separated from Columbus' legacy of colonization and genocide, I am also celebrating figures like Fiorello La Guardia Sacco and Venzetti Madonna Lady Gaga Joe DiMaggio Rocky Marciano Vito Marcantonio Frank Sinatra Tony Bennett Laura Nyro Ella Grasso Robert DiNiro Martin Scorcese Natalie Merchant Mary Gordon Mario Cuomo Ani DiFranco Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons Nancy Pelosi and of course Dr Anthony Fauci, the Bronx's own Dion DiMucci and my friend the great teacher union leader Anna Fusco. There! I finally said publicly what I have been thinking privately for many years. And who can forget those two great athletes of mixed Italian-American/African-American heritage: Roy Campanella Franco Harris
Monday, October 5, 2020
No Innocence Here: How Irish, Jewish and Italian New Yorkers Benefited From Their Whiteness in Post World War 2 NYC
Whenever I engage in conversations about race with Irish, Jewish or Italian New Yorkers of my generation- or those slightly younger- I am likely to confront some variety of the following argument " I am sick of all this talk about white privilege. Not only did my immigrant ancestors have nothing to do with slavery and segregation, but they faced terrible discrimination when they came here. Moreover, they climbed out of poverty- and finally won acceptance- through generations of hard work, not by asking for handouts or special help from the government. Frankly, I am tired of Black people holding us hostage as though they are the only ones who suffered. If they have problems, it is their own fault." I would be lying if I told you that I have developed a successful response to such comments. People who express such sentiments are deeply invested in the aura of injured innocence they convey. Talking about how the wealth accumulated by slavery made the immigration of their ancestors possible is too abstract to make headway with peope who pride themselves on their practicality and common sense. Plus this all happened almost two hundred years ago. However, the more research I do on Bronx history, and the more discussions i have with my students about this subject, the more i realize that Irish, Italian and Jewish New Yorkers reaped huge advantages over their Black counterparts in post-World War 2 New York, advantages which accelerated their movement into the middle class in a period of unprecedented economic expansion. Black New Yorkers also progressed during these critical years-1945-1960- but their rate of progress was sharply limited by discrimination they faced in housing and employment markets, discrimination that, ironically, was often imposed by people whose ethnic background once made them the targets of discrimination themselves No where was this more visible than in the explosion of middle income housing in NYC and environs after the Second World War. In addition to entirely new suburban communities such as Levittown Long Island, you had middle income apartment complexes such as Parkchester in the Bronx, Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan, the Trump Houses in Coney Island, and the Levitt apartments in Queens. If you add to these the four miles of beautiful apartment buildings along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, you have the portrait of a great American success story of upward mobility and middle class ascendency. You can also see this a triumph of assimilation as the overwhelming majority of occupants of this housing were Irish Jewish and italian. However, such a celebratory portrait can only be sustained by ignoring one stubborn fact--Every single one of these housing complexes, which in total contained hundreds of thousands of residents, maintained "white only" policies and kept Black tenants and home buyers out. If you were Black even if you had a good income, even if you were eligible for loans from the GI Bill, you couldn't rent an apartment along the Grand Concourse, in Parkchester or Stuyvestant town, in the Trump or Levitt Houses, and you couldn't buy a home in Levittown. Worse yet, these policies, challenged by civil rights groups through lawsuits and complaints to Human Rights Commissions, didn't change until the 1960's And just in case someone asked, the people who enforced these policies, as well as those who lived in the communities in question, were not Southern segregationists, but Irish, Jewish and italian New Yorkers who once faced discrimination themselves! You see a similar pattern in post world war 2 labor markets. Three of the most vibrant industries in post war NYC were construction, banking and insurance. Black people were completely excluded from all three of these industries until the late 1960's, And while you could argue that banking and insurance were for the most park white Protestant enclaves, in which Irish and Jewish people had created hard won enclaves, construction in NYC, in the post war era, almost exclusively employed Irish and Italian workers, especially in the most highly skilled categories And here you have an terrible irony- construction in NYC after WW 2, entirely populated by the descendents of once despised European immigrants, enforced a lily white policy that limited access of Black people to the highest paying blue collar jobs in NYC Think about what you have just read: when you limit access to the best housing and the best jobs in a city on the basis of race, you are severely handicapping the economic progress of those facing these bans. These were barriers Black people faced alone in post war NYC. Their Irish, Jewish and Italian counterparts didn't suffer the same fate when color lines were drawn. And sadly, tragically, they were often the ones drawing the lines
Saturday, September 19, 2020
Like RBG, I grew up in Brooklyn in a time when young people like us- the children and grandchildren of once despised immigrants- had hope that the country would finally welcome us and that we could change it for the better. People like Carol King, who went to the same high school as RBG, used music as their vehicle of expression; people like Bernie Sanders( also a Madison grad) found their mission in electoral politics; Ruth Bader Ginsburg transformed the nation through the practice of law Although I went to different high schools than they did, I was swept up in the optimism of post war America and saw no contradiction between my own dreams of upward mobility and my vision of the US as a more just society. Today, as dreams of upward mobility fade in an increasingly unequal society, and racism and white supremacy have returned to haunt us in the ugliest forms, we should take the time to honor Justice Ginsberg for devoting her life to bringing out the best in this country, and the best in all of us. We may no longer have Justice Ginsburg as a daily presence, but we have to work extra hard to keep her dreams and her legacy alive If we don't do this, we may see the US become a place that people of conscience have to leave, rather than a place which dreamers from all over the world see as a place to fulfill their destiny
Friday, September 11, 2020
I have been teaching the history of race in America for more than 50 years, largely to college students, and have been writing about that history even longer. Hundreds of my students have taught this subject on a high school and elementary school level; a slightly smaller number teach it at Universities, and a few of my students have become world renowned scholars in the fields of race studies and African American History And I will tell you this--- NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING, can stop the progression of scholarship in African American history and its honest uncovering of just how much of the wealth of US society was created through the forced labor of people of African descent, some of it occurring after slavery ended.. If people are threatened by bringing this history into the workplace, into schools, into private businesses, even into the sports arena, they are going to be very disappointed in how rapidly this kind of inquiry is spreading. I can tell you this- it is certainly spreading at Fordham. And will continue to spread when people in my generation retire.
Sunday, September 6, 2020
The Donald Trump Presidency represents the ascendancy of the worst impulses in US History- a turn toward racism and xenophobia at the expense of the idealistic and optimistic impulses that made this country a symbol of hope to immigrants the world over. It is not a foreign implant- it is the ghost of slave auctions, internment camps, lynching parties and massacres of Native Peoples coming back to haunt us. This is why Trump has just banned anti- racist education and training in federal agencies. He does not want people to be exposed to the full extent of the crimes that were committed in the name of white supremacy, crimes that his own Administration want excised from its vision of American identity If you want a sanitized portrait of the American past, or a normalization of the nation's current political atmosphere, you will not find it here Every day, I am going to sound the alarm about the dangers Donald Trump and his supporters pose to future of this country and do so by invoking examples from US and world history. That is going to be my mission until this election is over and quite possibly for years to come.
Thursday, September 3, 2020
Yesterday, Paul Cannon made the big announcement; after two decades leading a great elementary school in the same Bronx neighborhood he grew up in- PS 140 in Morrisania- he was retiring from the NYC Department of Education. My emotions about this announcement are mixed. On the one hand, I am happy that Mr Cannon will be able to escape the stress and sleepless nights that are the Principal's lot during this Pandemic. On the other hand, I am sad that a new generation of young people will lack the guidance of a person who loved his school, loved his students, loved the Bronx and loved life. I first met Paul Cannon during the heroic early days of the Bronx African American History Project when we were doing 3 oral history interviews a week, many of them documenting the rise of a Black community in the Bronx neighborhood of Morrisania. Someone who knew Paul set the interview up, and it was a memorable experience. An older gentleman who joined Paul for the interview shared some memorable stories about life in the legendary Blue Morrocco, one of Morrisania's leading music clubs in the 50's and 60's; Paul himself regaled us with stories about growing up on Union Avenue and having to run home from Columbus High School whenever the Italian kids at that school got in a fight with a Black kid; but the thing that impressed me most during the interview was Paul describing how he organized Sunday basketball games for neighborhood fathers at PS 140 so they would be more involved with their children's education. Any principal who was in their school 7 days a week had my attention, and I arranged to visit PS 140 on a school day and play in one of the Sunday basketball game Thus began a 15 year relationship between PS 140 and the Bronx African American History Project that has included numerous visits by its students to Fordham, the creation of an "Old School Museum" in the school honoring the legacy of Historic Morrisania, "School Yard Jams" where students dressed up and performed the music of neighborhood artists like the Chantels, Eddie Palmieri and Grandmaster Flash- one of which took place at the 2008 Convention of the Organization of American Historians-and tours of the school which I organized for visitors ranging from a member of the NY State Board of Regents, to education scholar Pedro Noguera, to social workers and musicians from Germany. What stands out most to me from all these visits and events is Paul Cannon's love for his students, his determination to do everything possible to make his school a welcoming place, from having beautiful murals all over the building, to having couches in the school lobby for neighborhood grandparents, and his genius in making Bronx pride and Morrisania pride an integral part of his school culture! You could not enter PS 140 without feeling the joy with which Mr Cannon approached his job, even at a time when schools in the Bronx were being threatened with closure and deluged with tests. Under those pressures, many schools in the Bronx closed down their community history programs and did nothing but test prep. Not Mr Cannon. Even in the height of the school closing mania under Michael Bloomberg, at PS 140, community history was always front and center Paul Cannon is a true hero of the Bronx-someone who took pride in its history, shared that pride, and used it to enhance the experience of thousands of young people growing up in the Borough. He also turned his school into a center for neighborhood renewal efforts, working with the Bronx Old Timers group to organize summer programs for local youth and have streets and schoolyards land marked to honor neighborhood heroes. I always tell my students that though many people associate the Bronx with crime and decay, its revival in the face of multiple catastrophes make it a great American success story. Paul Cannon is one of the individuals who spearheaded that revival. Working with him, and building a friendship with him, has been one of the great joys of my life
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
To all the people who will be voting for Trump in spite of, and perhaps because of, his cruelty, his lies, his incompetence and his fomenting of violence and racial divisions. You have your own reasons for doing this, your own moral calculus through which you can explain your actions. What you are doing not only saddens me, it enrages me. I may not say anything or do anything about my feelings. People have the right to vote for who they want to. But I will not soon forget this injury, to me, my students, my family, and my country, To me, voting for Donald Trump is a rejection of everything I was taught to aspire to when I grew up in a more innocent age. It is a rejection of everything I was taught that America represented. Given what we know about him, what we learn about him every day, the Donald Trump Presidency marks the end of the grand illusion that the United States was a society that other nations should aspire to be like, and that people all over the world would want to come to Now, we are just another failed state led by liars and thieves, a place where raw power rules, where there is no common legal or moral fabric, and where the rich and powerful get their way without significant opposition I guess I should be thankful to you for killing a dream that was always an illusion. But those dreams motivated me powerfully during my childhood and youth, and I mourn their passing. The America of my dreams is dying fast. I am not sure there are enough people who care enough to revive it
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Official Statement: The Mission of Fordham's Department of African and African American Studies in a Challenging Time
Official Statement: The Mission of the Department of African and African American Studies in a Challenging Time August 31, 2020 We, the faculty of the Department of African and African American Studies at Fordham University, write this statement during an extraordinary time when the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism have transformed our lives, livelihoods, and institutions. Our condolences go out to members of our community who have lost loved ones during this difficult time. We find hope and strength in our commitment to justice, equality, and freedom which are the core values of African and African American Studies. We stood in full solidarity with the millions of people who marched across the country and the world in past months following the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other people of color in spite of a global pandemic. Jointly with other departments and programs at Catholic Universities and Colleges around the country, we issued a statement expressing our full solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement and the protests in defense of justice and equality. We believe that the protests in the streets will not be enough to transform our society, nor will statements alone. The world is changing around us but it is not changing soon enough to address the evils of our society that have terrorized black people and people of color for too long. COVID-19 has exposed the profound impacts of the existing structural injustices in the U.S. Blacks and people of color are disproportionately affected by the dual pandemics. During this difficult time, faculty members and students in the department have increased their level of activism, joining Black Lives Matter protests and vigils both in person and remotely, supporting our students in demands for change at the University, launching a Bronx COVID-19 Oral History Project and working with Mutual Aid groups throughout the city to bring resources to underserved communities. We welcome Fordham Action Plan to combat racism and injustices, but we urge its leadership to take meaningful actions to move forward. We call upon the University to increase funding for African and African American Studies and take steps to expand its faculty and the number of black students on campus, develop partnership with neighboring communities, empower the perspectives of the most marginalized, and address the vulnerabilities that black students face with police and policing culture that affect them on campus. We are committed to a new academic orientation that paves the way for a new America free from racism, hate, and injustices – a new America that renews its commitment to the highest ideals of humanity: that every human being is sacred. As a department, we pledge to offer a safe space to faculty, students, and members of the public to debate difficult and challenging questions about who we are and how we get here in order to imagine our collective future. We will grapple with the histories of slavery, segregation, lynching, and mass incarceration that shaped our collective memories about the current state of affairs. We will strive to equip our students with the tools that they need to cultivate a new way of knowing, of imagining America in the midst of pandemic, isolation, despair and fear. This reality has underscored in many ways the fact that we are all historical actors in an unparalleled historic moment. We must use our collective powers to create every opportunity to enact substantive and transformative change—whether that is in our classes, at home, or in our local communities. Whatever our discipline or department, now is the time for Fordham members to shine their light in the world and to use our thirst for knowledge to advance what is good and just. As we begin our classes on-line and in-person this fall, we have been very proud of the efforts of faculty, students, and staff to come together in the spirit of solidarity and compassion. Despite the challenges, we continue to produce brilliant scholarship and our students continue to challenge us to think critically about our collective future. We hope you are having a healthy and safe semester! Signed, Members of the Faculty of the Department of African & African American Studies Fordham University
Sunday, August 30, 2020
I know you. You can't watch sports on television without feeling enraged, whether it is from athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, the proliferation of Black Lives Matter shirts and signs at sports events, or the Modelo Beer ads praising the heroism of Latino immigrants. You can't even turn on ESPN anymore because of all the talk about racial oppression and social justice, Your children's schools are becoming places where white kids are the minority. You worry about their safety, and about the rising tax bill you have to pay for extra services for recent immigrants. You look at the Democratic ticket and think it is a set up to make a Black Woman President some time in the next five years, and feel the clock is ticking for white people in the United States. You look at the thousands of Black Lives Matter protests around the country, some of them leading to disorder and fear the country is descending into anarchy The only time you feel good about the country is when you see Donald Trump speaking to you on television, or read his tweets. And you will do anything in your power to make sure he stays president, because everywhere you look, you see threats to your family and your children's future.
Friday, August 14, 2020
During the Spring Semester of 2020, I was teaching two of my favorite classes- From Rock and Roll to Hip Hop, which had nearly 40 students, and my research seminar in African American and Urban Studies, where I was supervising 10 students writing their Senior theses. When the Pandemic hit, classes moved online, and everyone had to leave campus, my students and I were fearful and in some cases traumatized by the COVID-19's impact on their families and their futures, A few had family members who were essential workers and feared catching the virus; some faced sudden impoverishment because their parents lost jobs; many mourned the loss of an opportunity to experience a live graduation, and two students, both Bronx residents, had parents who had caught the virus and were deathly ill. Given the emotional distress my students were in, I decided that my primary goal was to lift my student's spirits and give them an opportunity to express how they felt.about what was happening to them, I did this in several ways; first I tried to cheer them up with humorous short rap videos I made for them, secondly I changed course requirements so all exams were take home and students had ample time to complete their work, third, I gave my thesis students the opportunity of writing Coronavirus diaries if it was impossible to complete the research they had initially undertaken, fourth, I scheduled Friday afternoon Happy Hours where students could unwind and share their feeling and fifth I allowed students to post songs which made them feel better during all our online class sessions By the middle of April, I started to see the results of these strategies. Students began submitting work of superior quality, given an opportunity to choose essay subjects that meant something to them, students started class projects of their own which got their classmates excited, one of which a Bronx COVID-19 Oral History Project which is still going strong this summer, and most gratifying, student after student thanked me for not pretending this was a normal academic experience, for showing that I cared about their well being and mental health, and for giving them the opportunity to write about subjects they cared about. I am taking their energy and enthusiasm into my approach to the Fall Semester. At age 74, I don't feel safe going into an indoor classroom so I applied to teach remotely. That is what I will do every Friday, but on Tuesdays, I will be meeting my classes outdoors on Edwards Parade where we will be wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and bringing our sound systems so we can play some music! My students are excited about this opportunity and so am I.And I expect to get some great work on written assignments which I will tailor to students feelings as much as to the course material we will be covering
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
One of the things that the Trump loving, Confederate flag waving racial epithet spouting white folks in small town America need to realize is that they are compromising the futures of their most talented young people
This fall at least five white athletes as schools ranging from Cornell to Marquette to Oregon State have been kicked off college teams when Instagram posts filled with white supremacist rhetoric that they made while still in high school were uncovered.
Openly racist language common at family dinners, house parties, and in locker rooms in all white towns and suburbs doesn't cut it when you go to college or enter the workplace, or even if you join the military. It can not only get your ass kicked if your Black teammates hear it, it can get you kicked off a team, deprived of a scholarship, or get you kicked out of school.
The proliferation of racist and white supremacist imagery and activity in the US is not only going to come back to haunt the people engaging it- getting them fired from their jobs if they unleash it in public places, it is going to compromise their children's futures.
This is a multiracial country becoming more so every day and the last gasp of militant whiteness is not going to end well for the people promoting it and spreading it
I am tremendously optimistic about the current historic moment because the Black Lives Matter movement has grown to proportions as large, or larger than any movement I have seen in my lifetime, including the anti-war movement of the 60's which it resembles most. What has been most astonishing has been the number of small towns that Black Lives Matter vigils have been held in, many of them in places where most people would have said protesters would fear for their safety. In Eastern Long Island, there have been BLM vigils not only in relatively liberal towns like Sag Harbor and Bridghampton, but in conservative enclaves like Montauk and Hampton Bays. Almost all of these protests have been led by young women, many of high school age. And this has taken place all over the US and in many parts of the world. At last count, my students and former students have participated in 51 BLM actions, more than half in small towns and suburbs. And these movements have forced long needed changes in police procedures and police funding in many states and
cities, and this in less than two months
cities, and this in less than two months
. Now, the movements are also turning their attention to colleges and universities where racist practices have long been tolerated or been too difficult to challenge. What is most exciting is that for a significant number of protesters, this has been their first action which has put them in direct conflict with police, public officials and racist and white supremacist hecklers and goon squads and as far as I can tell it has made them firmer in their convictions and enthralled by the culture of resistance they have been part of. This can definitely have spill over consequences for other justice struggles such as defense of immigrants and, movements to freeze mortgage payments and rent
To me this uprising most resembles the protest movements of the Sixties where you had people who participated in civil rights actions soon joining the anti-war movement, and then, helped spawn the Black Power Movement, the women's liberation movement and the gay liberation movement. We are also seeing energy spilling over into campaigns to elect progressive political'candidates. I think this movement has far greater depth and lasting power than anything I have seen since the 1960's. I am not sure I see too many analogues with the 1930's because this is a youth led, m
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
In the spirit of John Lennon's "Imagine," here are my thoughts about reinventing law enforcement
If every dollar spent on armored vehicles, stun guns, and tear gas for urban police departments were invested in sports programs, music programs, and summer jobs for youth
If CompStat were eliminated and police officers were rewarded for resolving conflicts peacefully rather than chalking up arrests for non violent offenses like loitering, jaywalking, fare beating or selling goods on the street
If honest, justice seeking police officers were rewarded, rather than punished and ostracized, for exposing fellow officers who put everyone at risk by engaging in racial profiling, or using excessive force in vulnerable communities when making arrests.
Police do what they are asked to do by elected officials and the general public. If a cross section of our society wants police officers to conduct themselves like an occupying army in communities of color, that's what we are going to get
If we want a different form of law enforcement, we have to push long and hard to get it.
That is what is at stake in the current protests.
Friday, June 5, 2020
All over the nation, protesters are demanding that police budgets be cut and that the funds saved be invested in community development projects in working class neighborhoods, particularly those which have high concentrations of Black people.
As this movement spreads to NYC, it might be useful to review the history of police expansion and militarization in NYC, its surprising origins and unintended consequences.
Although most people don't know this, the first big expansion of the NYPD after its budget was cut during the Fiscal Crisis of the 70's took place under the Mayoralty of David Dinkins! The demand for this expansion came largely from the city's poorest neighborhoods, which were under siege as a result of crack related violence In neighborhoods where gun battles were taking place all hours of the day and night, making people afraid to go to work, go shopping, or send their children to school. In response to this, community organizations in the Bronx, East New York and other hard pressed areas began calling for more police and more arrests so that people they represented could go about their daily lives safely.( If you don't believe me, read Noel Wolfe's 2015 dissertation "A Community At War: The Bronx and Crack Cocaine") The Dinkins Administration responded to these pressures by expanding the NYPD, and deploying these officers near schools, churches, public transportation stops and business districts in the neighborhoods hardest hit by crack. Dinkins Police Commissioner, Lee Brown, won support for this approach by constant consultation with community groups in the city's Black and LatinX neighborhoods.
However, with the election of Rudy Guiliani, the city's approach to policing took a very different turn. Whereas Dinkins major focus was making the city's poorest neighborhoods safer, Guilani's focus was to reduce violence and disorder in the entire city and make Manhattan a safe place for tourism and investment. To this end, he and his Police Commissioner, William Bratton introduced and approach called "Broken Windows Policing" which deployed the NYPD to arrest people en masse for non violent "quality of life crimes" such as panhandling on the subway, washing windows at busy intersections, turnstile jumping and fare beating, and drinking in public. The city's business leaders hailed this new approach because it dramatically changed the atmosphere in Manhattan's wealthiest business districts, sparking the gradual revival of NYC as a major focus of domestic and foreign investment
In Guiliani's second term, this approach was modified, in disastrous fashiong, by a new Commissioner with a military background, Howard Safir. Dispensing with the last vestiges of Community Policing, Safir deployed centrally controlled units to descend on the city's poorest neighborhoods to take guns and drugs off the street.The aggressive tactics they used led to one of the most shocking murders of an unarmed Black person in US History- the 41 shot execution of a Guinean immigrant named Amadou Diallo in a Bronx hallway.
Safir was ultimately forced to resign, and Guiliani left after two terms in office, but the new Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, expanded on the approach to policing Guiliani had pioneered. Not only did he keep expanding the NYPD, he introduced a computerized program CompStat, to make sure that every officer was making large numbers of quality of life arrests, and empowered officers to "stop and frisk" any person they thought might be suspicious. The result of this was that every Black man in the city found himself 'under suspicion" In Bloomberg's final year in office, there were more police stops and searches of Black men than there were Black men in New York City.
The Police Strategies of Guiliani and Bloomberg coincided to an economic boom in Manhattan marked by the constructions of tens of thousands of units of luxury housing, a huge increased in tourism, and the creation of a whole new array of upscale business districts in once decaying neighborhoods like SOHO. It
also fostered gentrification, first in Manhattan neighborhoods like the East Village and the Upper West Side, then in outer borough neighborhoods like Park Slope, Fort Greene, Williamsburgh and Astoria and finally in historically Black communities like Harlem and Bedford Stuyvestant
also fostered gentrification, first in Manhattan neighborhoods like the East Village and the Upper West Side, then in outer borough neighborhoods like Park Slope, Fort Greene, Williamsburgh and Astoria and finally in historically Black communities like Harlem and Bedford Stuyvestant
It also led to a simmering rage in the city's Black and LatinX neighborhoods, where daily police harassment became a reality for people going to work, going to school or going out of the house for recreational activity. Communities who had asked for more police during the height of the crack epidemic now saw police as a force to keep them intimidated and confined while New York attracted wealthy residents and investors from all over the world. The message they received from this kind of policing was loud and clear- "you are a danger to the city and we want you to leave."
Even after a term and a half of the DeBlasio Mayoralty, in which stop and frisk was allegedly ended, there is still a high level of resentment of the NYPD. The current crisis has brought those resentments to the surface.
As wealthy residents depart the city because of COVID-19, we may need to revisit now police are deployed, whose interests they serve, and what kind of atmosphere we want in the city's most popular commercial districts and tourist destinations.
A city where wealthy people from all over feel comfortable and poor people feel confined to their communities or pushed out of the city entirely may not longer be a tenable state of affairs.
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
What this crisis tells us is that people have been pushed to the wall economically as well as victimized on the basis of their race. We have to deal with both issues to heal our wounded country. In response, I propose the following three initiatives
1. A New Deal Style jobs and public works program, modeled on the WPA and the CCC, that creates millions of jobs for unemployed people, particularly unemployed youth, rebuilding our infrastructure, repairing business districts damaged in the uprisings sweeping the nation and creating millions of units of affordable housing.
2. A demilitarization of urban police forces and an end to "broken windows policing" which targets people for non violent offenses and makes our cities safe for gentrification while making poor and working class people feel insecure in their own communities
3. A continuation of the national conversation on race, coupled with an effort to identify and remove open racists and white supremacists from our police forces, our military, and our schools. We need to restore confidence in the fairness of our most important government institutions.
There are obviously other reforms that could be envisioned but these are my top three.
Monday, June 1, 2020
Let me be blunt, I am frightened by the level of violence that protests have attained in my own city, and in cities throughout the country.
But I am also acutely aware that I have little or no influence on the people out in the streets doing the worst damage. What we have going on here looks more and more like a generational uprising as well as a protest against police violence
It is why so many protesters are not listening to people like me who tell them that looting stores and firebombing cars undermines the moral force of their protests. Here is the argument I am hearing more and more.
"You are in no moral position to talk about looting. Your generation looted the country so much that all we have left is student debt, low paying, dangerous jobs, and a militarized police force to keep us under control in cities which have been handed over to the rich. You tossed our generation on the garbage heap and now it's time for payback."
If you look at the collective distribution of income wealth and opportunity in our society, can you really say this argument is wrong, especially since the Pandemic has given a fatal blow to the hopes of many already living precarious lives. There are millions of unemployed, out of school young people in this country who have nothing to lose and huge amount of anger at their position,
No one is organizing these protests. And their very spontaneity shows how deep rooted the grievances are.
Several months ago, I feared that we could be facing food riots and rent riots on a Depression scale when the government stimulus money ran out and there were mass evictions and disruptions to the food chain
I never thought they would come this early, or with this particular
We are in deep deep trouble as a country. Years of impoverishing and marginalizing the poor, and handing our cities to the rich have brought us to this point.
If we view racist, militarized policing as an instrument used to enforce rising levels of inequality and gentrification in our major cities, then much of what we are seeing in these protests makes more sense
Sunday, May 31, 2020
Let me be clear on something. I would not loot my city, HOWEVER, when people are just as upset over people looting in response to another unarmed black man being killed for no reason, as they are that a LIFE, not a store front, not a police station, not a Target, but a living, breathing human being was TAKEN, you are devaluing black life. You might THINK you are for equality, but subconsciously, you do not think we are your equals.
White privilege is finding sympathy for white murderers who shoot up churches and schools because they were bullied. If you did not post about how disgusted you were at Dylan Roof or the countless white men who decided to take innocent lives, some even CHILDREN, because he was troubled, but you are disgusted and outraged at people vandalizing their OWN—not your—City, you do not value black life as much as white life.
Let me also break something else down: this rioting is so much deeper than simply destroying one’s community. It speaks to a myriad of things and deserves more analysis and reflection than a simple tweet or post of disdain. And unfortunately, many will refuse to do that much because that would require you to care about black life as much as white life, and so this will probably fall on many deaf ears:
- Black people are angry. Rightfully angry. Just like the white male mass shooters are allowed to be angry, and the Amy Coopers of the world are allowed to be angry, for things that are INSIGNIFICANT: because they were told to put their dog on a leash, or because someone’s music was too loud, or because someone was publicly displaying joy in the face of their own misery, black people have and deserve to have a HEIGHTENED level of anger in this country, a country who has NEVER treated us fairly, who has had knees on our necks since our ancestors were kidnapped and brought here. We have CENTURIES of oppression that we are dealing with, in a nation considered the most powerful nation in the world.
And YET and still, black people have not gone on a rampage killing white folk. Do you know what an Amy Cooper would do if she had a knee on her neck, or on the neck of her loved one? If she is angry enough to call 911 on a man for asking her to do what she is SUPPOSED to do, what kind of anger manifestation do you think would happen if her life was ACTUALLY in danger?
White people have so many privileges, including the right to be angry and the right to express their anger, even when the levels are inappropriate.
Black people are not appropriately expressing their anger, because none of you are dead. Black people have not gone on killing sprees killing white folk just because. White people have, killing black people praying and white children learning, this when they have no idea what oppression even feels like.
And when black people usually kill, it’s one of our own. Not random either. But the level of anger it takes to kill another human being manifests in our own personal interactions. We’ve expressed all of our anger, all of our hate bottled up inside us on another one of us.
And instead of anyone even seeing the gravity of what that means, it’s used to display how violent we are. It’s used to look down on us. It’s used to justify the level of fear that you have of us.
But we are not the violent ones.
Our actual expression of anger doesn’t hold a candle to what is appropriate. We are inappropriately expressing our anger, because what would happen if we appropriately expressed our anger?
Black people looting their own cities is no different than a person who has been abused, depressed or going through some form of mental breakdown choosing to cut themselves. Why does one do that? Of course, there’s self hate. But guess what else there is? Beneath all the pain, there is compassion. Cutting yourself is releasing on your own body the rage and pain you feel without hurting another. And no matter what white people have done to us in this country, we always hurt ourselves before we ever THINK to hurt one of you.
- Now some might believe that looting, for many, is just an excuse to take things that don’t belong to them.
Again, this quick writing off without deeper analysis is simply unacceptable.
Somehow Black people are still expected to have some sort of allegiance to this country. Poor black people, who are marginalized both for race and socio-economic status, feel more than any other group in this nation, that they’ve been cheated. Please do not rant to me about pulling one’s self up from one’s bootstraps if you do not know the history of oppression that goes deeper than slavery and Jim Crow. If you do not know about systems that have been put in place to keep us down AND to build you up. If you don’t know what redlining is, please have several seats. If you do not understand drug laws and incarceration laws that have continued to deliberately keep poor brown and black people down, please stay silent. Please do not tell me about your poor grandmothers who came here from another country and made a lane for themselves. No one will ever know the pain and suffering of the black man, woman, child, or family. No one. So you have not earned the right to critique us in any way.
No one knows the fire that burns steadily within us. And pray you never will.
Saturday, May 30, 2020
As an historian, I am am hardly surprised at the uprisings taking place in cities throughout the country
The murder of George Floyd pushed people filled with rage at their position in Trump's America over the edge.
It is not just that repeated murders of unarmed Black men and women, by police or self appointed security agents, had convinced many Black people that most whites signed off on policies that terrorized their communities, it is that they saw the rhetoric and policies of the Trump Administration as a daily assault on their safety and security.
In the minds of many people of color, it is wholly predictable-- and profoundly infuriating- that a country that could elect a race baiting demagogue like Donald Trump would sign off on the murder of unarmed Blacks, and never send those responsible to prison
Think about it: you are living in country where gun toting, Nazi and Confederate flag waving whites are cheered on by the President while unarmed Black men and women are shot down in the streets and their own homes, and where immigrant children of color are put in cages.
If you think that experience wasn't making people unbelievably angry, you are ignoring the lessons of history.
At some point, I suspected, that anger, which I know well because I feel it inside myself, was going to break loose. George Floyd's death may have been the spark, but there were a long chain of grievances which have come to the surface in its wake
I do not know where these uprisings are going, nor how they are going to end.
I do know they have been a long time coming.
Anybody really LISTENING to what their Black/LatinX friends, colleagues,neighbors and family members have been saying
over the last few years, in response to provocation after provocation, should hardly be surprised at what is taking place in the streets of our major cities.
over the last few years, in response to provocation after provocation, should hardly be surprised at what is taking place in the streets of our major cities.
Monday, May 11, 2020
May 10, 2020
Dear Honorable Governor Cuomo:
I have respect for the Cuomo family.
My first full-time teaching job was at La Scuola D'Italia in Manhattan. Your mom visited once, and I found her to be eloquent when she spoke about the importance of education, and a one-on-one mentoring program in place in our state. Your dad sat next to my mom when she was a member of a coalition of concerned moms who sought to raise the drinking age in our state in the '80s, following several tragic accidents.
I am an adoptee and in February, due to the amendment of section 4138 of public health law you signed off on January 15, 2020, I received my original adoption papers--a landmark moment in my life. Personally, I appreciate your support with this issue, and leadership during this difficult time in our nation’s history, while we part ways on your recent comments in support of the Gates Foundation, and your wonderings about why the “old model” of education persists.
As an educator, I do have some -- I hope -- useful feedback for you.
I've seen/heard other government representatives preach on education, following this up with the assignment of education leaders who have zero education experience/credibility. This suggests that anyone can teach or lead teachers who guide students.
I agree with you that we have been teaching 21st-Century learners with 20th-Century methods but we need to merge, not replace one for another but this must be done thoughtfully. Educators are coming off the failed 2010 implementation of the Common Core Standards which were implemented across many states in the United States, intending to fill in learning gaps with more rigorous curricula. The CCSS, however, have not closed all performance gaps.
If we implement more platforms, interventions, curricula, will they be tested before implementation? Will educators and students be consulted?
Training and experience with children, matters. Educators matter--our human touch in concert with education platforms, whether in person or virtual, is essential. To better understand my learners with learning challenges, I need to be present to assess not just school work but social emotional well-being which may not be fully transparent through a screen.
Maybe a hybrid model is next, but that would mean more companies and businesses need to have child care--more schools, too, for the teachers who have kids they can’t leave unattended at home.
I urge you to consult a random sample of New York State students especially adolescents asking them what does and doesn’t work for them with both environments: actual and virtual. Studies exist that explore student reading preferences. Though digital natives, some students today choose their reading platform, digital or print, based on the genre -- say, digital for news and print for fiction.
During this virtual learning time, I’ve had a few students ping me on Google hangouts, to speak one-on-one, and I've witnessed a few tears mixed with trying to keep up a brave face. Back at school, my students pop into my office throughout the day for a smile, encouragement, sometimes for a safe place to share and even cry when they are frustrated or overwhelmed.
Technology has expanded my teaching options, but still I go back to your mom's visit to my first teaching post. Her presence, the fact she cared enough to drop by to our small school, made a big impression on me, more so than if she had greeted us from a screen. I am confident of that. Let’s not lose sight of the importance of seeing our students in person.
Thank you for listening.
Carrie Anne Tocci
Carrie Anne Tocci is a doctoral candidate in Fordham University’s Contemporary Learning and Interdisciplinary Research (CLAIR) program and has over 20 years of experience teaching adolescents and adults in public and private schools in urban, suburban, and international settin
Friday, April 10, 2020
I am trying to deal with what is an incredibly difficult time for all of us. I am incredibly disappointed that we will not have a graduation ceremony (it is my sincere hope they will ACTUALLY hold the ceremony). As a first generation american and a first generation college student, that day was so much more than a ceremony. It is something that transcends my experience. It was for my family who in their totality and boundless sacrifice brought me to this once in a lifetime milestone. It felt like bringing generations of struggle with me across the stage. Aside from the uncertainty of graduating into an economy and society which we have no idea what will look like.
Not to mention (which I am sure you have many many thoughts on) what the pandemic says about our society which falls apart at the seams at the first hurdle that requires collectivism. One that uses prisoners for slave labor and continues to put them through greater inhumane challenges of fearing contamination in what are already inhumane sanitary conditions and severe overcrowding. One in which our differences seem to pull us even further apart when they should be bringing us together.
Prisoners, those in unstable homes, and who are dealing with abuse, scarcity, Illness and unemployment keep me up at night during this time.
Ashley Brito FCRH 2020