May 19, 2004

50 years later, it's still cool to pick on "Porch Monkeys"

I'm supposed to be doing work. I can't balance these days. Fair and balanced is not working. Either I'm all blog or all work. That's the all or nothing stuff "aholics" are made of. Ah well. There are worse things.

Take for exampe the press release I received today from Dan Berger at the ACLU. (Release in full below.) At first, you know, I thought it was spam. With a glimmer of hope left for humanity and my child's future on the planet, I was hoping perhaps this was another urban legend, emailed around the net like the gas boycott message we've all received this week.

So I called the ACLU and talked to Paul Silva on his first day there to ask about the release. Paul was super to talk to and genuinely pleased to hear from a weblogger. Unfortunately, he assured me that the story about Michigan's Bullock Creek (don't tempt me, now...) school district is true.

George grew up in the public schools of the north during the 60s and 70s, and he has written about what it's like to be the only nigger, albiet a "good nigger," (as in, oh you're okay--you're one of the good niggers), in a school of ignorant white kids raised by ignorant parents. It's not pretty. I've heard the stories--lived the result of them. The "good nigger" and "what's wrong with you--you're bleeeaaacck" stories are the nicer tales of George's childhood school experiences. The physical beatings at the hands of teachers and principals are even more telling.

And so it pissed me off today to read the following Press Release from the ACLU -- Yah, I got angry. But I also realized, especially in this era of de-civil rights thanks to the Bush DADministration, that it's a good thing the ACLU is out there.

And if you don't think that the current U.S. Iraq war quagmire is related, think again. It is the FEAR of the "other," the "with us or against us" mantra, the hatred of the "different," the illusion of comfort in homogeny, that is passed on across generations and reinforced when the most elite of the mainstream have the balance of power.

Then, Mama, just let your babies grow up to be soldiers. See what happens when they graduate to become MPs in charge of purse snatchers in detention camps.


Michigan School District Takes Action to Stop Racism After Black Student Is Attacked in "KKK Game"

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

CONTACTS: Paul Silva, ACLU Nat'l, (212) 549-2689 Wendy Wagenheim, ACLU of MI, (313) 578-6816

DETROIT - As the country focuses on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ended government-imposed segregation in public schools, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today announced the settlement of a complaint filed on behalf of an African American student who was the victim of racial harassment and attacked by white students in a so-called "game of KKK."

"It is disturbing that African American students still face such shocking racism in school 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education," said Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan. "We are heartened, however, by the sincere efforts of the school district to begin to create an atmosphere in which such acts will not happen again."

The ACLU complaint, filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) against the Bullock Creek School District in mid-Michigan, is being voluntarily dismissed after district officials agreed to adopt a much-needed comprehensive plan to address racism.

Kyron Tryon was an eighth-grader at Bullock Creek Middle School near Midland, Michigan in May 2003 when seven white boys grabbed him during recess on the school playground. According to Kyron, the boys picked him up off the ground and chanted "KKK" while one of them whipped him with a belt. The boys then threw Kyron on the ground and began kicking him. The attack did not stop until the bell rang, signaling the end of recess. When the white students were questioned about the incident, they described it as just a "game of KKK."

Kyron and his older siblings were victimized by racial harassment several times at school, the ACLU said. Prior to the playground incident, Kyron, the only African American in his grade, was told by his white peers to "go back to Africa;" they called him a "porch monkey" and threatened him because he is black.

Unsatisfied with the way the school district initially responded to the "KKK" incident, Kyron's parents contacted the ACLU and then filed a complaint with the MDCR. Over the past year, the school district, the ACLU and the Tryons met with an MDCR mediator and jointly developed a plan to address what the Tryons believed to be a hostile environment for students of color at the Bullock Creek Schools.

"Although we found the incident last spring to be deplorable, we have been encouraged by the school community's serious and intelligent response to these actions," said David Chapin, Superintendent of Schools. "It is clear the Bullock Creek students, staff and community will not tolerate these behaviors. We are grateful we are able to work in conjunction with the Tryon family in creating a positive school culture in Bullock Creek."

In attempting to create a more tolerant atmosphere, the school is undertaking the following actions:

* Diversity Training. The district has contracted with the Bridge Center for Racial Harmony to develop a comprehensive plan for implementing diversity training within the district for students, teachers and administrators. The Bridge Center has implemented similar programs in Michigan, including one in Saginaw.
* Martin Luther King Day. The district will plan symposiums on Martin Luther King Day in which students will have the opportunity to learn about different races and ethnicities, as well as learning to understand and tolerate differences.
* Diversity Steering Committee. The district is developing a steering committee to oversee and develop the diversity training, MLK Day, Black History month and other race-related issues. The committee will include Kyron's parents, as well as representatives from the student body, teaching staff, administrative team, Board of Education, Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Dow Chemical Company and the West Midland Family Center.
* Grants. The district has applied for and received a grant from the Dow Chemical Foundation to help fund the district's work.

"We pray that the diversity training will make kids think twice before hurting and dehumanizing other kids the way they hurt and dehumanized my son," said Kyron's mother, Joyce Tryon. "When children go to school they should not have to fear that they will be beaten up because of the color of their skin. The reason we filed the civil rights complaint was not to recover money, but to bring about change."

Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan, said she hoped that other school districts will emulate what Bullock Creek is doing to respond to discrimination on campus. "As we look back at the history of desegregation, Kyron's experience illustrates how far we still have to go in combating racism."

Although more comprehensive diversity training will begin next fall at Bullock Creek, it is not soon enough for 15-year-old Kyron. He has already decided to attend high school in a different school district next year.

"I just want the nightmare to be over and to go back to being a teenager," said Kyron. "If what I experienced somehow ends up helping someone else, I will be happy."


Let me just say a few words about this:

"We pray that the diversity training will make kids think twice before hurting and dehumanizing other kids the way they hurt and dehumanized my son," said Kyron's mother, Joyce Tryon. "When children go to school they should not have to fear that they will be beaten up because of the color of their skin. The reason we filed the civil rights complaint was not to recover money, but to bring about change."

Prayers are one way. But the resurgence in the acceptance--soon to be popularity--of dehumanizing the "other" is on the rise. Ladies and gentlemen, the time for prayer and sensitivity training alone has passed.