Why Do the Privileged View Equity as “Hard Work”?

Let’s start with this: Privileged people in the U.S. embrace what amounts to a lie—that success is mostly the result of effort, notably that education is the key to success.

However, the evidence is overwhelming that being born wealthy trumps effort (including educational attainment) by people born into poverty and especially by black and brown people regardless of socioeconomic status.

White, wealth, and male privilege remains the most powerful combination in the U.S.

Let’s also note that formal education, instead of eradicating inequity, often works to reflect and even expand the equity gap for impoverished, black, and brown children [1]. And “other people’s children” experience much harsher disciplinary policies in those schools, such as zero tolerance, that reflect and perpetuate race and class inequity as well.

And it may be that the root of this disturbing gap between what the privileged claim and the reality of being born and living in the U.S. is that those in power argue that taking action for equity is “hard work,” and thus themselves lack the grit or growth mindset (qualities being used—projected onto as deficits—to further demonize poor, black, and brown children) to actually do what is necessary to close the equity gap.

For example, although mind-numbingly late, some are beginning to recognize the racially inequitable discriminatory practices among many so-called “no excuses” charter schools, such as Success Academy. Yet, when those practices are confronted, we read these caveats:

The challenge posed to Success Academy and similar charter schools by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education’s guidance on student discipline is serious. To be in conformance with civil rights law, these schools will need to make radical reforms to their “no excuses” school culture and practices. Now that Moskowitz has laid down the gauntlet on this issue, many eyes will be on the Obama administration for its response. Changing policies, practices and cultures to make schools into safe and welcoming places that do not resort to the excessive and discriminatory use of suspensions and expulsions is hard, challenging work.

Ending discriminatory practices that disproportionately impact black and brown children living in poverty is “hard, challenging work”? Really?

In my home state of South Carolina, we discover, that despite decades of gross negligence of high-poverty, majority-black public schools in pockets mostly throughout the lower part of the state, the response is much the same:

It is difficult to know how to do that — although it would be much less difficult if we stopped worrying about turf protection and job protections and making sure the right people get lucrative contracts and pursuing our ideological goals.

It is difficult to get our legislators and our governor to ignore those distractions. But it is their job to do that….

The sad thing is that as difficult as it will be for our leaders to develop a plan and our teachers to implement it, the hardest part could be convincing ourselves that it’s worth doing.

In case we missed it, educational equity for all children in SC (read “poor,” read “black”) is “difficult.” Again, really?

The racist and classist stereotyping at the end of privileged finger-pointing is disgusting—calls for some children simply to work harder, blaming impoverished parents for not caring about education or their children, and making cavalier and rash arguments about either the great failure of schools and teachers or idealistic promises about schools and teachers.

No, it is neither hard nor difficult to do the right thing. It is simply that those with privilege in the U.S. do not care about equity, do not care about marginalized people or children. While the words say “hard” and “difficult,” the actions speak much louder: We do not care.

“There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation,” James Baldwin warned at mid-twentieth century. “The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.”

Let’s end with this: The challenge is not for the poor, not for black and brown people; the challenge is for those who have the power to change things but remain impotent because that challenge is “hard,” that challenge is “difficult.”

[1] Poor, black, and brown children disproportionately are subjected to larger class sizes, un-/under-certified teachers, underfunded schools, and reduced curriculums (test prep).

5 comments

  1. howardat58

    But they don’t really care, these privileged people. To show concern is politically advantageous, and then to promote things which they claim will solve the problem relieves them of the little guilt they may occasionally feel. Bob Moses and Jay Gillen have a radically different approach, which at bottom is to help the kids to develop self respect and the power that goes with it. The revolution may then not be long in coming.

  2. joeberry1493

    The challenge is more to the non-privileged to organize and make the privileged accede to justice. There will be allies among the privileged (and many of us are privileged to one degree or another) but fundamentally all people have to organize for their own liberation, as Frederick Douglass reminded us.

  3. Pingback: Links 11/12/15 | Mike the Mad Biologist

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