Monday, January 30, 2017

Dear Trump's America: I'm living your nightmare and you should too

 People here roll the windows down and turn the music up while they idle by the store, Kendrick Lamar fades into some old school Fugees doing "Killing Me Softly."  We buy our popsicles at the corner store from a guy named Habib, who calls us both baby. My daughter goes to school with a majority of kids who are poor and brown, and she says the pledge of allegiance in Spanish (but only every other day).

The building where I work also houses a gay bar, a Mexican restaurant, and the print shop of a community arts organization.  Various styles of Mexican music compete with Techno and the OomPah beat of the print presses, and the cacophony bubbles up through our floors. On election day, I bought a small coffee (for $4.00!) from a guy who in my memory has a small waxed moustache.  The more your coffee costs, the slower your barista moves.  As I crossed the alley back to work, a drag queen from the gay bar in the downstairs of my work building rasped: "Honey, you want to smoke some marijuana?"  I politely declined, and she (I'm assuming that is the correct pronoun as this person was at the time in full drag) replied, "Sorry baby, I'm just so nervous!"

We ride the bus.  Riders are many colors and they speak many languages.  We riders work together so that the system can work for us.  People shift as one for a man in a wheelchair, decide who will move for the lady with the cane, hoist kids and packages onto laps as the seats fill.  One day LB had a horrible coughing fit after we ran for the bus, and the driver offered to stop and run into Dunkin' Donuts to get her a bottle of water.  One night we stayed late at LB's school for Animal Adventure night. Afterwards we walked to our bus stop, which is in a worn working class neighborhood, on a busy potholed road.  It was rainy and the bus was late.  The only other person waiting was a youngish black man with lots of bags.  We waited and waited, and he didn't seem to mind as LB encroached on his space as she leapt like a frog.  He stepped away to smoke a cigarette and then moved back under the shelter. And, then he took two sharp steps toward us. My hand went automatically in front of LB, protecting her.  He saw me, and motioned toward the roof of the bus shelter.  He had been standing under a huge hole and the rain had gotten heavier-he had moved toward us to get out of the rain.  I smiled at him-the smile of trying to ask for forgiveness.  But I said only, "it's really starting to rain, I hope the bus comes soon." We are all in motion.

This is a city and cities hold poor people, and people with many different skin colors.  We are a city that sits on indigenous land and indigenous people remain here, with the descendants of of white colonizers who fled here seeking religious freedom.  We are a city dominated by immigrants, migrants, and refugees.  I made a mental list of all the people LB I interact on a regular basis who were not born in the US:

my landlord
many of our bus drivers
teachers and staff at LB's school
LB's fellow students
the man who fixes our copier
students at my work
workers at several of my favorite downtown restaurants
the bank teller who knows my name
several of my doctors
the owner of the place I go to get my eyebrows threaded
the owners of the dry cleaner I use
the guy who owns the Indian grocery

Without immigrants, migrants, and refugees our city would grind to a halt. They only thing we could count on is $4.00 coffees poured by guys with waxed moustaches.  And, our life is good.  We don't have a lot, but we have enough.  We don't fear those who we know, even if they look different from us, speak different languages, and come from different places.  And sometimes we do fear those we don't know, because they look different and move different and sound different.  But, when we stop, we know that fear breaks us.  We must learn to know each other.  Vulnerability must be our strength. Love must be our strength. We must move together.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday Night Live

Two weeks ago I realized I was running LB ragged on the weekends.  One Saturday we had swim lesson, playdate, playdate at an African-American drumming festival, and a birthday party.  In practice that involved a lot of "PUT YOUR SHOES ON NOW WE ARE GOING TO MISS OUR BUS WHY AREN'T YOUR SHOES ON!" And that's no way to live.  So this week we kept it simple, went out to a live music event in the neighborhood last night, the pool heater is out of commission so no swim lesson, and one playdate.  And now we've spent 5 hours hanging out in the house cleaning (me), watching shows (her), playing parcheesi and filling our bird feeder and then retrieving it when it fell off the building and coloring (both).  Honestly, I feel a little restless but I think it's been a good chill out day.

I'm not married anymore and I live in a different place, but the biggest change in my life is that I've gone from a person with no real local friends who very rarely did stuff, to a person who often has plans 5 nights a week.  Sometimes it's a little too much, but overall I feel energized.  I like being around people.  I'm nosy enough that I live being part of communities and getting all the news.  And LB is shaping up to be a similar shy extrovert.  Her absolute favorite thing is to play with friends.

Although I haven't captured all the moments on camera, we've established some rituals.  We took the bus to Maine twice this summer.  We went camping with friends in September, and last Monday we watched and marched in PRONK here in Providence.  We didn't take the ferry to Newport or get to the beach at all.  Next year, I need to be brave and try out one of the beach buses-it just seems like such a haul, and who wants to be stuck waiting for the bus when you are ready to leave the beach?

I think I"ve convinced LB to go with me to get PVD Donuts and then do some bird watching tomorrow-sounds delicious!

They need to have this splash pad open more hours.  Twice we showed up just as they shut off the water, and once we actually made it to splash.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Trumping: the final countdown

Graphic from Feminist Fight Club.

Should have known that Trump would bring me back to this blog after many long months.  Today I slept in until noon.  And woke up terrified, because I haven't done that in how many years? Ten? Today is rainy, I had only minimal plans for an amazing 24hrs+ and I'm scaling back even those.

As I've been blogging less, I've been living more.  And it turns out that when you show up, people ask you to show up more.  Now, my issue is finding balance.  I realized at the end of last weekend that I'd been running LB relentlessly-surely we can manage swim lessons, followed by a playdate, followed by a playdate at a drumming performance, followed by a birthday party.  And we got it all done, but with a lot of stern "put your shoes on NOW, we are going to miss the bus!" And for myself, I'm trying to figure out when I need quiet time vs. when I need activity. And, when I can drag LB around to another meeting and when I should just say no.  Right now I'm missing an activist art build that probably would have been a lot of fun to lie in my bed and drink another coffee and write to blogland.

In LB land: five is awesome, so chatty, so stubborn, so capable, so not throwing a tantrum because someone else pulled the cord on the bus.  She can swim! She can play well with friends.  At home she plays weird pretend games and makes houses for her animals out of magnatiles, and we play parcheesi and neither of us know the rules.  She started K at a nearby dual language charter school.  Sometimes I wait with her for the local bus and think "we could be home by now." But, the teachers and support staff are absolutely lovely, she's making friends and seems to like it there, and I have no big complaints-and I am a complainer by nature.

I've been reading to my dystopian stuff, real and imagined.  In non-fiction, I read Tim Tyson's Blood Done Sign My Name, which is a great read for race-liberal white folks.  The fiction that is sticking in my head is The Mandibles (liked it, but at times it felt a little Ayn Rand), and Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Sower-I am traumatized and in love.  Read this book!  I actually paid cash money to order the next book and another trilogy she wrote.

Projects: I was supposed to be taking Spanish classes, but then I got a BOOK CONTRACT with a reputable university press.  I am the worst ex-ac ever.

Work: out-of-control at the moment, but should calm down in a few weeks.  I'm trying to keep my anxiety in control.

Politics: I've been doing some work with a local anti-racist group.  I like them and it feels good to do. National politics: dear God.  Glad to know that the protection of white pussy is still a motivating value in American politics?  A million sighs...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

2nd Rate

Rhode Island has low self-esteem, which means Rhode Islanders love articles about how great Rhode Island is and how cool Providence is.  I just read one, and a columnist from the Boston Globe opened with a story about being offered cocaine by a friendly college student in a Providence bar.  Must we always be the local color-or as my friend used to say in college "my life is not performance art."

There are way worse places to live, but sometimes the living gets you down.  A lovely stroll down historic Benefit Street on my way home from work has me clambering over the sidewalk buckled by tree roots, and don't even think about trying that will a stroller.  Our teensy splash pad will only be open in July and August from 12-5 Monday through Saturday, if the city can scrap up the money.  Other places seem like the splash pads run with milk and honey.

But I suppose LB doesn't care.  Her soon to be school feels big to her even if if it feels claustrophobic to me, she gets to go to cool rock n roll birthday parties, pick out Skittles at the corner store, climb the tree in the park, dance to a hipster marching band in the middle of the street, roll slow balls down the candlepin bowling alley and watch the pinsetter handset the pins.

Like Amanda, I don't know where I'm going with this blog.  I miss blogging being a thing, not for the readers, but for the call and response.  But I do like having a place to organize my thoughts.  I just need a scheme to make other people blog again.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

April Snow

I was born during an April blizzard.  This morning I woke up and the sounds from outside were muffled, and when I opened the curtain it was snowy.  LB and I got to the pool under bright blue skies between the snow squalls.  Each hour we've had gray skies and blowing snow, followed by bright sun and no snow.  We are supposed to get a few more inches tomorrow morning.

On Friday she started swimming by herself with no floatation devices.  I knew she was almost there, but she didn't want to go floaty-free, but finally she just went for it.  Every stroke (a dog paddle/treading water hybrid) is hard fought at this point, but she gets it done, so we went back again today.

I just turned on the radio and "Losing My Religion" was playing.  That song always takes me back to one summer I spent in Boston, and every car that drove by was blasting that song out of open windows as I walked through the blowing trash in Allston.  Right now I'm obsessively listening to the Albums "How to Dance" by Mount Moriah and the Margo Price album (total throwback twangy 70s style country).

LB is playing an elaborate game with stuffed foxes and penguins and an easter basket and my laundry basket.  She's begging to go to the "big park" even though it's miserably cold out and she hates the cold and the snow.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Schools, Schools, Schools: Part 1

We signed LB up.  She is officially a 6%er having gotten into her new school by lottery. It's a small community charter dual language school (they offer Spanish and Portuguese tracks, and she will be in the Spanish track). Our little unicorn baby.  I feel cautiously optimistic about our choice, but I can also see the messed up ways that our current distressed system of public education structured our choices. I like our neighborhood school a lot.  It offers some things that the charter does not: gym every day, a gym that can be used for indoor recesses, a big (if seriously rundown) facility, a stage, a community of people who live nearby.  But the way the system is structured, we can only choose the charter now.  And if it doesn't work out, we can go back to our neighborhood school, but we can't move the other way.  So LB will start out as a unicorn.

And the class and race dynamics: the school LB got into is a school White People Want (WPW).  As a district 80% of kids in Providence Public Schools are classified as low-income, and 91% are kids of color-although in terms of total population, Providence is slightly less than half white people.  Latinos make up the majority of kids in the district.  Our neighborhood school has long been both the blackest and whitest elementary school in the city, but lately has been drawing fewer white kids (although there are still plenty of white kids in the neighborhood) and more latino kids.  At least in Elementary, Providence schools work on an 80/20 formula.  To register your child, you go to the office in South Providence, take a number, sit in a spartan room full of rows of chairs, with a big sign that says "do not form a line, wait for your number to be called." When you go back into the office, you submit say yes or no to the lottery for the public (not charter) dual language option, and then you submit 3 ranked choices.  Your zoned school is established by your address, and zoned schools draw 80% of their students from their zone and 20% from out of zone.  As our zoned school has become less popular, the zoned spots don't usually fill.  It is all very complicated.  And schools don't seem to do a very good job of outreach (and clearly don't have resources to do a good job of outreach).

The result: the most desirable school among people we know is the other Eastside elementary that is out of our zone, and it's 40% white (likely the whitest public school in Providence).  Our neighborhood school is about 20% white, and I believe African American students make up the largest single racial demographic group-and I can't help but think that a rising percentage of African American students correlates with the school becoming less popular among white parents, although white parents don't say so.  LB's new school will be both highly diverse (majority latino, 25% white kids, 10% black kids, slightly majority low-income kids) and unrepresentative of the district.

Providence loses wealthy white families (WWF) (and I'd lump me and LB in that category even though the feds say we qualify as a low-mod family) at every point.  Demographically whites in the city skew older than other groups, so more elderly whites and more young latino families, white families move out to the suburbs to afford more house, to avoid city taxes, and to send their kids to suburban schools, the city has a strong culture of independent schools-so there are 5 independents and at least 3 religious schools within walking distance of my home.  Charters like LB's  are among the most racially balanced schools in the city, but they take more than their share of white kids and not-poor kids.

So here we are in a district with big, old, crumbling schools, full of poor kids, kids who are learning English, kids who have experienced trauma and dislocation (at my own work, I hear about life in wartime, refugee camps, families separated, from our high schoolers). And the kids have problems, but the problem is not the kids.  For reasons I still don't understand, the state pays RI cities less per pupil than it does in the suburbs.  And the money follows the student here, so charters pull more money away from urban schools with their fixed and expensive crumbling physical plants.

So what is diversity in a school system where most of the kids are low income and most are kids of color?  What moral responsibility do WWF have to stay in the system?  And what special sauce do WWF bring to the system?

I can see the ways that diversity benefits the high schoolers I know in Providence.  That diversity does not necessarily include WWF kids.  Instead kids who came here from the DR a few years ago, get really into KPOP and start learning Korean on the internet.  These kids are cosmopolitan in a way I certainly never was.

I don't like the cultural arguments that tell us in more or less veiled language that poor kids of color need to learn with white kids of privilege so that they can learn the cultural habits of whiteness and wealth, so they can get respectable, so that the rising tide will lift their boats.  But there are ways that being in proximity to wealth and power help people glean wealth and power (and by glean I do mean, collect the leftover bits after the harvest).

A school with more WWFs likely have more people who have easy access to lawyers, politicians, and high-level administrators.  When they complain about unequal funding formulas and rundown schools, their voices are amplified.  In the best case, access to power benefits all the kids in the system.  In reality, it often means more resources for the schools and programs used by WWFs, but even then perhaps there is a marginal benefit for all.  But if WWF bring resources, they are also remarkably good at segregating those resources for themselves and people like them.  The whitest and wealthiest school in our district is a neighborhood school-because it takes most of its students from the wealthiest and whitest neighborhood.  Other schools consolidate WWFs in "gifted programs" which are based on tests that measure a child's relative advantage in life.  And we have an exam high school, which is the last in the city to hold onto WWFs.

Without those opportunities to segregate resources, even fewer WWFs would stay in the system, and likely the system would be in even worse shape (and when WWFs leave for the suburbs they take their tax payments with them, and the district's per child money is for kids who enroll, so when kids go to independents, the public school system has to deal with its heavy sunk costs with even fewer dollars).

And the issue of public schools and individual morality: I don't think WWFs should be too quick to claim the high moral ground for choosing publics.  Most of us who do have a decent public option, as well as kids who are able to function within that option.  And I don't think moral responsibility requires us to keep our kids in a situation that is miserable.  I definitely judge parents who call out public schools as crap, rough, failing...without ever visiting those schools-and I think many of those judgements are based on evaluations of the race/class makeup of the school, and of WWF peer pressure.

But even as I have sympathy for parents who choose charters (that includes me) or independents or "better" publics, it troubles me to make the comparison between opting out of public schools and residential white flight in the 1950s through the 1970s.  When white people fled to the suburbs, some of them did so because they didn't want to have black neighbors, others feared the loss of value in their properties, some were moving for other reasons-to get a shiny new house, to be close to family.  But in the end it didn't really matter whether WWFs moved because of racist motivations, mixed motivations, or motivations unrelated to race, what mattered was that most of the white families left and they took everything of value that they could carry, and that loss of white wealth massively destabilized american cities.

And also helped created our underfunded urban schools (my school historian friend tells me that before the 1960s, urban schools were the best and best funded in the nation).  When we act as individuals, we are also acting as a group.  That collective action has power beyond our seemingly individual act.  Even if our individual action is based on motivations other than race, if the collective result of our individual actions perpetuates and increases the inequality in a society structured by racial inequality, then the effect of our individual action is to perpetuate racism.