On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

It’s important to remember that King’s work isn’t done (to which everyone reading goes, “Duh.” Sorry, I’m writing from “post-racial America”). This piece in GOOD on the school-to-prison pipeline is just one example of how systematic racism has taken over where Jim Crow laws left off.

In an interview with Rethinking Schools, Alexander says that school discipline policies were directly copied from the get-tough rhetoric of the war on drugs. One of the earliest examples of “zero tolerance language in school discipline manuals was a cut-and-paste job from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration manual.” Alexander says schools quickly “began viewing children as criminals or suspects, rather than as young people with an enormous amount of potential struggling in their own ways and their own difficult context to make it and hopefully thrive.”

Indeed, the Children’s Defense Fund research has revealed that black children are criminalized in American schools. They’re almost three times as likely to be suspended from school and are more than four times as likely to be expelled. Even though research proves that building strong relationships with students, not law enforcement, is what puts students on the right track, school districts continue to invest their dwindling resources in having a police presence on campus. Instead of giving students guidance, schools now treat them “as potential violators.”


Colorlines also offers a handy guide for how to be a Racial Transformer
— an excellent resolution for the new year.

Begin by thinking about the institutions you routinely interact with—stores, banks, media outlets, health facilities, schools, your workplace, community or religious organizations, city government and so on. Pick one and ask:

Are the policies and practices, and their impacts, racially inclusive and fair?
Who are the stakeholders and how can they be engaged in making change?
What concrete equitable changes can you envision and propose?
How can you focus your collective power to influence the power-holders?
What purposeful action steps could lead to real change and when can you begin?

Read it all. There’s even a great cartoon.

7 comments for “On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

  1. Juke
    January 16, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Always worth reposting:

    Jay Smooth: Ten OTHER Things Martin Luther King Said.

  2. PrettyAmiable
    January 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks for the link – I think it provides a good guideline on how to best honor MLK Jr.

  3. Azalea
    January 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    In D.C. many people came out to his monument today, it was beautiful.

    Facebook is peppered with statuses honoring him and a few that remind us that not only is racism still alive and active today but that his message of love has not spread as far as he would have liked.

  4. Marksman2010
    January 16, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    (+1) Great post, Jill.

    I’m going to check out that latest title by Michelle Alexander.

  5. January 16, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    It’s always scary to me what people see as radical. The idea that children are people and should have the exact same rights, like due process, facing their accuser, and being innocent until proven guilty, shouldn’t be radical, yet it is. Our school policies reflect the idea that kids aren’t real people and don’t have real rights.

  6. Odin
    January 17, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Thanks for the links. As someone involved in education, I found the GOOD article to be sobering.

  7. Buffy
    February 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    I worked, briefly, at a school which had a primarily african american and Latino student population. I felt like I was in a prison-like environment. I think most teachers and administrators want to do the best but what is considered best is differently understood and interpreted. In am so concerned for young people. This may be an unpopular statement but I think schools are taking the joy out of learning and life. Many kids drop out and turn to unhealthy alteranative activities.

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