Yesterday, the StarTribune ran an "op/ex" by Mitch Pearlstein called "Racism in Schools is Overstated." But wait, I know that title's bad, but it only gets worse from there. After declaring that racism against people of color is much overstated, Pearlstein proceeds with a factless screed FULL of racism against people of color. If you're looking to acquire as much racism per paragraph as you can find, this piece is a really great value.
I'm not going to spend more than a paragraph or two on Pearlstein's piece, because it's really not worth it. For his core thesis--that there is no (or very little) institutional racism in Minneapolis Public Schools--he presents exactly no evidence. Really, go read it if you want to punish yourself. Not one fact, not one statistic, not one anecdote or narrative, not even one outlandish theory. He just says he doesn't believe it's there. Ergo, it's not. Instead of systems of historical and current racial oppression that have been documented to the moon and back, he says students of color are being failed by schools "not because of any embedded racism, but because they don’t take their schoolwork seriously enough, and because too much family breakdown in the Twin Cities means that too few homes are sufficiently conducive to academic effort and achievement." Yep. It's the kids fault. And their terrible broken homes. He is SO convinced of the supremacy of Whiteness and the inferiority and pathological dysfunction of people of color. And you'll just have to take his convincedness as evidence, because that's all he's got.
The closest Pearlstein comes to any evidence that there isn't racism is that the president is Black. No, stop laughing! I know that's the most cliché Racism 101 argument of the 21st Century. But I swear to God he really wrote that! Also, the problem isn't racism, it's you people TALKING about racism all the time! YOU'RE THE REAL RACISTS!!!
I'm treating Pearlstein's piece like an offensive joke, because that's exactly what it is. And that's where I want to make my larger points.
First, in publishing this piece, the StarTribune, Minneapolis's largest newspaper by far, is legitimizing racism as a valid point of view. I wrote last month about how we as privileged people sustain systems of oppression by perpetuating a false uncertainty in our discourse. Maaaayyyybe there's racism…..BUT MAYBE THERE ISN'T. This piece fits perfectly into that formulation. Despite mountains upon mountains of evidence of the facts of individual, institutional, and systemic racism, the StarTribune publishes this piece from an old privilieged guy who doesn't identify as a person of color just spouting off his opinions without bothering with things like evidence and declaring by fiat that institutional racism in Minneapolis schools just…isn't.
That's unacceptable from a journalistic standpoint. But the Strib seemed more interested in comment-generating controversy. With this tweet on Friday, they didn't even bother to link to the story, but wanted to be sure you saw the provocative headline and that they were running it on the front page of the section. They seem almost gleefully proud of publishing this trash.
Stating, with ZERO evidence, that children of color "don't take their schoolwork seriously enough" is racist. Period. Racism is not a legitimate point of view. It should not be afforded space in the community's largest newspaper.
Finally, I'll be watching with interest to see what, if any, reaction this piece gets from Minneapolis Public Schools and from its teachers union, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and ESPs. I don't expect MPS or the MFT to respond to every racist thing on the internet. They've got really big jobs to do. But the largest newspaper in the community published a piece saying some pretty terrible things about the children and families they serve. Will they call this out?
As I said in a frustrated twitter burst yesterday, this is an instance when silence is passive consent. Racist attacks on kids and families can't continually go unchallenged.
Pearlstein's piece was racist. So was the StarTribune's decision to publish it. Let's demand much more from our local media, and our school systems.