For a while, back in the early days of my Google Reader obsession, I loved GOOD’s online magazine. They had copious articles on education reform, which I gobbled up. But even before I had the social justice chops to understand why, their articles left me wanting more. They never seemed to really delve into the issues they brought up. After a few years, they changed their format to a completely unreadable angry spaceship of social media garbage, and I stopped reading.
I’m still hungry for education news, though, and GOOD, shallow and widget-happy as they may be, has an excellent Education Editor (Liz Dwyer). So when they posted a civil rights’ quiz my organization put together (demonstrating good judgment, in my opinion), I started to browse again.
And I found this: 5 Pragmatic Alternatives to The Sagging Pants Debate. And I rejoiced! Canning the debate about black boys’ butts and talking about actual systematic problems? YES. GOOD being pragmatic instead of just talking about how we should fund iPhone water purifiers on Kickstarter? YES.
And then I read the article. Oh Andre Perry. Oh Andre. Let me just say straight up that as a white kid from a tiny town in New Jersey, I’m, like, supremely unqualified to talk about issues in the black community. But even I can tell this is a bunch of impractical horseshit.
Let’s see what we’ve got here.
1. Perry wants neighborhoods to develop a “neighborhood wellness center that houses a nutritionist, physical trainer, conflict mediation specialist, and tailor.” Ok, I’m on board. He continues: “Standards of beauty, professionalism, style, and decorum are necessary and inescapable.” I think we’re veering into dangerous territory here, but maybe later he’ll explain why we need these things. NOPE. He instead chooses to JUMP OFF THE CLIFF OF TACT AND SENSE. “Most American communities are overweight, angry, and poorly dressed…our communities desperately need style doctors. Football jerseys are not semiformal. From hipsters to hip-hoppers*, folks are just getting lazy with their dress.” I’m sorry, what?
Look. I know we have this thing where we’ve decided the most employable people wear certain clothes, have certain manners, and generally look and act a certain way. I understand wanting to improve the employment rate in your community by helping people conform to those standards, to a degree. But good LORD, man, you have got to recognize that those standards are at best arbitrary and at worst classist and racist. The idea of providing under-served communities with health and wellness care and easily accessible (and hopefully affordable) clothing options is great! But if you serve it with a side of “You’re fat and angry! Let me help you be less fat and angry so you stop embarrassing me,” you’re kind of emulating those assholes who give food to hungry homeless people but not until they listen to a SERMON, BY GOD! Don’t be like those dudes.
2. Perry would like us to have “resident artists and philosophers in every school.” Great idea, bro. But considering I just googled “arts in schools being cut” and got 91,800,000 results, I don’t think you’re going to get very far with that.
3. “Three hours of reading for every hour of Scandal watched.” Ok, that’s a little judgey, but sure. Reading is strongly correlated with academic success, and rampant anti-intellectualism is certainly a problem [that needs to be addressed] if you want kids to take school seriously.
But I’m having trouble taking HIM seriously, because he says this shit: “We should consume less of entertainment television…Instead of watching football from the couch, go for a run or lift weights. Imagine you’re athletic.” I’m beginning to get the sense that our friend Andre does not like the fat people. And this shit: “I can’t let my two-and-a half-year-old listen to it [R&B and Hip Hop]. Early exposure to mainstream stations stunts the growth of children under the age of 12.” Haha what? And this shit: “It will take time to get off the crack of pop culture, but with time and effort, communities will be able to enjoy August Wilson and Toni Morrison…” Okay, the crack joke was probably a little tasteless but mostly YES ANDRE PERRY, TEACH THE PEOPLE TO LOVE TONI MORRISON. I just found out you can’t access lifetime book sales without contacting a publisher, but the woman is worth $24 million dollars. I think some people probably bought her books.
4. Perry wants to end the school-to-prison pipeline, and he actually has some reasonable ideas, like restorative justice programs and in-school suspension instead of expulsion. I agree.
5. Perry suggests that we connect education and employment: “Sure you can teach a kid French in a classroom, but it’s so much easier to teach French in France. Similarly, teaching English language skills is so much easier when students are placed in jobs in which the spoken word is corrected through professionalism.“
Seriously I legitimately don’t know what he’s talking about. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not knocking AAVE (which is considered, depending on the linguist you’re consulting, either an independent dialect or a creole, but never bad grammar.) But what is he saying? Is he suggesting employment programs for teens? Is he suggesting career training? PLEASE BE LESS VAGUE THANK YOU THE END.
Here is how I would have written the article:
1. We need to prioritize health in our communities. Finding a way to extend mental and physical health services to people in under-served locales will alleviate suffering and potentially reduce poverty-related illnesses. These services should, if at all possible, be holistic and include wellness and preventative care.
2. We need to fight to get arts back into schools, especially “low-performing” schools.
3. We need to find a way to expand access to arts, theatre, music, and other entertainment in under-served areas. I can think of a variety of ways to do this–discount nights at local theatres, traveling “bookmobiles,” admission-waived days at museums, and encouraging local artists and entertainers to set up shop in their communities and supporting them when they do.
4. We need to end the school-to-prison pipeline. We should be combating this on a local level by instituting restorative justice programs and in-school suspension instead of expulsion, and on a national level by crafting policy that helps low-income students and students of color stay in school and have employment opportunities when they get out.
5. Career training. Invest in it. Work-study programs. Paid internships and apprenticeships. Connect school and work, but not by telling kids they have to speak like the boss in Office Space to get a good job.
GOOD, PLEASE STOP publishing “pragmatic” articles that sound like they were written by a Young Republican. If you’re going to tackle the complex issues that affect black and low-income communities, the least you could do is come up with some solid bullet points that don’t make it sound like you hate poor people. You want to stop the stupid “sagging pants debate” in its stupid tracks? Then dredge up some compassion, quit judging people who like television and give people a way to put their money where their mouth is.
Here are some action items, because I looked up the definition of “pragmatic” and memorized it:
1. Join the fight to get arts back in schools.
2. Support artists of color. Encourage them to come to your hometown, or try to organize a small exhibit of their work at a local school or library.
3. Donate to places like Whitman Walker that provide health care to people who face barriers to accessing quality medical treatment.
4. Mentor a kid.
5. Learn about and advocate for restorative justice.