Tuesday, August 16, 2011

History's Echoes: Ruby Bridges Visits the White House vs. White Students Who Benefit From a Virginia School Desegration Scholarship



First, I would like to thank Ruby Bridges for her courage. She and others like her made America a better place. They are the shoulders upon which so many of us stand. Although I often lament the fact that regular people do often make history for the worst (see Right-wing populism), they also make history for the better as well.

The latter is why I hold those black folks and others in such low regard who could have made a difference in our time of struggle, but like the Herman Cains of the world, had better things to do and "didn't want any trouble." My contempt also extends to those individuals who have directly and indirectly benefited from the Civil Rights Movement, but who feel no affinity for black and brown people.

As I have been fond of saying as of late, history's echoes are indeed deep and long. Reflecting upon the Black Freedom Struggle and the work done to integrate America's schools by such pioneers as the Little Rock Nine, Ruby Bridges, James Meredith, and many others, I began to think about justice and how far this country has come on matters of racial inequality...and so far she has to go.

Ruby Bridges' trip to the White House is so poignant symbolically precisely because of how it seems to close the circle. Thinking people know the work is far from complete--American schools are as segregated (if not more so in some areas) as they were during Jim and Jane Crow--but the moment brings a nice warm fuzzy feeling to those prone to such things.

Ironically, those fuzzy feelings are also cousins to the flat history, and the twin lies of nostalgia and kumbaya colorblind America that have been thoroughly taken to task in the recent discussions of the white savior film The Help, a movie whose lessons on these matters are clear: racial inequality and the lived legacies of white supremacy in the present can just be solved by a big group hug, a good rewrite of history where all parties are made equally culpable, and by working really hard to avoid any conversations of responsibility or blame.

The language of racial justice is quite limited in the post-Civil Rights, American context. "Reparations" is verboten. While the very word itself is terrifying to a good swath of White America, and the idea that groups of people can petition for grievance, lost wages, wealth, and for some accounting of one of the greatest crimes in human history is well-established in International Law, to even utter "reparations" is deemed a sin that will exile one from the mainstream of American politics.

There is always a caveat: in experiments where the scenario is fictional (but a mirror for what happened in this country), and under which they could conceivably benefit, white Americans are in favor of reparations. But, the same white folks are repelled by the idea of reparations when it applies to Black Americans. Adding an additional complication, other groups in America have petitioned for a group redress of grievance with little protest.

Riddle me that one...

I have always suggested that it ain't about the money and never really has been: the most real and substantial obstacle to reparations is the very idea that White America owes a formal apology to black Americans. To do such a thing, the very act of saying, "I am sorry, we are responsible, and a crime was committed by Whites against Blacks in America" or "yes, whites have and continue to receive unearned advantages because of the color of their skin and the State aided and abetted this" is too much for many to countenance.

Whiteness allows white folks to selectively be a people without a history. Because they lack history, to be held accountable is anathema and unthinkable. In all, opposition to reparations has little to do about "principled" ideology or beliefs about what the State should or ought to do relative to different groups on matters of justice. There are simply too many exceptions made for the consistency rule to be in effect.

The other obstacle to rich and significant conversation about matters of race, justice, and compensation is that everyone is "black" in post-Civil Rights, multicultural, colorblind America. To talk about blackness as something historical and real, a social fact which impacts life chances, and is influenced by institutional structures, as opposed to a "lifestyle" choice mediated by the black culture industry and Multicultural Inc., is simply too "angry" and "un-pc" for the Age of Obama, what is a moment when to critically engage race is to be a "racist" who delights in playing the "race card."

Because Blackness is a commodity that is both sold and consumed, blacks art, black music, black culture, black letters, black genius, and black artistry are made accessible to all. In twenty-first century America, black suffering, black injustice, and black struggle are also products and experiences to be shared across the colorline.

Funny, everyone want to be black when it is convenient; but few ever want to be Black when it counts.

For some time, I have wanted to discuss the following story on how white folks in Virginia are benefiting from a scholarship for those harmed by school segregation and Jim Crow. Ruby Bridges' visit to the White House has provided the fulcrum to finally share it with you all.

I must ask: How did justice ever get so twisted?

****
Some of Virginia's Brown Versus Board College Grants Go to Whites

“Both black and white students lost an opportunity because of the state’s decision, and both deserve this aid,” said Brenda Edwards, who administers the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarships for the Virginia Division of Legislative Services. “White people hear Brown v. Board, and they think they’re not eligible. We’re trying to change that perception. . . . We want more people to get the education they missed out on years ago.”

Half a century after many Virginia public schools shut their doors rather than accept black students, the state is offering college scholarships to compensate those whose education suffered in the era of “massive resistance” to desegregation. Among the recipients: white students.

Since 2004, about 70 people have won the scholarships, including a handful of white Virginians whose schooling was disrupted in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A precise count of white scholarship recipients was unavailable, but the total is thought to be fewer than 10. Officials who oversee the state program say they want to spread the word to more white students who might be eligible.

Phyllis Archer, 57, a scholarship recipient who is black, said the push to include white students in the program is misguided. “This was the state’s chance to apologize for wrongdoing, not to award people who have never known racism,” Archer said.

June Jeffrey, 69, is also a scholarship recipient. She is a real estate agent who is studying English at Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton and is white.

In 1958, four years after the landmark Supreme Court ruling that found school segregation unconstitutional, Jeffrey’s high school in Warren County closed its doors.

While black students left the county or attended loosely organized classes in living rooms and church basements, Jeffrey’s school reestablished itself as the Warren County Education Foundation School, which enrolled only white students. It held classes in buildings across town, keeping the same teachers and paying them partly with public funds.

When a federal court ruled in February 1959 that Warren County schools must integrate, Jeffrey and most of her classmates remained at the all-white foundation school. But she said they lost access to facilities, counseling and the trappings of a traditional high school experience.

“We missed having a real senior year,” Jeffrey recalled. “We just wanted to finish up with our friends.”

Jeffrey detailed those experiences when she applied for the scholarship years later.

“I was just hoping that they wouldn’t ask me for a photo,” she said. She was never sure whether white students qualified.

Not only do they qualify, she later learned, but officials are traveling the state to inform residents — including white residents — of their eligibility. Former students whose public schools in Charlottesville, Norfolk, Prince Edward County or Warren County closed in the late ’50s and early ’60s are eligible.

The effort to recruit white applicants has reopened wounds from Virginia’s painful racial history.

Archer, who is working toward a degree in nonprofit management from the University of Richmond, said she wonders whether some scholarship recipients are from families that defended segregation. “That’s really unacceptable,” she said...

The story continues here.

9 comments:

Ankhesen Mié said...

Brilliant work, as always.

the very idea that White America owes a formal apology to black Americans. To do such a thing, the very act of saying, "I am sorry, we are responsible, and a crime was committed by Whites against Blacks in America" or "yes, whites have and continue to receive unearned advantages because of the color of their skin and the State aided and abetted this" is too much for many to countenance.

Whiteness allows white folks to selectively be a people without a history. Because they lack history, to be held accountable is anathema and unthinkable.


Sooooo very well said. I once called this White Sociopathic Alter-Ego, or "the tendency for whites to blame white crimes on evil, bloodthirsty "Other Whites" who apparently phase in from another dimension, wreak havoc, and then vanish, leaving "Innocent Whites" behind to be held accountable for their actions (and though never mentioned, convenient beneficiaries to their spoils of war)."

That's why every white person you meet's ancestors came from post-slavery North America, or if they're Southern, their ancestors never owned slaves. All their parents and/or grandparents who lived during the pre-Civil Rights Era have some convenient form of amnesia when asked about Jim Crow or lynchings, because every white person was who alive in the Sixties apparently marched with MLK and attended Woodstock.

And don't forget, they're ALL Irish, and they ALL arrived here in the 1930s, and they ALL experienced discrimination. All those "other" white people are always someone else's ancestors, their descendants are conveniently nowhere to be found, and besides...that was a different time (and somehow place as well) and it's mean to judge "those people" anyway...that is to say, if they even existed at all.

Chris Sharp said...

I read the linked Washington Post article but what was even more fascinating were the nearly 300 unedited reader comments that followed it. There were also a few that were removed and I can only imagine what they must have said.

Based on a quick review, the negative comments, i.e., those critical of the scholarhip program and the fact that it does not include MORE whites, outnumber the positive comments by about 10 to 1. It's stunning how easily history can get white-washed when its rewritten by the same class of people that thought nothing of segregation in the first place. The Tea Party movement has simply emboldened many of them to say out loud what they have been thinking for years. Clearly, we are still paying a heavy price for the orignal sin of slavery, as shown by the fact that it is so easy for some people to minimize or ignore the past.

This is the same crowd of folks who would likely have fought for the South in the Civil War even though they owned no slaves and were only slightly above them in the social pecking order. Despite the fact that their white slaveholding "neighbors" treated them like dogs, poor whites lined up and died by the hundreds of thousands to preserve an institution that was of no benfefit to them whatsoever, other than giving them a group to feel superior to. Just like they are doing now with their support of the corporate agenda and their hatred of unions, immigrants, the poor etc. I guess it can be a powerful psychological motivator depending on your sense of entitlement and frustration at not getting your fair share of the pie.

Which reminds me of a joke I heard recently. Three guys are sitting around a table trying to divide a pie. One is a Wall Street hedge fund trader, the other is a black union member, and the third is an nemployed white Tea Party member. The Wall Street guy reaches over and grabs seven of the slight, and when the Tea Party guy protests, Wall Street man tells says "watch out, that black union guy is trying to steal your piece of pie."

Even 150 years later, they still don't realize how they are being used by the rich, but their pathological hatred endures, just waiting to be channeled by their masters. The comments on the Post article show just how little things have changed in the minds of some people. And in a major twist of irony, they have now misappropriated the victim title for themselves, while still failing to empathize with anyone else's historical experiences.

Sure, the Irish and other white immigrant groups experienced hardship and discrimination when they came to our country, but they all came here voluntarily to escape something that was usually far worse than what they found here. There is simply no way to even remotely compare what happened to any white immigrant group to the horror of the Middle Passage and bondage in 18th and
19th century America, no matter how hard you try, or how bad a case of historical amnesia you may have.

As you note, if you made some of these Tea Partiers sit in a room by themselves and watch other white people being torn from their homes, separated from their families, put in chains and then shipped off to a strange land to be worked, starved, raped and physically abused until they died, maybe they would view these scholarships and the concept of reparations a little differently. But 150 years of pathology is not going to change in even a generation, no matter how hard we try, and definitely not until we lance the Tea Party boil. Sadly, as we know from history, another one will pop up real soon, and it might suffer from an even worse case of historical amnesia, especially as we move further and further away from our past.

Thrasher said...

Ruby Bridges should be a household name in our venues and circles....I needed this reminder of living Black legends!!

Deb said...

"“Both black and white students lost an opportunity because of the state’s decision, and both deserve this aid,” said Brenda Edwards, who administers the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarships for the Virginia Division of Legislative Services. “White people hear Brown v. Board, and they think they’re not eligible. We’re trying to change that perception. . . . We want more people to get the education they missed out on years ago."

This is some serious, Stockholm Syndrome-fueled PTSD (Post-Traumatic-Slavery Disorder) shit right here!

I smell a compromising, "let's not piss white people off" fear here - still. {SMDH} We'll never be damned "FREE" - we might as well just stop lying to the chirrun right now!

After all these damned years, we can't even stand-up for what is our due? I can't even coherently construct a response to the post right now, CD - because I'm just blown away by this shit!

I'll be back once I've calmed the hell down...

Oh Crap said...

[venal white conservative opportunist]

Hey! Jim Crow wasn't fair because we were relegated to certain water fountains and certain seats on the bus, too!

We couldn't sit whereever we wanted, either!!! Pity us!

[/venal white conservative opportunist]

chaunceydevega said...

@Ank. Why do you have to let the facts get in the way of some white folks yearning to create a mythic past for themselves? So mean of you.

@chris. You assume empathy on their parts which simply does not exist. And again to the wages of whiteness.

@Thrasher. There are so many living legends who need to be acknowledged.

@Deb. Isn't half a pie better than no pie at all? You don't want no scraps to eat? So high fallutin you is!

@Oh Crap. Privilege is such a liability. You didn't know that?

Deb said...

"Deb, Isn't half a pie better than no pie at all? You don't want no scraps to eat? So high fallutin you is!"

CD..."No, No and No, not high fallutin - just tryin' to be, and stay free.

On another post here, Tanya made an "abusive husband" analogy - it fits in this decision as well.

Instead of our scrap-eatin' days being unequivocally unacceptable and therefore - OVER (given all we've done to shape and make this damned country), it seems many of us, like those Black committee members, remain stuck in the "You like, me - you really like me!!" bullshit of assimilation, versus access.

Yes, they were equally affected by the closing of the schools, but kindly pardon my inability to understand the logic fueling any of this, particularly since it was white folk who, for all intents and purposes - ate their own damned young, rather than have them mixin' and minglin' with the likes of me (which, methinks, speaks volumes about who the hell they are)!!!

I think you pretty much nailed it in your next, to subsequent post when you said, tongue-in-cheek, "the Slaveocracy was not an institution that lifted up the lowest white man above the most high, refined, and educated black person by mere virtue of melanin count."

In the more indelicate words to which I'm most accustomed having grown up in another of those "Original 13s," - "I may be po' white trash, but at least I'm not a nigger!"

That, among other things, is what this says to me - still.

For the life of me, I can't figure out how,having been kicked into, and left for dead in, a narrow shaft, leading to a seemingly bottomless pit of maddness, while the starter pistol's been shot for everyone else, long before you've even had a chance to crawl out, serves the levelling of any-damned-thing.

Deb said...

Oops! "maddness" = madness

Surprised that's the only mistake given how much restraint had my fingers tremblin'! ;-)

Deb said...

Oh, and CD? Just a personal nit-pick regarding something that's been co-opted and twisted - and bothering me.

You said, "Ironically, those fuzzy feelings are also cousins to the flat history, and the twin lies of nostalgia and kumbaya colorblind America...

Because we sang this spriritual in my Grandmama's, old AME church on "the island" for as long as I can remember (she died in 2002 at the age of 93) - "Kum ba ya(h)" in Gullah (that language young folk keep believin' we don't have, though it's been traced back to The Continent in both Sierra Leone and Angola (think slaves of the Stono Rebellion) - and for which, "evolved" Blacks felt the need to substitute with the term "Ebonics") has nothing to do with the mindless, "warm fuzzies" meme, usually portrayed in the MSM.

It, instead, referred to a battered people's entreaty for "de Lawd" to "Come by here" and not only soothe the many pains being endured, but celebrate the small wonders of being able to laugh and sing...(Nit-pick over)