Opinion

47 years after MLK Jr., many rise to speak

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was lost to the world. Fortunately, another voice has emerged to speak for, and more importantly, to, the black population. A man who truly understands what it means to be a minority in this country, and carries his own burden of blackness with dignity and class. This man is national treasure Bill O’Reilly.

He alone seems to possess the ability to ingest complex issues and regurgitate them into a ridiculously simplistic cesspool of condescension. He claims there are two things that black people must do in order to make everything all better. Ladies, don’t get pregnant at 14, and gentlemen, don’t drop out of school. Simple as that. Thanks, Bill O’Reilly, you’re a peach.

I’m going to share what I learned about education, and leave the pregnancies for another time. It seemed so easy. Until I did something really strange that seems to have eluded O’Reilly. I researched and dug up actual facts rather than relying on my own experiences as a black man, which are arguably even more expansive than O’Reilly’s.

It turns out, it’s not actually easy at all. In The World According To O’Reilly, dropping out of school is a choice. But in the real world, where many of us live, it’s not always so simple. There are underlying factors at play that are easy to miss if you’re, say, dead. Factors such as economics, access to high quality early childhood education, and the inequitable distribution of skilled, experienced teachers and materials, to name a few. I can’t address them all here, so I’ll focus primarily on just one that seems to be largely overlooked.

In order to succeed in school, kids need, among other things, to feel included and understood. This means that students need teachers in their schools that share their cultural and ethnic identities and experiences, and frankly, look like them. This may not seem important if you’re white, but that’s because nearly every authority figure ever has looked like you. Take it from an Asian chick, it matters.

According to my calculations of the 2013 Census, Thurston County had around 1,500 black children. I took a survey of my three randomly chosen children, who have a total of 31.5 years of public education in Thurston County. According to my totally unscientific survey, they have had, between them, exactly ONE black teacher in that 31.5 YEARS of schooling. And he taught PE.

No offense, PE Teachers. But in all those math classes, there wasn’t one black math teacher? That tells me odds are huge that a black student in Thurston County will go through school without ever having a black teacher. (Why are my children reliable subjects? Well, they’re Asian, so they look reliable. And, according to O’Reilly, we only distrust black men because they’re not trustworthy. Ergo, if society THINKS Asians are more reliable, we must be.)

Maybe it’s just that black people don’t want to become teachers, so it’s their fault. Well, there’s a problem with that reasoning. The Brown v. Board of Education ruling that required desegregation at public schools was in 1954. That may seem like a long time ago, but white people have been matriculating at public universities since 1785. We know that students whose parents are college graduates are far more likely to pursue higher education. If an entire segment of the population was largely denied the ability to go to college for 169 years, that still has a huge impact today.

We can’t just look at today and say “segregation is illegal, slavery was a long time ago, so it’s fine now.” The factors that impact children go back for generations. And black children have generations of not only institutionalized, but overt, racism to overcome. Maybe 169 years after the educational playing field was supposedly leveled, things will actually be fair. We’ll see in another 109 years.

I’m lucky. I don’t worry about many things that mothers of black children have to. For one thing, my son is Asian and his only hoodie is from his math club. I don’t worry about him going out for candy and being shot so much as being scammed out of his candy money by some unscrupulous person dangling a graphing calculator in front of him. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to care.

In all sincerity, thank you Bill O’Reilly. Every time you open your mouth, you remind us why Martin Luther King Jr. was relevant then, and why he’s still relevant today.

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