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Profound Insult to PAUSD Community

Original post made by Parent, Palo Alto High School, on Feb 16, 2007

I hope that others are as outraged as I am right now after reading the passage set forth below:

students, parents, teachers, & community members
to share ideas on improving the experience of students
of color in PAUSD. (School Board members
and the Sup't Search Firm will attend.)
Goal: provide an opportunity to have an impact
on the selection of the new Superintendent, & to
help shape PAUSD's short- & long-term priorities.

This information was sent to all parents in the PAUSD today. Why would the goal be to "improve the experience of students of color in PAUSD"? Why not all students regardless of their color? I find this offensive and a profound insult to all members of the PAUSD community. I think that students of color would find it offensive if there was a meeting with the School Board and Sup't search firm where the goal was to "share ideas on improving the experience of white students in PAUSD". Let's stop this nonsense and start working as a community where the good of all members of the PAUSD community is the goal.

Comments (50)

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 16, 2007 at 9:42 am

I believe this event was co-sponsored by a group calling themselves a group that supports students of color in our schools. Maybe there should also be a group that supports non-colored students, or would that be called the r word?

Posted by racethefinalfrontier
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2007 at 10:07 am

I think it's time to open a dialogue about race in palo alto. It seems to be cropping up everywhere. Can we agree to be civil in the face of hot emotional issues?

Posted by Daunna
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 16, 2007 at 10:16 am

My understanding is that an event had already been planned to discuss ways to support students of color, when along came the announcement of the search firm who, it just happened, would be in town at the time of the already-planned event. The sponsoring group seized the opportunity and made a quick plan to extend the discussion to the search firm. The focus was on students of color, but everyone in the community interested in the needs of this population were invited to join the discussion. I think it's great that the search firm and program sponsors were able to capitalize on the timing so that this group of stakeholders would have an opportunity to voice their particular concerns without feeling overshadowed by other stakeholders.

The school district has planned public input opportunities: Web Link

I think the district is doing better this time than last at providing access to the community to voice their thoughts on the kind of new superintendent we want.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2007 at 12:45 pm

I think we have dialoged race to death. No more.

Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 16, 2007 at 3:02 pm

"Students of color" should not be thought of in monolithic terms - their needs and their experiences are quite diverse. However, there are fundamental differences in the experiences of many students of color compared to white students, and to claim otherwise seems naive, and perhaps aggressive (if one group claims to define the experiences of another). Why shouldn't a student group with shared characteristics and shared concerns have meetings to share ideas and strategies to address those concerns? How do we feel about meetings focused on the needs of athletes? Band families? GATE students? Special-education students? Neighborhoods?

Someone facetiously asked about having a white students/families meeting. That would actually be interesting. What would they talk about? What are their issues? I taught at a high school once where students formed a European-American club. The problem was that they had no idea what that meant, they just wanted something for themselves as they saw other cultural groups around them. For centuries in this country, it suited those in power to perpetuate a divide based on race. Now that those barriers are coming down, the inheritors of that division are finding it a burdensome, ambiguous legacy. So back at that school, the Euro-Am club couldn't really think of anything to do that would define their culture or group, because they really had no shared identity as "whites," other than similar skin, and so their group fell apart. It's an unfortunate hand-me-down from the past, this notion of "whiteness." I think that's why a lot of white people find culture/race based groups threatening - they lack a comparable affiliation. There is no "white" culture, and most (not all) "white" kids these days have no particular affiliation with the homelands of their ancestors. (That's not new. I'm approaching middle age and have no cultural connection to the lands of my ancestors in Russia or Poland. Even my parents have never visited the places their parents were born). And yet, despite the lack of a white culture, we clearly have a diversified American culture that still favors "whiteness." Quite a conundrum we're working our way out of.

Walter thinks "we have dialogued race to death." Interesting thought, but it's plain to see that we have a ways to go as a community and as a nation, and world. And I wonder how many of us have actually, face-to-face, spoken with people of different backgrounds about our cultural and racial identities and experiences. Yeah, I know, some of you are thinking "some of my best friends are black/white" - and you talk about the Giants and the weather and your kids and the latest movies and restaurants. That's wonderful, but what don't you talk about? and why not?

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 16, 2007 at 3:48 pm

"How do we feel about meetings focused on the needs of athletes? Band families? GATE students? Special-education students? Neighborhoods?"

I actually feel very good about them. I think I will feel as good about a meeting of school Democrats, Republicans or Libertarians, whatever the color of their skin. But I do have a problem with "people of color", since this assumes that their experiences or interests are somehow close, based on the color of their skin. Is the experience of a black kid with long US roots the same as of his fiend from Trinidad? From Nigeria? From south India? Do they necessarily share more interests among themselves than they would with a white US born, or with a kid from Japan or Russia? How about those "Latino" kids -- a 5th generation American from California, and new comers from Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, or ... Spain -- what do they share?

Enhancing racial group identity is a pernicious concept that we have enshrined in recent decades. Walter is right -- we did dialogue race to death.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2007 at 4:52 pm

I would love it if we could get past the whole "blame the skin color for problems" point of view. It would be truly liberating.

I was truly liberated, as a woman, when I stopped having a chip on my shoulder and blaming the fact that I am a woman for some of the problems I had with work or life. Once I did that, I started improving myself, instead of trying to change the world.

That said, even with that attitude, I can look back on my life and see instances where there truly were sexist problems at work. So, I am sure there are still "racist problems" that people who are "of color" ( or, white, if you are a white minority in a "color" area)have to deal with.

Even so, I get a little testy about the issue. I think it is because it is so easy to blame everything on color, or gender, or sexual orientation, or age, or being fat, your chip, and end up not taking responsibility for your own, or your own culture's, contribution to whatever problems you may be having. And, for the one who is listening to the griping and NOT a woman or a color or an orientation...there comes a sense of "not me!!" and/or guilt and/or anger at being falsely lumped into problems. Tough emotions to deal with from perfectly decent people, most of us who just want to live and let live.

A good example is the whole "people of color" achievement gap. The problem with that term and the resultant assumption is that somehow there is institutional racism involved. But, all you have to do is realize that the Asian "color" does much better than the "white" color, which does better than the "brown and black" colors, academically. And the "gap" between the asians and whites is the same as the gap between whites and browns/blacks.

So, clearly there is more at work than simply color.

I have watched the group that was formed a couple years ago to address the achievement gap by "people of color" grow, and I think it isn't what it looks like from this announcement. I have heard them speak and I see a group growing into awareness that this is a much more complicated issue than on first blush.

I don't hear the "institutional racism" comments anymore, I don't hear the anger or the blaming, I hear growth and truly trying to figure out how to best bring ALL lower achieving kids up, not just lower achieving kids of color.

I also hear them trying to include all immigrants, and help teach how deal with our society.

However, it is still true that kids who are "one or two of a kind" in a class are going to have feelings that may or may not affect their performance, feelings of being different or isolation etc, so there is still room to help the little guys deal with this, just like kids in wheelchairs and kids who "walk funny" and kids with hearing aids etc have to eventually learn to deal with being "different"

So, I have softened my "chip" regarding this issue lately, since I am not hearing blame and anger coming out from the group anymore.

Maybe this anonymous forum will be good for us to talk about this stuff, in a way that feels safer than would normally happen.

What do you all think?

By the way, did anyone go last night? What happened? What was good about it?

Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 16, 2007 at 5:13 pm

Wolf -

So we are in agreement about half of this. It's essential to recognize, as you did, that a first generation immigrant from Haiti may have similar physical features to others of his or her "race," but their shared skin color does not mean a shared experience or perspective. I also agree that "race" is a pernicious concept that needs to be recognized as such. We can't make that happen for the future by just stopping the dialogue before recognizing and reaching some consensus about the past and present.

But at the same time, I reiterate, there are commonalities and shared issues that must be recognized and validated. The label "students of color" may be part of the problem, considering how imprecise it is and how easily it can become a distraction in the dialogue. Clearly, the issues are different among Asian, Polynesian, Latino, African-American... But without making it a matter of blame, we must honestly recognize that we live in a society that favored white skin for hundreds of years - and still does. I don't think that as a white peson I have to feel personally defensive or guilty when I acknowledge that fact - I didn't create the situation. Yes, it's getting better, but you can't just expect people to "get over it" without at least validating what "it" is and suggesting how we can all DO something besides offer bromides to get over "it." To the extent that anyone tries to advance their cause by blaming others, they risk creating a tension and defensiveness that is not conducive to dialogue. But to the extent that "white" people want to bury or ignore the issue, or get "insulted" by "people of color" wanting to talk together about shared concerns, then those "white" people risk delaying some progress on the problem.

Posted by of color
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2007 at 5:40 pm

To SkepticalAL

Don't assume that only white people get irritated with the race issue. Nothing like being looked at as someone who got a scholarship because of his race, not because of merit, to be convinced that, in the kindness of "helping" we can sometimes have the unintended consequence of increasing racism and resentment.

Read Ward Connely's book to help with this.

So, my point is that it isn't only white people who may want to "bury or ignore" the issue. Some of us would be happy to just let it all go. We get really tired of all the focus sometimes. As if our race defines us. It defines me as much as I let it, which isn't much.

My grandmother was forced to marry my grandfather, by a system that no longer exists. I do not blame the system that no longer exists for my sister's problems. There are still residual effects from that system even on me, but it does no good to harp on it. Sometimes it feels like that about race. Slavery ended 150 years ago. In that time entire peoples have come here, and grown out of poverty.

I know that black people who come here from other countries have children who grow up to have the same educational and income average as whites. Why is that? Same color, different outcome. We need to stop blaming color, and look at our culture.

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 16, 2007 at 6:13 pm

Skeptical Al,

'[T]o the extent that "white" people want to bury or ignore the issue, or get "insulted" by "people of color" wanting to talk together about shared concerns, then those "white" people risk delaying some progress on the problem'

I can't speak for "white people", but I can speak for myself.

I am not insulted by anyone wanting to talk about anything. I am offended when I am expected to support and encourage -- verbally through PC pressures, financially through my tax money -- separatist and racially-based discussions, organizations, and activities.

I don't want to 'bury' anything. What had happened in the past had happened, and no sense to deny it. By the same token I see little sense to take it out of historical context and apply today's standards to historical events. I am not denying that there are still remnants of white racism around us, and I am all for fighting and criticizing them; happily I see relatively very few of them in this area. I do see, however, little value in scratching every small scab until it bleeds; yet this is exactly what we do when we frame every problem in racial terms. This not only harms the greater society by encouraging racial separatism, it also harms the minorities themselves since it tells them that their future does not lie in their own hands, but rather it is dictated by what "others are doing to them."

In fact, I believe that this perception, that racism is still prevalent and the society is still broadly discriminating against minorities, is at the root of much of the existing achievement gap. Too many minority children are raised believing that they can't succeed in our society because the "white man" still stacks the odds against them. This is exactly the opposite of the American idea of self improvement and self reliance.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 16, 2007 at 7:06 pm

Two separate comments for ScepticAl

Firstly, I spoke some time ago with a mom at school. She was here with her husband, who was doing some research at Stanford from Nigeria, and their two children, all born in Nigeria, all Nigerian citizens. She complained that when she filled in forms at school there was no category for them so they filled in "other" when it came to ethnicity and when asked for a description, proudly wrote in Black Nigerian. She did not consider herself African (Africa being a continent not a country) or American (they were only here on a temporary visa) and quite often the forms were changed and African American checked off instead. This really annoyed them, and I can quite understand why. She felt totally unaccepted for who she was and that the race issue here was totally exclusive of someone with her ethnicity.

My second point is about Britishness. In the UK there are four nationalities, Northern Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English. For the first three groups, there are always clubs, events and a feeling of identity. For the English, there is nothing. If the English get together, they are like you mention above, can't think of anything to talk about. Now you may not see this from their point of view, but it is exactly the same thing. Because they can't think of anything to talk about, have in common, or bond them together as a single group, it doesn't lessen the fact that they are one. The point is, the group that is in the leadership role, do not have to have an identity. It is only the minorities or those that have felt persecuted in the past by those who they see as members of the traditional leadership group that bond together and feel the need to form their own identity. In the example of your Euro-American group above, I can see their problem. However, if they broke down into smaller groups, e.g. French, Spanish, Italian, German, or dare I say it English (not just British), then they would soon find identities and things in common. All apples are not golden delicious, but they are all apples, not pears.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2007 at 8:57 pm

I laid it on the line back when you paid a price to eliminate the racial classification of people. If people want to segregate themselves I will not deny them that, but i will grieve that they do.

Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 17, 2007 at 1:55 am

See - this is good dialogue. But we have trouble engaging in this in person in mixed groups, don't we? It seems I've been misunderstood a bit. I tried to say above that I totally understand how much diversity there is within the totally inadequate labels. To "of color" - I never assumed anything - I think you read too much into my posting. I actually have these discussions with a variety of people on a semi-regular basis. I'm quite aware of Ward Connerly, and others before him, African-Americans who reject race-based considerations and affirmative action, for totally logical reasons. That's fine. I have mixed feelings about it myself. But whatever diversity of opinions and experience exists, there's obviously enough commonality among enough people that they feel a need to join together to address issues and problems that they perceive being related to race. No one will convince them that their perceptions of their own experiences are wrong and they shouldn't talk about it or act upon their convictions. And yes, your comment about getting past color is wonderful. We should definitely examine why recent immigrants who are "black" have such a different experience from "black" people with longstanding family roots in America. That would be a productive discussion to have in a diverse community forum. I get the impression, perhaps wrongly(?), that you mention these things as if to say, "see how variable and complicated this is? So why talk about it?" Wolf - regarding your tax dollars... Are you saying the school district or city should never sponsor discussions of race, or never support cultural/ethnic groups? I also agree that the "victim" mindset may be part of the problem in the achievement gap. But I also think the victim mindset actually gains validity when well-meaning people try to stifle discussion of both historical and existing racism. Yes, there's danger in decontextualized examples, but the solution is to work on providing the context rather than discard the history. You talk about the American ideals of self-determination and self-reliance, but when exactly did a level playing field emerge for that to take hold for all Americans? That's a serious question for you. Give me a year, or a decade, in which you think we turned that corner. I'm not denying progress, but I'm asking you not to deny ongoing problems. Paly Parent, I'm not sure why you say those comments are for me in particular. If you look at the very first thing I posted above, I cautioned against monolithic views of any group, so I'm not at all surprised about your friend's experience and perspective. Were you trying to teach me something I don't know? I have three friends who can tell the same story, coming from the same continent, with three different "racial" backgrounds. It's a perfect example of why we need to engage in these discussions and not shove them under the rug. Most Americans, and I dare say most Palo Altans, saw your friend's skin color and tried to assign her an identity that didn't fit. The example from the UK is good too. But I think you're wrong about the Euro-American kids I mentioned. For the kids I'm recalling, most of them and most of their families would struggle to identify anything in their lives (beyond a name) that would be distinctly French, Irish, Danish, German, Italian, Polish, etc. Certainly some of them would, but not many. It sounds like perhaps you're still connected with your Anglo/European culture, but after about 2-3 generations, a lot of kids lose that connection, especially when sorting out the 3, 4, 5, 6, or more cultures that their grandparents or great-grandparents came from.

Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 17, 2007 at 2:03 am

Just to clarify - Wolf - I know your post above says that you would acknowledge and want to deal with existing problems. It just seems contradictory to me when you say that you're in favor of dealing with problems but then suggest that discussions about those problems are "picking scabs." You seem like a person with an open mind and a fair amount of knowledge, but then you should know that people will disagree about what context is relevant and what consitutes "scab-picking." You say we make a mistake "when we frame every problem in racial terms." I agree, but it takes ongoing dialogue to sort out which ones should or shouldn't be framed that way, and then ultimately, more dialogue to convince people that "race" is a faulty construct that we need to un-learn so that we can "frame" things more appropriately.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 17, 2007 at 2:20 am


I've had similar thoughts to yours, particularly about "whites"--fact is American whites aren't a single ethnic group. We're dozens and most of us are mongrels, comprised of ethnicities that were busy killing one another back on the old continent. In some ways, it's pivotal that we "lose" that connection in order to be our mutt American selves.

I think there's a conflation of two different issues lately--there's racism, which means judging negatively someone by some superficial genetic traits, and there's a separate issue about assimilation and cultural identity.

I think in the U.S. racism against "blacks" remains a real issue. Racism, not assimilation, is the key issue.

With Hispanics and Asians, I think there's racism, but the main conflict is about assimilation. If you read back 120 years, you can swap the immigrant group of the year for "Mexican" and "Indian" and you'll find the same kind of language and debate.

Eventually, the kids of the new immigrants married the kids of the old immigrants and the conflict settled down into which kind of Thanksgiving side dishes are traditional.

And it's what I see happening now--being a quarter Chinese is going to be like being a quarter Italian--slightly different noodle recipes.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2007 at 7:59 am

Great discussion.

I take all the points. Well done.

Definitely true, as said on another thread somewhere, that it is easy to misunderstand intent of words written, without all the other contextual clues we get. Thanks for clarifying, Al, I think it was.

Ohlonepar - perhaps there is still racism on black color alone..but I submit not, given the fact that "black colors" from other countries come here and achieve parity rapidly. I have to question how much of the racism you are referring to might also be either "culturalism", or internalized immobilization from the belief that one, because one is black, can not succeed.

I have heard of a study done by a black man ( sorry, I say the color only because that seems to lend validity to his work, from the point of view that he can't be automatically assumed to have a defensive "white bias") from another country who ended up being a sociology prof at Berkeley, who then studied why a suburb in Chicago, much like ours, but with a more equal distrib of blacks and whites, STILL showed an achievement gap between blacks and whites. Yet all were equal well-off economics and living in the same area and fully integrated.

I haven't read it, and not even sure I got the cities right,just heard talk of it. Does anyone know that book? I would like to read it.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2007 at 8:00 am

Oh! And Juan Williams book, of NPR fame! Again, I haven't read it, just heard him speaking about it. I will find that name of that one and post it

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2007 at 8:18 am

Web Link

Link above to Juan Williams bio and list of his books.

His latest is "Enough" - From this site is the quote

"In his 2006 book, Enough, Williams makes the case that while there is still racism, it is way past time for black Americans to open their eyes to the “culture of failure” that exists within their community."

I heard him on an interview, and he was saying that he was getting a lot of flak like Bill Cosby did, but that he stuck by his work. Courageous guy. The flak comes from those who don't want to move beyond racism as the sole reason for someone's failure, and have a hard time integrating all the reasons there may be failure.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2007 at 8:55 am

"Integrating" above was not meant in any way other than "putting together with" other ideas, but could very well be a case for subconscious influence on word choice!

Just thought I would clarify in case anyone misunderstood and thought this was a slam.

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 17, 2007 at 9:43 am

Talking of books worth reading on the subject, I recommend the following.

Black Anxiety, White Guilt, and the Politics of Status Frustration: by T. Alexander Smith and Lenahan O'Connell (1997). Very insightful, but more for sociologists than a casual reading. Web Link

And few more recent ones from prominent black authors.

White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, by Shelby Steele (2006).

Black Rednecks and White Liberals, by Thomas Sowell (2005).

Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study (Yale Nota Bene), by Thomas Sowell(2004).

Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America by John McWhorter (2000).

Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America by John McWhorter (2005).

All can be found on amazon, with reviews.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 17, 2007 at 9:56 am


I am sorry if using your name as the heading for my last post seemed confusing to you. My thoughts were just that I had the impression that you and I were on agreement in most of what we said and I thought I was usefully supporting you and your points rather than against your argument.

You are quite right about the fact that my roots are still in Europe, although I have lived here for 20 years and my children are all born here, I am not a US citizen and we do not have any extended family living in this country. My children are proud of their heritage and certainly feel identifiable as Anglo Americans, we have brought them up to be so. This is why I think my views are important to share in such a discussion, because I think of the race issue very differently.

One of the hardest discussions I have ever had here with an African American friend shows this. We were discussing her recent trip to England for the first time. She had visited London and done all the touristy things. She said that she liked the cute English accents when the white people spoke, but she couldn't help thinking that the accent didn't fit well on the black people she met there. It didn't matter whether it was the black children she saw while visiting museums with school field trips also visiting, the service people she met on a daily basis, or the well educated black journalists on tv news, or elsewhere. She said that the accent didn't fit black people. She felt that they should have normal American accents. She really didn't get it that they were as English as she was American and naturally spoke the same as everyone else. Yes the African American culture here is different from the black (usually) West Indies culture in Britain, but the people look the same and are judged to be the same. Strange, isn't it.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2007 at 10:13 am

See Web Link


I have read 1/2 your recommendations. All great books.

Here is the one I was looking for by the Berkeley prof about student achievement

Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement (Sociocultural, Political, and Historical Studies in Education) (Paperback)
by John U. Ogbu, Astrid Davis

bottomline: "The Black community's cultural beliefs and practices are not conducive to success in academics." Poor academic performance not the result of racism....

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 17, 2007 at 10:23 am

I enjoyed Paly Parent post. The following, "She felt that they should have normal American accents" reminds me of a joke...

An American Jew visits China, and is told of a Jewish community living there for centuries. He visits the synagogue on Saturday, and finds it full of normal Chinese looking people. After the prayer, he approaches the Rabbi and introduces himself. The Rabbi looks him up and down and comments: "funny, you don't look Jewish."

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 17, 2007 at 10:38 am


Thanks for reminding me of John Ogbu -- I forgot his nice work. Re-reading the responses to his findings, it is almost funny to see how the defenders of the status quo are pointing at anything and everything possible to discount the findings, all to things "being done to" the black community, nothing that the community itself can do. Talk about disempowering the community by its so-called defenders.

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 17, 2007 at 11:51 am

I recall a Wall Street Journal series a few years back that examined Menlo-Atherton High School, and as I recall it described multiple "groups" that comprised the student body. I am pulling this from memory, but I believe there were roughly five--the really rich kids from Atherton, almost entirely white, the Menlo Park (largely white) kids, more or less middle class, on this side of 101, and then three groups primarily on the other side of the highway, consisting of hispanic, black and pacific islanders. (I am prepared to stand corrected by anyone who has better information about that series in the paper.)

I believe the article described the challenges the faculty had running the school with such a diverse set of students. There were the typical things found in any high school around cliques and self selection of friends, but it largely trended toward people being parts of the groups described above, although there were some that cut across the groupings, such as athletics and performing arts. For the kids that largely identified with their "neighborhood/ethnic groups" there were some very strong schisms, a great deal of suspicion and animosity, and some fights and other things that challenged the adults involved in the school trying to educate these kids.

The article also tried to flesh out why the school consisted of some very high performing students, getting into very fine college programs, alongside students who were performing well below level by most standard measures. I really don't remember what the writer's conclusions were about that aspect of things, but I do think it points out that right next door to us in Palo Alto is a school that has had some very strong tensions that draw from the students' racial background and economic condition. While it does not appear to be as pronounced in Palo Alto's schools as it is at M-A, I think it is important to recognize that for some kids and families, there may be issues that they have about their education that are a function of their life circumstances.

To that end, I would suggest that it is better for questions to be raised, since the lens through which any one of us sees things may differ quite a bit from the view another has. There will be red herrings that are brought up in the course of such dialog, and some things that are at best non-starters. Still, if we listen carefully, there may be things we can learn which benefit the community, and important points of inflection such as choosing a new school superintendent present the opportunity for these subjects to be raised. It is all too easy to overlook such questions as we go about the daily matters in our lives: at this time of change, I hope that many important questions which have not been part of the regular forums surface for our collective consideration.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 17, 2007 at 3:12 pm


Part of the "racism" issue is one of self-perception. If you're from Africa--you're probably from the upper echelons there. You haven't been subjected to particular American stereotypes about your potential.

If you're a black male, yes, you have the possibility of going to college. You're also, because of what you look like, a lot more likely to get stopped by the cops. You're less likely to get the slack on a DUI that, say, Dubya got.

I've never known a middle-class black man who was not extremely careful about the way he dressed. There's an extra burden of proof--you have to show you're "safe", educated, not a thug. That's not simply cultural, it's racism.

Black women have been more successful than black men. I don't think it's because they're smarter, I think it's that they don't have to deal with the perception of being "dangerous."

To what extent perceptions create realities and vice versa, well . . .

Posted by wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 17, 2007 at 11:10 pm

I agree that it is prudent for middle class blacks to dress carefully to show they are "safe." I disagree, however, with the observation "That's not simply cultural, it's racism." In overwhelming number of cases it is not racism; it is simply a rational human response to correct estimation of danger. Crime rates among black population in US vary between 4X and 10X of the white population (depending on type and age group), and consequently it is a rational response to look more carefully on black people than on white. Unpleasant but very rational, and has little to do with racism. In fact, many black people have exactly the same response -- they too report avoiding black youth on dark streets. Would you accuse them of racism? And why we see no such "racism" against dark-skinned Indians? Not much different from shopkeepers keeping a more careful eye on younger kids in their stores -- shoplifting is much more common among them. Young kids can complain to high heaven about merchants' "discrimination" against them, but the merchants simply respond to statistical reality.

"To what extent perceptions create realities and vice versa, well ..." -- this is a clear case where reality creates the perception, and not vice versa.

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 17, 2007 at 11:55 pm


I dug up the WSJ M-A article -- it run on March 31, 2000 -- and read it. I think your recollection is only partially correct. They describe the gap between the white/Asian and Hispanic/black kids (Pacific Islanders are only mentioned once when providing the demographics)in terms of achievement, parental school savvy, and the difficulties posed by such mixed school. Absolutely no mention is made of racial cliques, of racial schism other than the gross one between Menlo Park/Atherton and East PA/East MP, nor of any particular identification with race or neighborhoods. For whatever it is worth.

Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 18, 2007 at 12:06 am

Paly Parent -

Sorry if I misread your tone or intent. Hard to guage online sometimes, and perhaps I was a bit defensive.

Glad to see overall a healthy dialogue here, moving away from the "profound insult" reaction it seems to me.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2007 at 7:49 am

OhlonePar and Wolf:

I have to agree with both of you. There is the reality of "profiling" , if you will, based on race and statistical reality of that race, which is a combo of reality AND making determinations on the basis of color.

But, being careful how you dress and behave, though amplified in young black males, applies to pretty much everyone. And the age-ism aspect, and the gender aspect, applies to pretty much everyone. A 16 year old big white male walking down the street in dark in "gang" clothes, looking defensive and angry, like he is looking for trouble, will elicit fear. Maybe more so if he is black because of the statistics involved.

I would much rather run across a well-dressed happy looking 16 year old black male who exchanges a pleasant smile or nod of the head as we pass on the street than the white male as described.

I would say that though there is some judgement based on race, it is more judgement based on age, gender, behavior and "looks".

I am of the generation that sang "and the sign says, long-haired hippie people need not apply, so I took tucked up my hair under my hat and went in to ask them why...they said" blah blah.

I used to sing that with fervor and outrage. But, the reality is that humans the world over judge each other by their ability to look and act like the "safest and best" amongst them. And that judgement leads to becoming employed, or not, being accepted into schools, or not etc.

The best thing we can do, in my opinion, is to teach people, regardless of color, gender, or culture, the behaviors that get them to where they want to be in our society. It is still true, in my opinion, that "colors", just like "genders" have to prove themselves in the world, and have to prove themselves to be accepted. This is true across the lines. Imaging the first male to want to work in a pre-school. Same problem as for "colors" and for females in many cases.

The sooner we accept that we all have to learn to behave and dress in certain ways to be "acceptable" in whatever world we are trying to break into, the sooner we get past that hurdle.

I still am a little sad that this is the reality and we can't attain the dream of my hippie days.

Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 18, 2007 at 1:29 pm

Resident -

I agree that it's essential to teach people, young people especially, of all backgrounds, what kinds of behavior, speech, and dress will get one ahead (along with providing the education and skills to back all that up!). To do otherwise is a disservice to them. But, while we're at it, it wouldn't hurt to help people learn to recognize their biases in order to make a conscious effort to defuse those biases. In my teaching experience, I've known lots of teens whose piercings and gothic/punk appearance would turn off a lot of people. But it's my job to deal with them, get to know them, and invariably I find they're just as amialbe and just as smart as the "normal" looking kids. I've pretty much learned not to react to appearance - sure I take it in, I make a knee-jerk judgment, and then I recognize it and force myself to dismiss it quickly.

Here's a little test for everyone. Imagine a pilot talking to a flight attendant. Did you see a man talking to a woman? A surgeon is operating on the victim of a drive-by shooting. Did you picture a white man operating on a black person? If yes, in either case, then I'd say you're a normal American adult. The more people who can recognize their own biases the better off we'd be, because recognizing it as such is a great way to render it less powerful. I hope my children will carry these biases - for example, looking around their medical clinic, and their family, they see more women than men as physicians.

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 18, 2007 at 6:14 pm

I think you confuse bias with experience. In today's world, it is a much higher probability that the pilot is a man and the attendant a woman, so --without hearing the voices--it would be foolish to assume otherwise if one has to assume. Had you asked whether a woman is capable of being a pilot, a negative answer would be a much better (but still not perfect) indicator of bias.

We keep confusing bias with experience reflecting reality, whether we like that reality or not. Since the probability that a terrorist will be a young Muslim is very high, it does not reflect a "bias" to pay much closer attention to young Muslims. It doesn't mean that there are no non-young-Muslim terrorists, nor that all young Muslims are terrorists. But it would be (is?) foolish to pretend that anyone is as likely to be a terrorist as anyone else.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2007 at 8:20 pm

I think there is not a black and white answer to bias versus experience ( no pun intended). I think the two interplay greatly.

A little old white lady with all gray hair and a cane has to "prove" herself as being sharp witted still. Someone in a wheelchair seemingly struggling to open a door to a store will attract offers of help...kindly meant, not needed usually, but based on "bias" from watching people struggle. Same issue. If the guy in the wheelchair isn't struggling, no offers come by.

They, above, should no more take offense than the young black man dressed in gang clothes and scowling through the window of a car when the door locks go on. ( I have a friend this happens to all the time, and he plays the game now of changing himself to keeping a respectful distance, a gentle smile on his face, hood off his head, and keep on doors lock.)

A woman walking, head down, shoulders slumped, unaware of her surroundings, is much more a 'target" then one walking with firm strides, head up, scanning alertly. Again, "profiling",one being less likely to fight the purse snatcher than the latter, but we all do it for different reasons.

Easy to claim color or gender or ability bias, I think, than to look at ourselves and shape ourselves up.

Fascinating discussion.

I am so relieved that we have finally advanced enought to actually talk about this stuff without problems. Or, at least a few of us.

Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 19, 2007 at 3:49 pm

Wolf - Thank you for making me clarify. "Bias" wasn't the most precise term I could have used - perhaps "assumption." But I still think those assumptions have power to shape our thinking and influence our actions, interactions, reactions.

Posted by Susan Hong
a resident of University South
on Feb 20, 2007 at 10:11 am

I hope to add information to the discussion. I write as the intern reporter for PAWeekly regarding this topic. I attended the meeting which was also co-sponsored by the Parent Teacher's Association and the Peninsular Interfaith Action groups - both non-racially oriented organizations.

Whites made up 49% of the attendees - the largest collective racial group at the meeting. African-Americans made up 27% of the audience. Hispanics 12%, Asians 9%, and others 3%.

It may be helpful to know that the racial make up of the audience was split white and "ethinic" groups.

The meeting was open to the entire public for discussion on all issues including helping minorities. The group discussed most notably the issues of student "mental health", "communication", "visibility", and "achievement".

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2007 at 10:45 am

Interesting discussion. As to "which people of color," I found it fascinating to read that some people say Barak Obama “is not African American and is unsuited to be a black candidate because he is not a direct descendant of slaves and hasn’t had what they see as an authentic African American experience.”

Web Link

Sometimes I fear that we’re hyphenating ourselves to death (African-American, Italian-American, Whatever-American) instead of focusing on what we have in common.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2007 at 1:10 pm

Push day is so last century.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2007 at 1:44 pm

Interesting comment about Barak Obama. I expect white people think of him as African American and African American think of him as not quite black enough. Perhaps it is similar to Arnie. Many think of him as a true American, others think of him as a newcomer. It depends on where you are standing as to what you can see. Politics aside, I think this is an interesting way things are developing. Does it make you truly African American if you are not descended from slaves? That is probably a black question, not a white one. It means that race classification is moving on. Recent immigrants and their children definitely appear to need a classification of their own. This is for their needs and the needs of African Americans. It is something that white (or non dark brown skinned) people think about. It is probably getting closer to the question of white people's ancestoral heritage, where if you are white, does it matter if you are Italian American, or Polish American, or even Jewish or Catholic American. We think it is important to us, but those outside this classification don't see that it matters.

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 20, 2007 at 2:22 pm

"We're All Racists, Unconsciously" Web Link take this test - CHALLENGE everyone you know - regardless of race - to take this test! Web Link">Web Link

It will wake them up to the lie that they're not prejudiced. We need to continue to make ourselves aware of this reality, and do our best to adapt policy that protects us all from the incipient perils of racism.

Racism isn't a "choice" about personal thought or tendency, it's a choice about personal BEHAVIOR. We're all racist to some degree. The tests that are suggested below (you can take them; they will show everyone to be racist in their minds, some against their OWN race! - challenge your teacher to take the test - ONLY if you CONSCIOUSLY lie on this test will you NOT be shown to have racist thoughts and beliefs (that most of us keep quiet, or are not even aware of).

Be aware, this can be a DISTURBING test for anyone who thinks they are free of prejudice. It's been taken more than a MILLION times, and has been thoroughly tested in clinical trials. It's the real deal. Web Link">Web Link

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 20, 2007 at 8:14 pm

The survey above is based on an interesting concept, but eventually it is almost meaningless.

(a) It is quite natural to be somewhat more positively disposed to people similar to you. You probably grew up among them, you believe you understand them, and you tend to feel comfortable among them. Most people will have companions from such milieu, and will marry from such.

(b) It is quite natural to be somewhat more positively predisposed towards type of people that are glorified in the popular media. Given the large amount of time we are exposed to media, in print, on the radio, and on TV, most people will have some type of such predisposition. The actual object of this predisposition will depend on the place one grows up, be it US, Egypt, France, Japan, or any other place.

(c) Similar differences would be probably be found if the comparison was made of Caucasians vs. Indian or vs. Chinese, or vs. Eskimo types.

All this would be meaningful to a degree if we were apes. However, we are not, and we also have Superego on top of Id. The whole aim of civilization is to instill social norms, and not to allow our inner animal behavior to control us. So the real question is not what are our basic instincts, but how well we can understand ourselves and override those instincts in a deliberate manner.

Bottom line, this is a piece of rather meaningless research by a psychology prof. in needs of some grants, which shows nothing worthwhile.

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 20, 2007 at 8:45 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by PA mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2007 at 12:21 am

Mike - interesting test, results about what I expected happened, but I feel a bit frustrated by HOW they interpret the answers - there is no explanation of how answering x # of questions leads them to categorize you. Oh well.

I had always thought I was raising my kids to be race-bias free, but had an enlightening thing happen in Italy. In the big piazzas of Florence, Rome, Venice, there were "salesmen" displaying their wares (brand name knock-offs) on sheets spread out on the ground (purses, scarves, etc). They had cell phones and could warn each other when the polezei were coming since this practice of selling knock-offs is illegal. All the sellers were tall, dark-skinned young men. (I was told by an officer they were Nigerian hired by the companies that make the knockoffs to sell to tourists.) After a while, my 13 year old son asked, "Why are all the guys selling this stuff African American?"

The "huh?' for me was that my son assumed that their dark skin made them African *American*. Since they were calling out in English and Italian, while talking in their phones in another language entirely, assigning them any ethicity was ridiculous. They could have been born anywhere, raised anywhere, descendants of anyone...

I asked my son why he assumed African American, he said all the black people he knew were African Americans. I suddenly felt very, I dunno, racist. Hadn't I ever mentioned that all black-skinned people aren't necessarily African American? Had I avoided mentioning this in order to steer him AWAY from categorizing? Did he miss the slavery thing in 3rd grade? I assumed he KNEW. I explained what was going on and then he asked why the sellers were all black, I honestly didn't know why, but it fostered an interesting discussion. And yes, I admit, in my true deep heart I wished they'd been anything other than black-skinned - illegal activity, chased by the cops, I wanted them all to be Norwegian or Austrian or something.

What I'm trying to explain is that we all have biases, even if we don't think we do. And we pass them along to our kids, even if we don't think we are doing so. We just have to keep educating and trying and accepting that we're not perfect, and we CAN try to change the messages we send to our kids...

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 21, 2007 at 12:30 pm

PA Mom,

Well said. We need more of your perspective in our community, and at the same time have everyone working to maintain awareness in a way that isn't accusatory, demands personal responsibility for all action, and is open to new insights and inputs.

Posted by Wolfe
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 21, 2007 at 3:24 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by PA mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2007 at 9:55 pm

Thanks, Mike.
Why did your next post get deleted?

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 21, 2007 at 11:46 pm

Hi, PA Mom,

I don't know why my post was deleted. All I said was that the poster who replied to my first post, in trying to make a point in his/her response to my post, unwittingly contradicted him/herself, and ended up agreeing with what the research says. I honestly don't think the editor took the time to parse my post, and the respondent's post carefully.

It's easy to see this by reading that respondent's criticism within the context of the research that s/he was critiquing. Why the editor would eliminate that comment is beyond me. Maybe it's because I mentioned his/her screen name (heaven forbid!) ;)

Oh well, this is the Weekly's forum, and not mine, so they have the right. :-)

Bias and racism are univeral; that's clearly shown by good research. We need to keep that in mind, and keep it under control - ALL of us, even those who don't agree with the research. :)

Posted by marvina white
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 27, 2007 at 4:25 pm

As a founding member of the Parent Network for Students of Color, I'm not sure where to begin addressing some of the issues raised here, but I'll try to speak to the question: Why form a network for students of color?

Believe me, with all that we have to do in our daily lives, we would not have formed such a time-consuming group if experience hadn't taught us that such a group is absolutely necessary. In addition, I want to point out that the sorts of changes we are advocating will speak to the needs of students who are not of color, but who for one reason or another struggle to cope with the multiple pressures associated with attending school in this district.

Our group is multi-racial.

The Network was founded as an advocacy group dedicated to working with parents and students to find strategies for getting the most out of the PAUSD. All of us make assumptions about people we meet based on first impressions: how they look. Blending, to use a concept from "My Cousin Vinny" is not possible when one's physical appearance announces difference.

California schools, including ours, are understaffed and underfunded. Here in PA, "squeaky wheels" pretty much rule the day. That is, when those parents who understand how to be heard find ways to advocate for their children, teachers and administrators listen. (Take a look at this NYT article to get a sense of what happens some of the time when select parents become powerful in public schools: "PTAs Go Way Beyond Cookies.")

I appreciate some of the comments I've read here, including those that have been hurtful. I can only say to the latter: I am not so naive as to think that all people of color are the same. But there are those outside of our group, who affect our children's lives on a daily basis, who respond to them and us as if we are all the same, and all in various ways inferior. The problem is made worse in our community because the percentage of students of color is so small.

As for myself, I decided to help start the group after I recognized sadly and clearly that my child, who has since graduated with honors from Gunn and gone on to a private college (without requesting or receiving scholarship aid, I might add) was being hurt by these misperceptions. Far too many of his fellow students, teachers, and administrators had responded to him based on what they saw on the outside, and seemed to assume they knew him based on what they believed they knew about black people in general.

I have to say that I found some of the comments here hurtful and demoralizing. On the other hand, I was encouraged to see that some comments reflect an understanding of the need for what we're doing. I ask you all to remember we are working to benefit the community as a whole.

Posted by Elaine
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 27, 2007 at 9:17 pm

As a matter of fact, the Parent Network for Students of Color is open to all, and the families in our core group are, in fact, Trinidadians, Barbadians, Jamaicans, Senegalese, South Asians, Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Northern as well as Southern whites, Puerto Ricans, African Americans from the east and west coasts, biracial families, and more. Participation in the activities of this extremely diverse group is voluntary, and those who have joined us obviously feel a common bond.

Some of the members of the Parent Network met one another when we attended quarterly meetings called by the current superintendent to discuss issues of equity. I doubt the superintendent considered these meetings a waste of her time.

Our aim is to support parents and students and to share ideas about how we can individually and collectively help children succeed. We have never participated in or sponsored any program that excluded anyone. And while we are unapologetically dedicated to improving the experience of families of color, who often feel isolated in this community, we have welcomed all members of our community to our events and meetings.

The uncivil nature of many of the comments in this blog underscores the need for such an organization. There is a level of discomfort and denial about racial issues in this community that even an effort to make positive change is met with hostility.

Imagine being a child in this community whose intellect is underestimated, who is often judged by the color of his or her skin before having an opportunity to even develop his or her character. Imagine being an adult of a child in this community who is confronted with racial insults or is treated more harshly by the police or others who mete out discipline. Imagine being a parent who tries to navigate a system that appears unwelcoming at best. Imagine living in a community in which your race is the elephant in the living room yet people deem a discussion of the issue as a "profound insult."

Thankfully, there are people in this community who disagree with the notion that race has been "discussed to death." or that it is mere "nonsense." The town meeting, which, by the way, was cosponsored with Peninsula Interfaith Action and the Palo Alto PTA Council, brought together a diverse group of people who expressed the view that yes we must focus on the health and well-being of all students and that by "all" we must explicitly and proactively include those who often feel left out of the discussion.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2007 at 12:03 pm

Not trying to sow seeds of trouble here, I am truly curious...

Both of the prior posters stated that there were "hurtful" or "uncivil" comments on this thread. I was shocked, so I just carefully re-read the entire thread.

I must have developed a very thick skin in my life, because I can't find any. In fact, I have been delighted with the tone of most of the postings, and found them enlightening and intelligently said.

Can either of you please cut and paste what you mean? I can't help but feel there is some misunderstanding ( given the medium, completely understandable) happening here. I would be fascinated to learn what, exactly, you are referring to.

Thanks for taking the time to do it. I really am just curious and want to understand.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2007 at 2:16 pm

After reading all of the postings here, I still do not believe that a group calling itself ,"Parent Network for Students of All Colors" or "Parent Network for Students Who Feel Alienated" would somehow prevent students of color from feeling able to participate. Stop for a minute and think how the name of your group, "Parent Network for Students of Color", alienates many white students who could otherwise benefit from the network. You indicated that students of all colors are welcome, but they really aren't if you limit their acceptance by the groups name. I don't think that students of color would feel very welcome at a group called, "Parent Network for White Students". Do you?

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