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Teaching White Students Showed Me The Difference Between Power and Privilege
"Brown, the first person I met in Poughkeepsie, was a felon because he was black, scared, desperate, and guilty. I was black, scared, desperate, and guilty but I came from folks with a bit more money than Brown. Though I wasn’t the grandchild of grandparents who passed money or land down to my parents, I was a child of what folks called “the black middle class.” My mama was one paycheck away from asking Grandmama or me for money neither of us had the week before payday.

There was no wealth in my family of black middle class women. There were only paydays.

I knew that my student Cole, a dealer of everything from weed to cocaine, could be a college graduate, college professor, college trustee in spite of being scared, desperate, and guilty because he was a white child of wealthy parents. Cole could literally become president of all kinds of American things, or president of nothing. Either way, he’d be fine. He wouldn’t be free, but materially, Cole would never suffer.

By my fourth semester at Vassar, I learned that it was fashionable to call Cole’s predicament “privilege” and not “power.” I had the privilege of being raised by a Grandmama who responsibly loved me in the blackest, most creative state in nation. Cole had the power to never be poor and never be a felon, the power to always have his failures treated as success no matter how mediocre he was. Cole’s power necessitated that he was literally too white, too masculine, too rich to fail. George Bush was president because of Cole’s power. Grandmama, the smartest, most responsible human being I knew, cut open chicken bellies and washed the shit out of white folks dirty underwear because of Cole’s power. My job, I learned that first year, was to dutifully teach Cole to use this power less abusively. I was supposed to encourage Cole to understand that his power brought down buildings, destroyed countries, created prisons, and lathered itself in the blood and suffering. But if used for good, Cole's power could lay the foundation for liberation and some greater semblance of justice in our country. Cole's power, I was taught, could one day free Brown.

I just didn’t buy it.

I loved my job. I loved going to work and I understood the first week of school that it was impossible to teach any student you despised. A teacher’s job was to responsibly love the students in front of them. If I was doing my job, I had to find a way to love the wealthy white boys I taught with the same integrity I loved my black students, even if the constitution of that love differed. This wasn’t easy because no matter how conscientious, radically curious, or politically active I encouraged Cole to be, teaching wealthy white boys like him meant that I was being paid to really fortify, and make more responsible, Cole’s power.

Cole’s power insisted that Brown, Grandmama, and me were uber disciplined, useful, thankful and never paid what we were worth. This was one of the ways Cole’s power remained Cole’s power. A part of my work on the inside at Vassar, truth be told, was to take care of Cole, as our family had taken care of white folks in trouble for decades. In return for this work, I’d get a monthly check, some semblance of security and moral certainty that we were helping white folk be better at being human. This was new to me, but it was old black work, and this old black work, in ways my Mama and Grandmama warned me about, was more than selling out; this old black work was morally side-hustling backward.

This old black work was how we ate, fixed raggedy cars, paid doctor bills, and filled friends' commissaries.

I made good on my promise to bring Brown a new book with a new note every week before they shipped him out to boot camp. Every once in a while, Brown returned the books with notes he’d written on the second pages. Brown said he shared the books and notes with COs and other incarcerated men and they started a reading group. The books didn’t take any time off his sentence. They didn’t free Brown’s imagination. The books gave us more to talk about and feel through when he got out. One of the last notes Brown wrote me before being released was “It’s hard to get right when the free folks out there are more trapped than the criminal folks in jail. I just want to be free." I wanted to tell Brown that those of us on the outside were working on getting free. I wanted to tell him that one day I knew he would get free too. But both of those sentences were the heaviest kind of lies we both needed believe. Instead of lying or telling the truth, I told Brown thank you for the note. I asked him if he was able to watch any of the NBA playoffs. I wished him good luck at boot camp.

And I got ready to go back to work."
power  privilege  2017  kieselaymon  race  racism  vassar  poughkeepsie 
september 2017 by robertogreco
Malcolm Gladwell sets off debate over whether good campus food prevents more aid for low-income students
Vassar comes out of this looking really good. Good example of how sticking to your principles over the long term can pay off. > In between, the podcast features an interview with Catharine Bond Hill, an economist who is Vassar's president. She describes the financial challenges for Vassar, which is wealthy compared to most of American higher education, but far less wealthy than Bowdoin and other top liberal arts colleges with which it competes. To keep admitting large classes of low-income students and providing them with generous aid packages and other support, Hill says, she puts off or spends less on such budget options as renovating dormitories or improving the dining halls.
vassar  college  food  income 
july 2016 by porejide
Twitter
RT : 's new facility is a featuring labs, open study space & a terrace.

architecture  Vassar  science  building  bridge  from twitter
april 2016 by mgprojekt
Deferring Those Huge College Tuition Bills - NYTimes.com
'When state governments supported low-tuition public higher education, that was a form of tuition deferment. Students attended college at low cost, and then graduates who did well were the taxpayers supporting the next generation.'
tuition  public  education  Vassar  tax  base 
march 2015 by pagecarr

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