Book Club Discussion: “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein

Our Legislation Team decided that a book club would be a good way to begin discussions around race, equity, inclusion and justice. They created a list of books dealing with these topics and began to read down the list. To read more about this process, please read our previous blog post about the book club. 

Today we are going to share the resources and study questions from the book The Color of Law, by historian Richard Rothstein. In The Color of Law, Rothstein lays out the history of de jure segregation. Laws and policies were enacted and enforced at the local, state and federal level that promoted discriminatory housing practices. The result of these laws and policies not only created the segregated communities we now have, they are a primary cause of the wealth gap we see today between whites and African Americans in the United States as whites were able to take advantage of wealth building in homes whose value has soared over the decades. Rothstein argues that racial segregation is the deliberate product of “systemic and forceful” government action, and so the government has a “constitutional as well as a moral obligation” to remedy it.

Discussion Questions:*

    1. What surprised you as you read The Color of Law? Was this history known to you?  
    2. What do you know about your own community and your local zoning policies during the 20th century? How segregated or integrated is your community? What would it look like if your community were required to have its “fair share” of middle-class, minority and low- and moderate-income housing?
    3. Textbooks typically used in middle and high schools don’t describe government’s role in creating residential racial segregation.  Rothstein writes, “If young people are not taught an accurate account of how we came to be segregated, their generation will have little chance of doing a better job of desegregating than the previous ones.”  What can each of us do in our own communities to change how this history is taught in our schools?
    4. Chapter 8 example: How did you feel about the several cases where people tried to do the right thing and failed because of the way the system of laws and policies and pressure worked to keep racial segregation? How did reading about this history of racial segregation make you feel?
    5. The impact of government-sponsored segregation has had tragic consequences and impacted generation wealth for African Americans.  Some think that the government should concentrate on improving conditions in low-income communities, not try to help their residents move to middle-class areas. They say that easing the movement of minority and low-income families to predominantly white neighborhoods will meet much resistance. Yet others say that low-income communities have too little political influence to ensure follow-through in attempts to improve conditions in segregated minority neighborhoods. What are your thoughts? Can we fulfill our ideals as a democratic society if it is only more equal but not integrated?
    6. Difficulty of Undoing Residential Segregation
      – The multigenerational nature of economic mobility
      – The substantial appreciation of homes created a large racial wealth gap
      – The substantial appreciation of homes means homes are now unaffordable to many African-Americans
      – The mortgage interest deduction increased subsidies to higher-income suburban owners
      Should we and how can we remedy residential segregation?  What are your ideas for making change?
    7. We typically expect to understand two sides of a story.  Is there anything missing from The Color of Law that might modify its argument?
    8. After reading The Color of Law, a young African-American high school graduate sent an e-mail to the author:
      “As I was growing up, I looked at the racial segregation and accepted it as how it has always been and will be; I equated white neighborhoods with affluence and black neighborhoods with poverty. I didn’t think about the major role the government had in hindering the equity accumulation of African-Americans. I think I ingrained this inferiority complex and that is why I did not excel in school as much as I could have.”
      What is your reaction?

* In our one hour and forty-five minute session we were not able to get through all eight questions.  

Helpful Links and Resources:

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Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Book Club Suggested Reading List

Book clubs can provide PTA leaders and families in your community a chance to have discussions on important issues. The California State PTA Legislation Team wanted to further their understanding around the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice so they began a monthly book club. In the new year we will be sharing with you their discussion questions and resources for each book here on the blog. We hope this will inspire you to make 2021 a year of learning, collaboration and growth in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.

The team’s first task was to create a list of books, then they set to work reading them. Every month they come together to discuss one of these selections:

  • How To Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram Kendi
  • The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
  • Ghosts in the Schoolyard, Eve Ewing
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson
  • My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Menakem
  • We Gon Be Alright, Jeff Chang
  • A More Beautiful and Terrible History, Jeanne Theoharis
  • We Want to Do More than Survive, Bettina Love
  • Dying of Whiteness, Jonathan Metzl
  • Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi
  • Caste, Isabel Wilkerson

Some general notes about the book club:

  • We meet once a month via Zoom to discuss the books.
  • The book club is optional for our team, but we found that most wanted to participate.
  • After two books we realized that this discussion should be larger, so we invited the entire California State PTA Board of Managers to join us.
  • Our format for the hour-and-a-half* book study is:
    • Welcome and short book summary: 5 minutes
    • Housekeeping: 5 minutes
    • Questions and thoughts: 75 minutes
    • Wrap up and introduction of the next book: 5 minutes
  • We have found many resources online, including videos from the authors that help to ground our discussions
  • As part of our housekeeping conversation we discuss the technical aspects of holding a discussion on Zoom, but we also share how these conversations may be challenging and while we might not agree, but we need to remain respectful.
  • We do not record these sessions — attendees need to be present to participate.

* Our discussions have been so good that we have gone over time, but we make sure that the bulk of the discussion is done in the time allotted.

Sample of our housekeeping language:

Raise your hand (either using the Zoom “hand” icon or your actual hand) if you want to speak and watch the chat box for the order of speakers whose hands I have seen raised. If I miss you, keep your hand up. I encourage everyone to get a chance to speak, so it is possible that if you have spoken a few times, I may skip over you to give others a chance to say something!

Before we begin the book discussion, I want to say that this topic and many of the topics that the Leg Team is reading about in our book club are hard, difficult and emotionally charged issues. We are discussing issues that we may not all feel the same way about. California State PTA has more liberal leaning members and more conservative leaning members….and that is the beauty of our organization. So many people from different perspectives and beliefs, coming together for the good of children and families. So, I want us to be cognizant of that in our conversation today. Please let’s make sure that we respect, listen and value each other’s thoughts and feelings on this topic and keep the conversation thoughtful, honest and civil. While the nation may be struggling to communicate on troubling issues, I truly believe that PTA can rise above that and we will be able to have a meaningful conversation. So let’s get started.

What’s next?

Stay tuned for The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. In January we will be sharing with you our resources and discussion questions for this book.

Inclusive Schools Week: December 7-11, 2020

This week is Inclusive Schools Week, celebrating the progress that schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population, including students who are marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preference, and other factors. 

When PTAs respect differences yet acknowledge shared commonalities uniting their communities, and then develop meaningful priorities based upon their knowledge, they genuinely represent their communities. When PTAs represent their communities, they gain strength and effectiveness through increased volunteer and resource support.

This week and all year long, we hope you’ll take advantage of resources from our guest commentator (below), Inclusive School Network, and National PTA to help your unit, council or district build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive PTA.  The California State PTA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee also recommend the following to get ongoing inclusion education updates throughout the year:

Twitter:

  • Tim Villegas, Founder & Editor-in-chief Think Inclusive  @therealtimvegas
  • Inclusive Schools Network @ISchoolsNetwork

Facebook:

  • Think Inclusive by MCIE @ThinkInclusive
  • Inclusive Schools Network @inclusiveschoolsnetwork

Newsletter to subscribe to about inclusion:

  • https://weeklyish.substack.com

Guest Commentary: Inclusive Schools Network

One observation that people around the world are sharing in the year 2020 is the importance of the word ‘Inclusion’.  We have chosen our new theme in recognition of at least three ways in which a greater appreciation for inclusion, as a philosophy and as a way of life in our schools and community, has emerged.

First, the Inclusive Schools Network publishes the annual theme as a way of bringing students, educators, families together to celebrate the accomplishments of schools in increasing the membership of students with disabilities as full members of their school communities.  Our celebrations balance appreciation for the progress that has been made with an honest evaluation of the hurdles that remain.  Each year, the joyous examples of inclusive practices in schools around the world lift our spirits and increase our commitment to reaching a day when “inclusion” is fully embedded in our collective humanity.

As this year has progressed, we have an unusual vantage point for understanding an even broader meaning of inclusion.  Across the world, we are experiencing a new form of isolation that is required in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  Schools, shops, recreational facilities, and even basic outlets for direct social interaction are closed. We are now familiar with a new term: social distancing.  For our own safety and the safety of others, we wear masks and restrict our outings and opportunities for gathering together. In the not too distant future, we will be able to celebrate our resilience in the face of difficulty and experience the joys of being included in a community that learns, plays, and works together.

Finally, on a worldwide basis, we have seen the true meaning of inclusion in the struggle for social justice.  When we recognize the deep and, yes, inclusive meaning of the inherent right of every individual to be equal in the eyes of society, the law and in the opportunities life offers, we can appreciate that the movement to gain inclusion for children with disabilities is the same promise that must be realized for all!

Through our celebration of Inclusive Schools Week, December 7-11, 2020, let’s make certain that our definition of the term ‘inclusion’ is broad enough to encompass all aspects of the opportunities before us.  The Inclusive Schools Network’s website has activities for celebrating each remaining month of this year and provides schools and communities with another vehicle for learning, growing and recognizing “The Time for Inclusion is NOW!”

The Inclusive Schools Network (ISN) is a web-based educational resource for families, schools and communities that promotes inclusive educational practices. This resource has grown out of Inclusive Schools Week™, an internationally-recognized annual event created by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and now sponsored by Stetson & Associates, Inc. ISN’s mission is “to encourage, embolden and empower people to design and implement effective inclusive schools, by sharing insights and best practices and by providing opportunities for connection.”

The ISN provides year-round opportunities for families and educators around the world to network and build their knowledge of inclusive education.

Book Review: “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander

The CAPTA Legislation team is in the process of reading and discussing one book a month on the topic of the African American experience in the U.S. We decided to do this to educate ourselves about this pertinent and important issue. Our first two books were How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi and The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. Our third book is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

The book asserts that the War on Drugs and resulting mass incarceration of African Americans is The New Jim Crow.

Author Michelle Alexander contends that there is no truth to the notion that the war on drugs was launched in response to the crack cocaine epidemic. The war on drugs was announced in 1982, before cocaine use became an issue. At the time, less than 2% of the public viewed drugs as an important issue. The Reagan administration hired staff to publicize the emergence of crack cocaine in 1985 as a strategy to build public and legislative support for the war on drugs. Eventually there was a surge of public concern, but it did not correspond to a dramatic shift in illegal drug activity but instead was the product of a carefully orchestrated political campaign.

In less than 30 years, the U.S. penal population exploded from around 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase. Our incarceration rate is 6 to 10 times greater than other industrialized nations. There are more people in the U.S. in jail today for drug offenses than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980. The vast majority of those arrested are African Americans charged with relatively minor crimes. Arrests for marijuana account for 80%. People convicted of drug offenses now constitute the single largest category of people in prison.

Why? What happened?

According to the author, few legal rules constrain police in the war on drugs.

The Supreme Court has eviscerated the 4th Amendment (protection against unreasonable searches and seizures). The Court has upheld the constitutionality of unwarranted search and seizures for suspected drug offenses. In addition, laws were passed that gave law enforcement agencies the ability to keep cash and assets seized during a drug arrest. Huge federal grants were given to law enforcement agencies willing to make drug law enforcement a top priority. Millions of dollars in federal aid was offered to state and local law enforcement  agencies to wage the war.  So long as the number of drug arrests increased, federal dollars continued to flow.

And who was targeted for this profitable war? The Black population.

It is estimated that 3 out of 4 young Black men can expect to serve time in prison for a drug offense. Despite the fact that studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkable similar rates, in some states Black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates 20 to 50 times greater than white men.

What has been the actual effect of the war on drugs?

Although it is common to think of poverty and joblessness as leading to a life of crime, the research cited in this book suggests that the war on drugs is a major cause of poverty, chronic unemployment, broken families, and crime in the African American community.

Being in prison is not the only problem. Today a person released from prison has scarcely more rights and arguably less respect than a freed slave. There is no public assistance, the job market is bleak for convicted felons, and they are barred from serving on a jury. They are shunned by all. Shame and stigma follow jail time. Severe isolation, distrust and alienation are created by incarceration.

Prison sentences and the resulting felon label pose a much greater threat to urban families than actual crime itself. As a crime reduction strategy, mass incarceration is an abysmal failure. It is largely ineffective and extraordinarily expensive. Prison creates criminals; it doesn’t help anyone or change them or give them a chance to redeem and recover.

The point of this book is to stimulate a much-needed conversation about the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetuating racial hierarchy through mass incarceration.

By reading and discussing the books on our list, the members of our Legislation Team are learning and understanding many of the factors that are impacting families of color and look for ways that we can advocate for change in the best interest of all children and families.

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Global Diversity Awareness Month: Parent Stories, Part 2

First, listen…

Unit PTA leader: We decided to move to an area where my Black son would see peers and school adults who looked like him. As a PTA leader, I know the power of advocacy and partnership with school staff. I advocated with his teachers about implicit bias and how harmful it was to send my son to sit at the desk for the same behavior his white friends engaged in but instead received a warning and allowed to sit on the carpet. We advocated with the school to address the bullying and use of unacceptable language around race. We advocated with the PTA and parents that even if we didn’t have a large African American population, an African American Living Museum should be a school event. There was some success but it was exhausting. After a few years, as a family, we decided that living in and being educated in a community that is integrated and more diverse was the right choice for us. We had read about how students of color are disciplined more, tracked for AP classes less, and the list went on. We wanted to minimize the impact of the embedded systemic bias.

Then, learn…

Even though #GlobalDiversityAwareness Month is over, we want diversity, equity and inclusion to be a focus all year round. California State PTA and National PTA have position statements and resolutions that give us authority to act on behalf of all families:

Then, Take Action…

We recognize that each PTA and school community will have different solutions, but these are great places to start: 

  • Look at the demographics of families on your campus– Are they represented on your PTA board?  Are there activities that highlight and celebrate these families and make them feel like they are an integral part of your campus?  Does your library showcase authors and books with characters that represent these families?  Are your assemblies diverse enough that all children see themselves in the presentations?
  • Educate yourself, your board, and your school community about the challenges these families face by holding a book club or hosting listening sessions. 
  • Participate in the upcoming Listening Sessions that California State PTA will hold in January. 

Click here to read part 1 of this series.

Click here to read part 2 of this series.

Click here to read part 3 of this series.

Click here to read part 4 of this series.

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Global Diversity Awareness Month: Teacher Stories, Part 1

First, listen…

Educator: I use the word ‘grownups’, not parents, or mom and dads. I used to use those words but I learned that some of my students are being raised by their grandparents or other family members. Some had one parent because the other was serving in the military or incarcerated. Some were with foster families. All of that is important to me because it is important to my students that I know they have same sex parents, or are adopted and don’t ‘look’ like their other family members. All families are talked about because young children will create their own narrative if you don’t give them one. So I talk about all the wonderful and different ways families are formed. 

Then, learn…

During #GlobalDiversityAwareness Month and all year round, California State PTA and National PTA have position statements and resolutions that give us authority to act on behalf of all families:

Then, Take Action…

We recognize that each PTA and school community will have different solutions, but these are great places to start: 

  • Make sure your PTA publications are inclusive. Remember that not all families look the same, so make certain that your PTA fliers reflect that.

National PTA has a Diversity Toolkit that you can use to help your unit connect with all the families on your campus https://www.pta.org/home/run-your-pta/Diversity-Equity-Inclusion

Click here to read part 1 of this series.

Click here to read part 2 of this series.

Click here to read part 3 of this series.

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Global Diversity Awareness Month: Student Stories, Part 2

First, listen….

Student: It wasn’t until I took an AP class my sophomore year where the books we read were by authors of color. I became really interested in who gets to choose the books that I am taught in school. I found out it’s up to the teacher to find a way to buy these books that are not on the usual approved list. That didn’t make sense to me. I am now involved in a student-led group to have more student voice in deciding things like the books we read. All students should get to read these books, not just the AP class or the new ethnic studies elective. All our classes should have authors of all histories. 

Then, learn…

During #GlobalDiversityAwareness Month and all year round, California State PTA and National PTA have position statements and resolutions that give us authority to act on behalf of our racially diverse students and their families:

Then, Take Action…

We recognize that each PTA and school community will have different solutions, but these are great places to start: 

  • Attend the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee’s Listening Sessions November 16, 17, 18 and 21, 2020 https://capta.org/resource/listening-sessions-on-race-and-racism/
  • When your PTA raises funds for your library request that a certain percentage of the funds be spent on racially diverse authors.  We want all children to see people who look like them on our library shelves. 
  • Include students in your PTA!  We have lots of tips on ways to include student participation in your PTA ( http://toolkit.capta.org/membership/involving-students/).  One of the best ways to include students is to invite them to our Legislation Conference which will have a Racial Injustice and Social Advocacy theme this year.  More information about the dates and cost will be released soon, so be sure to visit our webpage from time to time to get updates. https://capta.org/programs-events/legislation-conference/

Click here to read part 1 of this series.

Click here to read part 2 of this series.

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Global Diversity Awareness Month: Student Stories, Part 1

First, listen…

Student: Whether I wear pants or a skirt, I sing the same. Does it matter if I wear pants instead of a skirt? Yes it matters to me. I don’t understand why my teacher and principal insist on me wearing a skirt to sing in the choir. It feels as weird as showing up to school in a bathing suit and nothing else. I already feel uncomfortable at school. It would be just one small thing that would make me think, ‘At least this one teacher knows and accepts me.’

Then, learn….

During #GlobalDiversityAwareness Month and all year round, California State PTA and National PTA have position statements and resolutions that give us authority to act on behalf of LGBTQIA+ students and their families:

Then, Take Action…

We recognize that each PTA and school community will have different solutions, but these are great places to start: 

  • Review school policies in regard to bullying and support revisions and amendments to those policies that specifically address the topics of sexual orientation and gender identification/expression as they relate to harassment and bullying.  https://capta.org/focus-areas/community-concerns/lgbtqia/
  • Use the Welcoming Schools Checklist to see how your PTA is doing in welcoming all families into your school.  http://downloads.capta.org/hea/WelcomingSchools_Checklist.pdf
  • Use the California State PTA Position Statements and Resolutions as you do studies of local legislation that impacts families of LGBTQIA+ students.  If you need support in this process, reach out to your Council or District Board and they can support you.

Click here to read part 1 of this series.

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Global Diversity Awareness Month: Parent Stories, Part 1

First, listen…

Parent: There it was — in print. The new Superintendent wrote in his message to the whole district that special education was taking funds meant for general fund programs. My heart sank. My child and thousands like her were positioned as the ‘taker of funds’ and not a part of the school community. My child is a general education student first, then a student who needs additional services and supports in order to learn. This was just one more example of how my child, and others like her, are segregated socially. The segregation or separateness is social and physical and affects how our children see themselves and how others see them. If our children were taught from preschool that their peers who act, think, learn, move differently belong with them, then our general community, workplaces, housing, city planning, higher education would be full of people who had experience being around individuals with disabilities of all kinds.

Then, learn…

During #GlobalDiversityAwarenessMonth and all year round, California State PTA has position statements and resolutions that give us authority to act on behalf of special education students and families:

Then, Take Action…

We recognize that each PTA and school community will have different solutions, but these are great places to start: 

  • Participate in your school and district Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) process and actively advocate for special needs programming.  https://capta.org/resource/seasons-of-lcap-development-and-engagement/
  • Learn about ways to support Special Education Families and why you should consider including a Special Needs Committee as part of your PTA Board https://capta.org/focus-areas/education/special-needs/
  • Use the California State PTA Position Statements and Resolutions as you do studies of local legislation that impacts special needs families.  If you need support in this process, reach out to your Council or District Board and they can support you. 

During the Back to School Season, help families of special needs students with transition by sharing these tips (available in six different languages) https://capta.org/focus-areas/education/special-needs/tips-for-parents-of-students-with-special-needs/