Big Spenders & Wake County Commissioners. Like it’s new

Jeffrey Billman’s article about the big spenders and the Wake County Commissioners mirrors the social-media yelling from four of those incumbent candidates. Burns, Calabria, and Hutchinson were elected in 2014, largely on their promise for prioritizing public school funding. Portman would follow in 2016, rounding out the last of the Foursome. Together they would be responsible for creating a majority vote against the full budget request from the school board in June 2017. Together they would push a majority vote in favor of a lease-to-own option for the South Wake Park barely 5 months later,

That damn park.

South Wake Park (aka, Friends of Crooked Creek, rebranded) advocates insist that the history of how this land came became available for the purchase doesn’t matter.  I disagree.

On November 04, 2017, bodies filled the room to over capacity, their green “Park Please” t-shirts having replaced the crimson #Red4Ed t-shirts speakers had worn the previous June. Octavia Rainey and Ms Jacobs had not come to speak about the park, they had come to speak about why a working mother and lone caregiver for her 18-year-old special needs son could be arrested for animal endangerment because of the conditions of the house they lived in, a house with rent subsidized by the Wake County Housing Authority. For 7 days Ms Jacobs waited in jail as her son suffered stress-induced seizures over the sudden loss of both his service dog and his mother. She spoke about the struggle she had to keep the house warm in the winter, the lack of air conditioning in the summer, the lack of resources for her son while she was in jail for the conditions of a house she did not own.

Then began the stories of those who did speak for the park. The dozen or so parents who shared their hopes that the County would agree to buy the 150ish acres of failed golf course land. The founder of 3 Irish Jewels Farm, pledged a million dollars to help pay for the cost of buying the land —  please we only need 20 acres to build a working farm, a safe meaningful environment where adults on the autism spectrum can grow once their 18th birthday ages them out of other programs.

Despite the obvious racial and economic differences between them and Ms Jacobs, they all spoke with a similar fear — how to create safety for the children who will never live alone as adults.

But then the rest, face after-mostly-white- face, spoke about their need for this park. Health benefits. Conservation. Property values. Increased property taxes for the County to spend. Even more “park please” as if it’s the asking nicely that does the getting and not the person doing the asking.

I’d been the last name on the speaker sign-up sheet, but with each passing green t-shirt, the smiles of the Foursome grew, making it clear that the public comment period served no other purpose than as a backdrop for the picture of room full of cheering supporters.

Our room had been full of supporters for public education funding, we’d asked nicely, most of us wore red shirts — but that hadn’t mattered for us.

So many times in the last 18 months, I’ve been in rooms with people asking both nicely, and sometimes not ,  but the outcome has never once been us being handed our version of a park.

Wanda Hunter said after a City Council meeting a few months ago that it’s like playing a basketball game without knowing you have to score points to win. Running the court, dribbling, and passing the ball, but still losing because no one ever told you to shoot the ball through the basket.

No doubt the Foursome have taken a hit this cycle because of their decision to vote against the public school funding — the promise they made to get elected to begin with. The estimated total project cost according to County Park projections —$23.4 million dollars. It’s an amazing coincidence to suddenly need for a land purchase nearly exactly what they didn’t have for public schools.

Maybe the County won Powerball?

Beyond those two voting decisions, their behavior in defense of those votes went beyond terrible a month ago. Portman’s reality places women who put their money where their values are as merely “using the woman card”. When I called him out, he called me mean. For quoting him.

Burns replies to a facebook comment where I ask him to consider whose property and history earns the right for conservation and preservation (i.e., greenlining) by telling me to “take off my tin foil hat.” Even though the racial disparities are demonstrably true in the County’s current parks, through the land zoning restrictions, through gentrification.

Hutchinson replies to questions about public education funding with “I want teachers to find joy!” but he deleted my question about the restrictive land covenants on the land held by the Triangle Greenway Council (he was once President) which will prevent the Amherst and Brighton neighborhoods from actually crossing Middle Creek into their new County park. In fact, he’s deleted most of my comments on his page, except for the one where a white persons tells me I’m racist for pointing out white supremacy.

Calabria either can’t do math, or can’t handle being wrong — his refusal to understand that the County’s contribution to increasing local teacher supplements stopped at the 18.5% average increase they passed in 2015–16 led to him telling me I was deliberately spreading misinformation. I gave him charts and graphs — still, holding tight to his wrongness.

The personal careers of the four incumbents: two lawyers specializing in business and commercial litigation, one professional speaking and sales consultant, and a CEO — quadruple the rhetoric skills. Yet I think most of us are just absolutely done being with the white, mansplaining.

And that damn park.

The drama of Crooked Creek deserves its own television show, and the history of a neighborhood with enough money and time to develop a LLC (Friends of Crooked Creek) in response to bankrupt golf course’s closure. One that prevents the land from being sold for nearly three years, only to celebrate their legal losses with a park?

History matters.

Crooked Creek isn’t actually in Fuquay Varina. It’s north of the ‘Quay, but South of Wake Tech, tucked under Middle Creek, and hugged by two-line, sidewalk-less roads — Lake Wheeler Rd, Hilltop Needmore Rd, and Johnson Pond Rd. You know — accessible. Or not.

CC Partners built the 300-ish luxury homes to surround about a 160 acres of golf course. Regardless of why — Wither blames the recession, the Friends of Crooked Creek (FoCC) blame management neglect — the golf course failed to generate profit for several consecutive years, and in November 2014 — almost 3 years to the day later the Foursome will vote to preserve it as open space — a blog post on the FoCC website announces that the golf course will close “next summer.”

Crooked Creek residents didn’t take this news well. But when they found out in March 2015 that Wither intended to turn 90 of those 160 acres into luxury homes with luxury amenities, leaving only about 60 acres as open green space and natural trails, they did what many wealthy people do in times of personal injustice — they hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit.

In early July 2015, the trial court denies their declaratory judgment & injunctive relief, but the FoCC are not deterred — appeal, filed. On July 5, 2015, the golf course and clubhouse close, and by July 24, 2015 the News and Observer reports that all of the homeowners (number unknown) who supported CC Partners in the trial receive letters saying: “You are among some of the world’s most despicable traitors. Do you think you are going to be able to live in this neighborhood? Not many people liked you before, but with your aid to the enemy, you are truly despised.”

Nearly a year later, in April 2016, the Fuquay Varina planning board unanimously denies CC Partners’ rezoning petition despite FV planning staff’s recommended approval. This is where the parcel for the school shows up- about 20 acres. Remember 3 Irish Jewels? Now Burns talks workforce housing plus a school on that 20 acres. Turns out that the farm was a proposal, nothing is set in stone yet. Terrible.

Y’all- what kind of power and money rolls into these garages at night?

By August 2016, Superior Court Judge Abernathy denies the Friends of Crooked Creek’s injunction request, clearly noting that the language in the covenants does not prevent the future sale and development of the golf course land. CC Partners offers them a compromise in the form of a Letter of Intent to sell the land to The Conservation Fund, but only if FoCC agrees to drop any future appeals, even if the contract with Conservation Fund falls through. FoCC is like, naw, and back to court it goes.

July 2017, the Court of Appeals decides that the “Covenants clearly state the golf course land can be sold for future development.” But, again — time, money, and power, in August 2017, the Friends of Crooked Creek file a petition for Discretionary review with the NC Supreme Court.

November 1, 2017- The NC Supreme Court denies Crooked Creeks’ petition for discretionary review under G.S. 7A-31.Which doesn’t matter because on November 6th, the Foursome save the neighborhood from the overcrowding (their words, not mine).

And listen, I get it, I like parks and am strongly pro-conservation. In fact, my grass represents a mash-up green weed-like plants strong enough to survive without attention, water, or chemical intervention. But I also get what it means when certain people can stop development just near their homes for three years, while other people watch their homes bulldozed from the rear-view mirror of the u-hail. I also understand that the current level of land banking planned in Wake County will not support the freaking 65 people showing up here every day. So either we stop advertising this as the “place to be” or we build places for the people who have BEEN here to live.

Some of us can hold more than one truth at the same time. Some of us.

The whole time the Friends of Crooked Creek are tying the land up in a legal battle to preserve the golf course, they are also actively working option two — preserved green space — a park! The first change.org petition appears in 2015, with a link to a now defunct Friends of Crooked Creek website.

About a year ago, a new Facebook page appears and thus begins rebranding. August 14, 2017 the South Wake Park Project (aka Friends of Crooked Creek version 2.0) delivers their park presentation to the County Commissioners.

Which brings us back to the Foursome’s insistence that their opponents are condoning the spread of lies based on a mailer their campaigns did not authorize.

Burns is quoted in the N&O: “Ms. Vickie Adamson knows very well that the county is not bailing out a golf course.” He went on to say, “We will purchase almost 200 acres of open land in a fast-growing part of the county and open it to public use.”

Okay- I’ll allow that calling it a call “golf course bailout” isn’t precise. It’s more of a “golf course homeowner land protection bailout,” but that’s such a long hashtag. Though it just occurred to me — has anyone actually removed the putting greens from those sprawling green lawns? If not, I sure hope there are plans to remove them, lest we actually accidentally bail out the golf course.

But let’s explore the meat of why Burns thinks that Adamson is condoning falsehoods.

The claim is that purchasing the Crooked Creek golf course land is 200+ acres of park-ready land, the 4 million dollar purchase price is well below market value, and that the County has neglected recreational and environmental needs of Southern Wake County’s taxpayers.

For that claim to have merit, the following conditions must be proven true:

  1. Southern Wake County doesn’t have County park/open space land.
  2. The Conservation Fund is purchasing 200+ acres of land for 4 million dollars.
  3. The cost to the County for The Conservation Fund to buy and hold the Crooked Creek golf land will equal 4 million dollars.
  4. The cost of a County Park is equal to the cost of a land purchase.
  5. The per-acre value of the land purchased is less than 4 million dollar price tag.
  • In 2005, Wake County purchased 235+ acres of land 11 minutes away from Crooked Creek for a future SouthEast Wake park thus condition 1 is false.
  • The Conservation Fund purchased 151 acres, not 200+ for about 4 million, thus condition 2 is false.
  • The $4 million dollar price tag doesn’t include the holding costs, calculated annually (not fixed-rate) at an interest rate of prime + ½ percent for 4 years, thus condition 3 is false.
  • Consultant feedback estimates the projected cost of land purchase + facility repairs + infrastructure investments will equal 23.4 million dollars over the next 5 years, thus condition 4 is false.
  • According to Wake County Real estate website, the combined assessed value for the 10 parcels of land TCF purchased equals $3,784,771. The $3,950,500 sale price for those same parcels is $165,729 more than the assessed value. That said, market rate value is often higher than tax value, so it’s likely true the principal-only cost to buy the land is below market value, this condition 5 is maybe.
    The Foursome took to social media airwaves to demand that their challengers denounce the information posted on a website and a mailer (sponsored by the Wake Citizens for Good Government PAC, not approved by the candidates) as lies. But other than calling it a golf course bailout, there aren’t any lies. The Foursome and park advocates keep insisting that the park doesn’t cost 24 million dollars. But since it’s right here in the Revised Crooked Creek Final Summary Item Summary no one’s buying it.

Selling a car without tires and an engine, while constantly repeating that it’s “drive away ready” doesn’t make it true. Nor is it true this park will only cost 4 million  dollars. That’s not even true for *just* the land because they forgot the annual holding cost, which will be part of the cost of the land even if they do nothing at all with the park. Like the SouthEAST park the County bought in 2005.

The Foursome and their selective outrage over the use of rhetorical claims feels like taking a walk on a NC August afternoon in a heavy winter coat — sticky, gross, and unnecessary.

For example, dude knows very well that it’s a stretch to round the142.8 acres the Conservation Fund actually bought to “almost 200 acres.”

They also know that they didn’t raise the local average teacher supplement by 44%. They did increase the local teacher supplements in 2015–2016 to an average of 18.5%. But that’s it. I know I keep harping on this, but when I kept hearing the Foursome talk about their increase to teacher pay, it just didn’t make any sense. So I asked every teacher I knew, and when not a single one of them could confirm this increase, I started digging and thinking. It took me a really long time to work out the math and reasoning, DPI and the NCGA don’t really want anyone to think about it too much else we might notice that the current conditions are an actual milestone on Art Pope and friends’ “Destroy Free Public Education” timeline.

Like those optical illusion posters, once the hidden image appears, it’s easy to find it again. According to Calabria’s personal Facebook warriors (lawyer and law student, shocking), I’m “deliberately spreading misinformation to purposefully make the number smaller?”

Except I’m not– and I brought a spreadsheet to prove it.

Maybe they knew all along they were misrepresenting the inflated percentage and did it to sound better, so they could put “pro-education” on their mailer. I mean, folks are RIGHTFULLY pissed off that they didn’t fund public schools for nearly the *exact* same amount that they “found” to buy Crooked Creek land.

Or maybe they did not realize their error until I pointed it out to them, but they can’t handle being wrong. Neither option are attractive qualities in a public servant, especially not a “progressive” public servant.

Rhetoric. Smoke and mirrors. Disingenuous. The Foursome keep accusing their opponents of telling lies that aren’t actually lies, while are using rhetoric to sorta-almost-mostly-not-tell-the-truth. The bombast-ity.

It’s hard to really buy into their integrity, no matter how much they insist the have some. They claim that breaking their promise to public education proves they can’t be bought by those giant donations they got in 2014. But even so, what does broken promises say about a persons integrity.

And seriously, have we really decided that large donations in support of the public good, i.e, public schools, have the same meaning as large donations in support of private interest/industry? Because if we’re looking at the meaning behind sudden large donations, I have questions about John Kane’s new interest in progressive politics. And why do the owners of the Wake Stone Quarry donate so much money to the four of them? HNTB Ltd Holdings PAC — which spent 10k dollars to elect McCrory — why are they donating to these “progressive conservationists.” What’s up with all the lawyers and former newspaper owners and cable tv folks spending this much money on county commissioner races? What exactly has been going on in this county while I was at the NCGA working on public school funding because I just assumed that the all democrat county commissioners wouldn’t need as much supervision. HA!

If integrity becomes something reduced to campaign donation amounts, can we calculate the cash value of broken promises? As it turns out, yes it’s the exact amount that the “Big Spenders” in the 2018 primary subtracted from the Foursome’s campaign minus the amount that the “Big Spenders” donated to the Foursome earlier in 2017 before they demonstrated their integrity by breaking a promise. Note- as of today that donation money hadn’t been returned to Dean Debnam — so if Debnam’s money is buying an election, and you are the candidate supporting that accusation while simultaneously keeping Debnam’s money? Interesting. 15k worth of loans to their own campaigns, thousands of dollars from the Raleigh Mayor’s husband, Ron, who also plays in bluegrass in band full of current and former big wigs of the News and Observer- which might explain why I couldn’t get a LTE about the mayoral race published. Donation money from McGuire Woods partners, the firm Calabria worked at until recently. A Partner who just happens to own quite a nice chunk of land right at the edge of the Crooked Creek neighborhood. The legal assistant that has donated small bits of money, around the same time of the name rebranding and the start of South Wake Park Facebook group, which she admins. The independent newspaper owned by David Meeker, brother of former Raleigh Mayor, Charles Meeker. Charles Meeker who has also donated to their campaigns, hosted fundraisers.

What is the campaign dollar value of relationships during election season?

Saturday my household received a mailer, which unlike the one that caused Mr Burns such indignant outrage, was authorized by the Foursome’s campaigns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m confused as to how they’ve stood up to the reckless policies coming from Donald Trump and an extremist legislature?

Have they advised the Wake County sheriff’s department that they will refuse any increases to his budget until he cancels the 287g contract that makes the Wake County one of 6 counties with a partnership with ICE agents?

Did they “stand up to the extremist legislature” by demanding they fully fund public schools?

No, of course not.

Please- go vote, the last day is this Tuesday: Pierce, Adamson, Brown, West, and Evans.

 

 

 

 

Mayors and Affordable Housing, Part 1

In full disclosure — an earlier version of this piece leaned very pro-Francis. I stand by my criticisms of McFarlane’s record, but I won’t fully support Francis without digging into his potential relationship with anti-LGBTQIA+ legislators. In general, I am disgusted how capitalism stunts our opportunity to grow.

Voters will choose either incumbent, Nancy McFarlane or challenger, Charles Francis as Raleigh’s next mayor on November 7th. Mayor McFarlane, and the two local newspapers that endorsed her, fed heavily from the past year’s panic-buffet of blaming infighting in the Democratic Party for electing the 45th president. The Democratic Party’s judgment of internal competition as a condition too dangerous to contemplate lest we want more GOP seats rattles with the death notes of a political ideology wants For the People, but can’t because, $$$. For today, the options we have are what we have- so what’s their deal?

Upfront, I’m not impressed by Mayor McFarlane, and that’s before I even get to policy. I went to a Police Accountability Community Taskforce (PACT) action at a City Council meeting last year, and watched the Mayor’s facial expressions through a series of speakers — her eyebrow twitches when she’s angry. Beginning with Akiel Denkins’ mother, her sharp pain re-opening unhealed wounds, and with each new speaker’s spoken word, song, poem, or story about the pain and fear felt by black residents in Raleigh during encounters with police. I listened to them, but I watched her– lots of twitching. At the end, with a shaking voice, she responded to the intensity filling room — “I am offended…,” she began.

Last month, about a year later, I tried to navigate the 14+ day advance noticed needed before being approved to speak to my City Council — the county commissioners have a paper sign up right there at the door! But I managed only to watch Mayor McFarlane’s face stayed planted in her laptop screen during the public comment periods on topics of gentrification, revitalization and, again, a well-designed body camera policy. This, and her statement a few weeks ago, at the start of the run-off campaign says everything that most of us won’t hear.

Her attempt to work Charles Francis up to some sort of agent in a GOP sleeper cell, rather than pointing out his very-real role as the attorney for the Raleigh Housing Authority. Why not focus there instead of as Francis the provocateur using “misleading rhetoric” and “misstatements” to deceive voters into forgetting her vision of “a better, more sustainable, more vibrant Raleigh?” Francis agrees that Mayor McFarlane’s records speaks for itself — and Raleigh’s affluent citizens, but his record the RHA attorney speaks for protection of the state. What possible reason could she have not rebutting his promises for an affordable housing focus with the legal cases where he represented the Authority against residents? His position doesn’t earn her pro-column points, because not only does she avoid legitimate details about Francis, she does so while deflecting from the details of her own tenure as Mayor by demanding we focus on what she thinks matters the most — her. Her vision, her legacy, her interpretation of Raleigh’s future prosperity.

That’s the problem. This continued emphasis on the shiny image of Raleigh presented in the Top 10 Best of lists, rather than the unphotoshopped reality of half the citizens. The function of ego that will not allow her (or others) to see that building new neighborhoods from the ashes of urban decay both look good, and be bad for the original residents. We praise the economic improvements of the neighborhood after Hope VI paid to build Capitol Park as the replacement for Halifax Court. Except that only 150 of the 318 (90 reserved for senior citizens) public housing units returned.

For every word of praise spoken and written about downtown Raleigh’s new urban boom so too are there archived public comments and city council minutes clearly noting the citizens that have never agreed that what she and her Council have built is a better, sustainable, vibrant, or prosperous Raleigh. All of those criticisms began long before most of us knew a Charles Francis existed. More importantly — where are our demands for explicit definitions of what the City Council under her leadership means by “affordable housing?” Where are our questions about the HUD regulation differences for how we spend for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money versus Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA)? And why aren’t we asking her to detail the selection criteria she used for her nominations to the Raleigh Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners, especially considering that the 9-person Board holds all the power?

“The City has no influence over the management, budget, or policies of the Authority. The Authority’s Board of Commissioners has the responsibility to significantly influence the Authority’s operations. This includes, but is not limited to, adoption of the budget, personnel management, sole title to, and residual interest in all assets (including facilities and properties), signing contracts, issuing bonds, and deciding which programs are to be provided.(1)”

Well, that probably explains why she never goes after Francis, the Raleigh Housing Authority’s attorney. Institutions protect themselves, even at the cost of elections.

To that end, many folks accepted her statements that $60 million dollars over 10 years tax bond funding represents an unprecedented effort. We accept so much from the politicians we decide are good people, don’t we? Looking at the silent efforts from the anti-war effort during the Obama years and judging us all with equal scorn. How many of us know the differences between public housing and housing choice vouchers, or the difference between tenant-based, or project-based rental assistance? How many of us know the fair market rent for Raleigh apartments? How many of us know that HUD allows local housing authorities to run home ownership programs where for a fixed number of years, the Section 8 voucher can be used toward a mortgage rather than rent? There are 9 people plus at least one attorney that knows why Raleigh doesn’t run that program.

White progressives and liberals take the little bits we knew about a few things we know something about — gentrification, housing, and the attempt to replace the Citizen Advisory Councils with a Community Engagement Board and we make entire decisions on the effectiveness of our local government based on surface-level information. We have to stop asking what, and start asking why.

A map of the Raleigh voting precincts, the majority on the left are shaded in brown, and are McFarlane victories. Those on the right (East Raleigh) are shaded tan and are Francis victories.

Source: Wake County Board of Elections 10/10/2017 Election Results Map

Why did Francis win all the precincts on the right? Why are all of the black-majority precincts clustered in East Raleigh? Why did the City suddenly start to care about preserving affordable housing in neighborhoods where houses could be bought for less than $70k right up until our attention caused property values to skyrocket? Why do we think the black residents of East/Southeast Raleigh are not actively participating in challenging development plans? When we decided to construct of I-40 in right down the middle of their backyards, do we really think that property owners didn’t fight it with the same energy as that of the white, North Raleigh neighborhoods? There’s a reason for a difference in the success rate that has nothing to do with citizen engagement; it’s called institutional racism.

Black and white neighborhoods? Raleigh’s population is totally diverse — look, someone painted it right there on the side of the building and printed on all these yard signs — Y’all means All! I mean, yes, we are diverse. We are so diverse that we have racially concentrated areas of poverty (RCAP), where 50% of the residents are minorities and the poverty rate exceeds 30% of individuals in a defined area. Of the several RCAPs in Wake County, all are located within the City of Raleigh(2).

Again, ask why the concentration of poverty and race exists in East Raleigh when the entire point of Housing Choice vouchers is to prevent that very thing. Though also understand that HUD’s efforts to deconcentrate poverty in public housing didn’t start until 1968’s Fair Housing Act forced integration of public housing projects.

When the answer to people actually living and dying without access to housing is “well, this is more than any other City Council has ever done” why aren’t we prioritizing the truth of the People over a politician’s statement?

Why do we continue to allow the private market to accumulate profit off families surviving on the significantly less-than side of the $80,200 area median income? Why do believe that developers and mortgage lenders lose money on building affordable housing? They do not.

If Y’all meant All, we would prioritize someones truth as fact over our personal assumptive perceptions. We choose ourselves because it’s easier to remain ignorant of how our complicity creates economic and racial inequity. This is not progressive.

Now, ask why it’s so easy to identify white supremacists carrying their message with flaming tiki torches, and so hard to see how white supremacy carries a similar message with municode and policy.

  1. Analysis and Audited Financial Statements, Year ended March 31, 2017

 

 

White People: Words you Should Read

I just stopped the post that should have published today, the other half of last week’s conversation why white parents need to talk about race.  I’m scraping the whole thing from this space. It’ll go in the book so I can attack without a hint of gentle politeness.

The links that follow aren’t my words, aren’t my experiences. As a woman I often see racism from the lens of my own vaginal inequality, forgetting the starring role of white women in the violent racist past and present. In fact, I forgot that in an online space, written by a woman of color, for people of color– and rightfully got my ass handed to me. Instead of doubling-down on myself, I shut up and listened. We should all do that more often.

For those of you that are neither ally, nor co-conspirator; suffer from colorblindness, deny privilege and/or intersectionality, or who had google-search the meaning of implicit bias during the presidential debate– please read.
I’d rather you read them all, but if not, just pick one story from this collection of experiences written by black women in just the past week. These stories have scrolled through my social media (again, much thanks to Danielle Slaughter, a mama/writer/academic that took her need to teach advocacy to her child and brought it to the rest of us her Raising an Advocate class).

Please. Just start somewhere.

Going to the store while black? When the white woman wants the items you are purchasing, and you say no– she’ll tell the store manager you stole them from her cart. Classy.

When black parents and teachers can’t tell children that it’s safe to go to the police when they need help. Criminal

When fingers share posts on social, but won’t step foot into the community, or risk being the only white person, or work a little harder to include a marginalized population? Those are the worst kind of racists. Delusional.

When the memory a woman shares about a conversation her child-self had with her grandmother, how black women are not allowed to stand up in any of the spaces white women take up by leaning in. Historical.

In truth, when white women forget all of the ways they’ve used their whiteness to be more than complicit if the continuation of racist ideology. Hint, another example popped up this week after a female cop shot herself and blamed it on a black man. In Georgia.

When college kids crash a Black Lives Matter rally in a gorilla hood, or post their messages of racial terrorism in an open facebook group for NC State students and alumni— that’s them publicly pulling the hood right on off our parenting. Don’t whine about how you didn’t raise them this way— y’all either taught this directly, or you allowed it to be learned by avoiding the conversation entirely.

 

I wonder– parents of daughters, how many of y’all wish that parents of boys would teach their sons not to be rapists, so you could stop teaching your girls how to not to be raped?

Parents of black children, how many of y’all wish parents of white children would teach their kids not to be racists, so you could stop teaching your kids how to not be murdered?

 

White people: we’ve had 50 years to fix the racial inequities in the US. We  have no one to blame but ourselves for the current problems.It’s time we stop blaming everyone else for our difficulties, and take responsibility for our actions.

 

 

 

 

 

Why White Parents Need to Talk About Race

why

Thursday-I took my children to school and came home to cook my breakfast, to drink a reheated cup of coffee, to write in the silent safety of my home. I spent Wednesday on keyboard advocacy and deliberately teaching my kids about race. I’m white, my sons, 9 and 7, are also white. This wasn’t the first time– we’ve been talking about race since the oldest was 4, but the way I talk about it changed after Michael Brown.

My hands shake almost too hard to type this. Why do white parents need to talk about race?  Because I can teach my sons to protest, I can take them to rallies, I can appreciate and approve of civil disobedience, encouraging them to do the same when so moved. They can participate in any of that, on any level, without me fearing for their life.  

A picture of a mom with her two sons holding protest signs at the end of Moral Monday March

Me with my sons, at the end of a Moral Monday March

That’s why I talk about everything despite the idea that I should protect their innocence. Protecting a child’s innocence by hiding violence? Do you do Easter? Hansel and Gretel? Rock-a-bye-baby? There’s violence all over what we teach our children, let’s not pretend that violence is the reason for why white parents don’t talk about race. The American reality is that being a black child– regardless of where they live– puts their life in more danger than either of my white children. That is not acceptable.

I’m a white, married, stay at home mom with a college degree, with a husband that generates enough income that I can work on writing my book rather than at a job. We’ve been broke, but not poor, and we’ve never experienced a financial catastrophe.Even if we had, both my husband and I have extended family able to provide financial assistance. I talk about the difference between my college experience—my working full-time versus roommates whose parents covered their living expenses. I tend to leave out the times when I needed quick cash loans from my parents. My husband didn’t work during the school year because he spent the summers, not at the beach or the pool, but scouting tobacco fields, or painting houses in the hot NC sun. Nevertheless, he kept all of that income, able to live with his parents who were financially able to absorb the expense of his room and board.

Even during the waves of jealousy for my friends and their spring break vacations, I quietly thought I was a better person because I worked and was high-level adulting, they were mere children. If anyone had asked me back then if I — financial-aid-receiving, independent-bill-paying, good-grade-getting— was equal to all students with those criteria, but without a parental safety net, I would have defended my answer of yes to the death.

I wouldn’t understand that simply being aware of my parents’ ability to provide financial assistance was a benefit to me regardless of whether I took advantage of it. I wouldn’t understand my own privilege until my junior year of college when, less than two months into my new position as a customer service manager of a grocery store, I tried to promote Beverly from office assistant to bookkeeper. After 4 years of being passed over because of scheduling restrictions, being promoted was a happy surprise to her. Her tears when I mentioned I put her in for a 25-cent per hour raise, an unpleasant surprise to me. She already knew that a quarter per hour would be just enough to push her over the top of the poverty line, eliminating her access to financial assistance. She did the math in her head, not only because was she intelligent, but also because she was an expert at down-to-the-penny-budgeting. To still pay rent and feed her children, to pay for the gas to and from work, without any state aid, she’d need a 35-cent raise. My corporate headquarters refused, they were already mad about the 25-cents. A dime– all that stood between her and the self-sufficiency demanded from single mothers by conservative political speeches.

Robbie worked all the departments and hours he was able–the poster boy for bootstrap pulling. He’d won a full tuition scholarship to ECU for the fall, but was joining the Marines instead. When he had applied, he didn’t know his foster parents planned to kick him out in May, because the checks stopped when he turned 18.  He’d lived with them for 5 years, and had, until that moment in March, considered them his family.

Michael, a straight A high school student with no plans for college, already on the deferred Navy enlistment for after graduation. He worked any shift I gave him, and several times a week would either take the bus, or catch a ride to the store during peak hours, just in case somebody called out sick. If there wasn’t a shift, he’d do his homework in the breakroom for a few hours then go home. He called out once—the first bus had been late, causing him to miss the next, and his brother wasn’t home to give him a ride. I insisted over his protests on picking him up, driving my new-to-me red mustang less than a mile past the sleek apartments where the medical school students lived turning into a neighborhood that I knew only by reputation. The cop that followed me into the neighborhood continued to do so until I pulled up to Michael’s house, where he then parked so close to my bumper that I could nearly read his name tag. After Michael got in the car and I pulled away so did the cop, and when I wondered why, Michael said, “he thinks you’re here to buy drugs.”

“Oh, because of the car”, only to startle at the harsh laugh coming from the typically cheerful man-child in my passenger seat, “no, it’s because you’re white.”

Growing up within the circle of a large military base means exposure to racial and cultural diversity. Not just from my classmates, but also the teachers. Teachers are a set of first authority figures for many children. I didn’t grow up with the idea that black men were scarier than white men—all Army dads were equally terrifying. My first taste of the deep racial divide hiding in that town wouldn’t come until the county had to desegregate my middle school by busing out black kids and busing in the white kids.

Our schools were across the street from each other.

Anne Chesnutt and Lewis Chapel. Middle Schools in Fayetteville NC

Anne Chesnutt and Lewis Chapel. Middle Schools in Fayetteville, NC

For all of the racial diversity from my teachers, my friends, and my neighborhood, the perspective I lacked– without even realizing it– wouldn’t come until those experiences with the Beverlys, the Robbies, and the Michaels in my early twenties. Race, when combined with a lack of economic opportunity in rural areas like Eastern North Carolina, results in a beast of inequity that can be nearly impossible to overcome. I knew this in theory, but that learned in class cannot replace truths lived in person.

Two boys walking home from school

Once I had kids, my world view changed yet again. The general attitude one of “Well, if it comes down to my kid or yours, I’m going to save mine” existed for all sorts of things–preschool, soccer, elementary school. It was never the saying of this that bothered me. It’s harsh, but that truth applies at some level to all parents. What bothered me was the unapologetic lack of regret in those attitudes, especially when the decision escalates from a spot on the soccer team to a body in the street.

Would I save my child’s life at the cost of another child—a stranger? How could any parent honestly give an answer that isn’t yes? Would having to make that kind of choice rip through my psyche and destroy my mental health for the remainder of my days on earth, even with the certainty and love I have for my own child’s life?  How can you claim humanity if it would not.

How could any person become a mother, immediately accept the intensity with which we will go to protect our children from true harm, and not understand that a mother-not-you feels the exact same way? The challenge for us lies not in the protection, but in the accurate identification of danger.  White parents have decided that it’s too dangerous for their children to play outside because they might be kidnapped. Black parents have to tell their children that it’s too dangerous for them to breathe deeply around a cop. This is not acceptable.

This will be where I lose 2/3rd of the ones that didn’t already ghost when I started talking race. Grown men– y’all are struggling. Between your letters excusing your sons of rape, your defense of a celebrity’s lifetime of sexual predation, your refusal to hear and understand the word no? I cannot today. Even though it will be hard to accept something not for you, I’m talking to the women.

Even women that disagree on everything else, can typically find some common ground against sexual violence. When one in five women will be raped in their lifetime and one in four girls will be sexually assaulted before turning 18— there’s too many of us sharing experiences. Do mothers of daughters, independent of race or ethnicity, see their child’s face on the body lying on the ground next to that dumpster? Do they see their daughter’s face anytime they read about a woman’s sexual assault? I see myself and my friend’s daughters in these stories.

Mothers of sons– we are racially divided by our individualized, specific fear for them, and until white women accept that they cannot remain colorblind about the difference in real and perceived risk, isolated we will remain. My sons are safer than my friend’s son– independent of any other factors– just because they are white. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

I don’t see my sons’ face in Tamir Rice, my husband in Philando Castile, or my brother in Terrence Crutcher. I’ve never created a checkpoint schedule to verify my husband’s safety when he drives somewhere. I can put a toy gun in either of my son’s hand and never worry they’ll be shot. I can take them to a firing range, hand them a real gun, and no one will fear them having a weapon. In truth, I’ll be praised for teaching them to protect themselves from criminals.

I don’t need to see my white men in the faces of dead black men to feel rage at their murders. Black men don’t need to be my son/husband/brother/father for their lives to have value to me. I don’t require proof of the “goodness” of their character to decide that cops shouldn’t be shooting them on the street. Think about that.

Until a few days ago, my children had never seen a police officer searching a person on the street. They’ve never seen a police officer searching their father. They’ve never been passengers in a car pulled over by a police officer for any reason. They can go weeks without seeing a patrol car driving down their street. They don’t have to know that any of that exists for anyone else. I don’t have to warn them about getting pulled over each time an officer was behind my registration-expired vehicle.

I didn’t have to explain that even though more white people are arrested, prosecutors and judges sentence black defendants for longer prison terms. I didn’t have to show them the mugshot pictures on our local news website, and point out how many times a black man’s charge list ends with something like “driving with a broken taillight.” I didn’t have to tell them when my childhood friend, a black man I’ve known since 1st grade, said in a message to me–  that, yes, he puts his hands a certain way when he’s pulled over by a cop.

When, not if.

Both of the previous paragraphs are the unearned benefit granted to them for having white skin and white skinned parents. This is privilege.

When my youngest son said last year, “it’s only the brown-skinned boys getting in fights in the lunchroom” and this year “the brown-skinned troublemaker kicks me when I try to play soccer” I’m left with thoughts of those mothers, of my friend, of the possibilities and futures bleeding to death in our streets.

I could have chosen any number of statements about why he’s seeing more brown boys fight–explanations that he’d accept without question– they are more violent, undisciplined. Despite the near constant reinforcement of that rhetoric in the media and tv, that explanation is not the truth.

I could have gone the white savior route, gently explaining how living in poverty is a tough environment for a child, based on my own assumption about where the child lives. White moms, please stop suggesting that the reason these black kids are getting in fights is because they are poor and probably don’t have a Daddy at home. Many poor, fatherless black and white kids don’t get in fights, and many rich, two-parent white kids do. Even if you suspect with near certainty that a traumatic home life, for whatever reason, is triggering a child into acting out, the violence is a symptom of the trauma, not of the race. You should talk about poverty, you should talk about racial inequity, you should talk about the many ways a person might express trauma, but those need to be separate from the conversations about violence with your 7-year-old.

“I don’t see color.”

White moms, this is not working. I’m not going to try to convince my kid that the three fights he saw with his own eyes weren’t actually fights. Or that the kids he saw fighting weren’t black. Or that he was probably absent the day the white kids fought. I’ve gone the poverty-explanation route in the past, and it was a mistake. Luckily, my 9-year-old was quick to point out that in 3rd grade, boys of all races fight, but at the playground where they won’t get caught.

Well-meaning white ally moms trip themselves in their rush to create an empathetic response to those Poor Black Kids– see where I’m going? Classic white savior complex.

What I realized after my 9 year old’s comment about the playground fighting, is that my quickness to create empathy for why black kids fight in the lunchroom, I almost missed the opportunity to focus on the root of the issue at this moment– what did he mean by troublemaker? I started remembering how often I’d reframed this language for both of them, bad behavior, not bad kid, and I realized how easily it is to go from bad kid versus good kid to criminal versus law-abiding. Boys are already perceived as more physical and harder to control than girls, adding racial factors becomes both the prediction and validation. A teacher already biased by the belief that kids from that neighborhood, or with that skin color will be troublemakers might monitor that child’s behavior under a microscope, each mistake magnified without end. Sociologists call this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I understand how it happens, I do the something similar to both husband and children, which is why I am positive that using this method isn’t just a matter of “doesn’t work” it’s also a matter of “makes it worse.”

What if those teacher and adult biases that cause the close-monitoring of a black child’s behavior is also the reason why nobody notices the growth of the silent rage in white boys until after it erupts from guns with mass shootings of elementary schools, movie theaters, and churches?

What if we talked about race and anger? How many times has an adult told a child, “there’s no reason to be angry about that!” What if we stopped teaching kids that feeling angry, never mind expressing that anger, means someone is a bad person– a troublemaker. Because if anger is scary or taboo, then whatever feelings that feed it are ignored too.

Do you think that black children aren’t over-hearing the anger and fear in their community, or that they don’t  know that a black boy has higher chance of arrest, prison, or death? Do you honestly believe that all of these children have the same luxury of innocence as your white children?  Do you think black kids– no matter where they live– don’t have the right to be angry and afraid? My easy-going 9-year-old kicked the snot out of his younger brother last week after a single hard foul during a basketball game. Not because of that foul, but because of that foul, plus the ten hard fouls from day before. Children, no matter how “good” they are, have breaking points.

I’ve put myself in many situations that my fellow white people consider scary and dangerous. One of the few times my personal safety felt at risk was a Saturday, during the day, on a busy street, surrounded by white people. The source? A single white man who became very angry when I used my body to block the image of an aborted fetus on his sign while singing “Wheels on the Bus” over the filth he yelled at a car trying to pull out of a lot.

Anger is a boy thing, far more than it’s a race thing, they only merge because of the implicit bias adults have about black men. Don’t believe you have bias? Take the test.

White parents blind themselves, because anger is uncivilized, and talking about race is uncomfortable. Just know that my kid is going to ruin your kid’s innocence, and he’s going to do it with specificity of truthful language that your child might find upsetting.

Last summer, my oldest pulled a 1930s version of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer off my bookshelf. There were many unfamiliar words and phrases, so he would read them out loud when he didn’t understand. That would be the day I first had to define the word none of us say anymore, since, you know, he’d just said it. After I finished, I realized something. White people have replaced that word (and rightly so) when talking about racism, but our choice replacement– “n-word”– doesn’t adequately capture the historically violent symbolism. If I’m calling out a white person, who I also can verify as rip-roaring racist, I’m going to be specific. If I’m trying to express how it’s still used against black people, I used to name it for what it was– a racial slur. But today that naming doesn’t feel strong enough. Racial epithet? Racial terrorism?

Even though we’ve always talked about race did I want to define the meaning of the word for racial terrorism for the 9-year-old that asked and the 7-year-old that overheard it? No! I wanted to just snap– NEVER SAY THAT– and go about my day. But that’s been the chosen method of white people for decades, only to find ourselves shocked 1) when it’s used by a racist to terrorize, and 2) that not saying those words didn’t erase racism. Bless our hearts.

Not only did we fail to stop systemic racism, we changed the word making it easier to deny the existence of racism, while still writing racist laws and policies..

Let’s play a game. Every time you hear the word criminal, replace it with black.

NRA:"America needs guns to protect ourselves from the criminals.”

NRA:“America needs guns to protect ourselves from the blacks."

Just like that, it’s clear why the NRA never takes to the TV after a black person is shot saying, “this why black people need to make sure they protect themselves with a gun.” Have you heard them say that? I haven’t. Painting with the similar brush:

NRA: "Good guy with a gun." 

NRA: "White guy with a gun."

The most incredible part of this restructured wording is that it means almost all of mass shooting events have been the actions of a good guy, not a criminal.

We fear a black man with a book, but trust the white guy with a gun. 

NRA: "Criminals don't follow the law."
NRA: "Blacks don't follow the law."

Us: "The mass shooter was a white male..."
NRA:"A mentally ill white male shot..."

Words change, intent does not.

I’ve pointed out these differences in the media to both kids, and now the 9-year-old jumps up from reading Time magazine to show me examples.

Kids talk to each other, and they repeat what their parents say. My kid was the kindergartner ruining the happy version of Christopher Columbus, and I expect he’ll do the same for President’s Day. After all, the Founding Fathers story is America’s most famous piece of fiction. Do you feel the inspiration in your chest when you hear “all men are created equal”? Are you black, a female, or someone whose family does not have 400 years worth of wealth? Because if you answered yes to any of that—the founding fathers (whispers) weren’t talking about you, either.

White parents, if you find yourself wondering what you can do to end the cycle of racism in this country? Talk to your kids. Name it. Talk to your friends. Name it. And if you are afraid to talk about race with your kids or with other white people, imagine the fear felt by those living it.

A rally sign from a Black Lives Matter march reading, "End White Silence."

White people need to end white silence.