A Black Mom’s Perspective of Nice White Parents

nice-white-parents-album-art-articleInline“Our schools are not an equalizing force, because White parents take them over and hoard resources,” this quote from the introduction of episode four sums up Nice White Parents, a podcast from Serial Productions, a New York Times company. The quote is about Horace Mann’s idea that public school would be the great equalizer of American society.

Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher, but definitely, because I’m a Black parent I find this podcast to be filled with useful information. The podcast is produced by Chana Joffe-Walt. In the series, she investigates the power of White parents in the public school system. The series starts with her journey into finding a school for her children in Brooklyn, New York in 2015. What she noticed was that all or almost all parents at school tours were White, although the schools that she toured were attended by mostly Black and Brown students. Joffe-Walt describes being led to a room with kids that were labeled “gifted” where she immediately noticed that all the children in the classes were White. Joffe-Walt briefly discusses the failures in the public school system and the fact that poor, minority students suffer the most and are often blamed for their suffering. She eventually concludes that public schools are still segregated, but why?

Joffe-Walt looks specifically at School for International Studies, a school that in 2015 was made up of mostly Black, Latino, and Arab students from poor and working-class families. School for International Studies was struggling at the time. In the previous two years, the school had just 30 students in a sixth-grade class that had room for 100. That changed when a group of White students from upper-middle-class and wealthy families enrolled that fall. What happens next is predictable and a bit unsettling. The White parents with their wealth and connections implemented programs that they saw fit for their children, not the majority.

As the series goes on Joffe-Walt discusses the history of segregation in public schools. Listeners hear audio of a Black mother in the 1950s describing her child’s public school as filthy and lacking basic resources such as working toilets. Schools in poorer, mostly Black and Brown communities were also under-staffed or had teachers that weren’t certified. As a public school teacher in a predominantly Black high school in Miami, FL, I can tell you that this is still the case. Our schools still regularly lack fundamentals like toilet paper and have overcrowded classrooms because there aren’t enough teachers. Joffe-Walt also talks about Freedom Day, a mass boycott and demonstration on February 3, 1964, to protest segregation in New York City Public Schools.

What becomes obvious as you listen is that Black parents and students weren’t necessarily fighting for integration in public schools, what they wanted was equality. They wanted schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods to have the resources necessary to provide an education equal to that of schools in White neighborhoods. There are many reasons for inequality in public schools. The most obvious being the way that public schools are funded. Fewer funds are dedicated to public schools in poor neighborhoods because the taxes generated are lower in a poor neighborhood. Nice White Parents uncovers that there’s more to it than that. The podcast suggests that White parents use their influence to bully governments into putting schools where they want them. They use their connections to fund programs for their children that exclude Black and Brown children and that their demands from school boards are met without resistance, regardless of who might be affected.

As I tune into Nice White Parents each week, I ask myself two questions. 1: Why do White parents put so much energy into their children’s education? My answer is because education is still the fastest path to upward mobility. In a way, education is the great equalizer Horace Mann dreamed of. 2: Are White parents simply more involved in their children’s education than Black parents? Would we, Black parents, have the same amount of influence if we put in more effort?

I want to make clear that fewer resources don’t automatically equal inadequate education. There are plenty of great teachers who create awesome learning environments with scarce resources. It is easier when resources are plenty, however. As a race, we are still far behind socially. Most of us don’t have enough resources or connections to fund programs or the power to sway school boards one way or another, some of us do, and some of us can do more than we’re already doing. We have a responsibility to advocate for our children to receive the best education available to them.

As we approach a new school year, I implore Black parents to be honest with themselves about their level of involvement in their child’s education. Could you be doing more? Could you be a part of the PTA? Are you going to open house? Could you be raising or donating money to things that may enhance your child’s educational experience? It doesn’t always take thousands of dollars to make a difference. Sometimes all that’s needed is breakfast before a big exam or a class set of test preparation books to make a difference in morale or performance. It may seem futile to think about these things now that school is being held completely online in most areas. It won’t be this way forever though. The time will come when schools are back to face to face instruction. I hope that other Black parents read this blog, or listen to Nice White Parents and are motivated to do more for our schools and children when that time comes.

Nice White Parents is available on Apple Podcasts.

Billboard, Verzuz, and How Dancehall Influenced Hip Hop

IMG_3066As the pandemic drags on keeping concert venues and other entertainment shut down, thousands of people log in to watch artists “battle” each other week after week on Verzuz. On Tuesday, August 11th I was doing my morning check of social media handles when I came across a post from Sharon Burke, President of Solid Agency, a management and booking agency in Kingston, Jamaica. Ms. Burke is a giant in the dancehall music industry. Her clientele includes Bounty Killer, Sean Paul, and Shaggy among others.

The post from Ms. Burke was angry. She was upset that Billboard magazine had left Beenie Man and Bounty Killer off of its hardcover about Verzuz, including them only on the digital version of the magazine cover (see above). As I scrolled through other posts I saw that Beenie Man commented something to the effect that dancehall music is not respected by the people who stole from it, suggesting that hip hop is merely a spinoff dancehall.

Later on that day, I got my daily “This Day in History” email from history.com. Included in that email was a post about DJ Kool Herc and the first party he played in the Bronx on August 11, 1973, that in hindsight is widely considered the starting point for what is now one of the most influential genres of music and culture in the world, hip hop. What a coincidence. It prompted me to want to know more about the history of dancehall’s influence on hip hop. I always heard that there was a connection, but how? Kool Herc is Jamaican, but is that it?

According to the journalist, Sally Helm, at this party in August 1973, Kool Herc focused on a part of a song called the break. “It’s the instrumental section with percussion, bass, a driving beat…the break is when the dance floor fills up, when the energy is best,” says Helm in the History This Week podcast titled “The Birth of Hip Hop”. Herc prolonged the break beat using two turntables. He extended it by playing two identical records on the turntables. When the break ended on one record, he picked it up from the beginning on the other so it didn’t have to end. This new musical style grew and spread as Herc played parties around the Bronx for the next three years. In those years, “scratching” and “toasting” were a part of not only Herc’s style but other DJs such as Grandmaster Flash. Here is the connection to Dancehall according to Raheem Veal in an article written for Revolt.tv:

Many of us are familiar with the technique of “scratching,” which is when a DJ uses records on a turntable to cause friction and create a rhythmic, high-pitched noise. Though this method became popular in New York’s South Bronx, it was actually created in Jamaica as “dubbing.” Reggae records would have an A-side of fully composed songs; the B-side would contain chopped-up remixes of the original songs that allowed the record cutters (the original DJs) to manipulate different components of the track.

The mastering of dubbing in reggae allowed an artist to “toast”—the predecessor to rapping or emceeing—over instrumental versions of songs. Jamaican DJs usually existed only to hype up songs, but dubbing pioneer King Tubby set a new standard with his emphasis on giving bass and rhythm a prominent spot on his remixes. Tubby commissioned DJ extraordinaire U-Roy to toast over his head-knocking mixes—which is recognized as the true creation of rapping. There is strong speculation that hip-hop’s forefathers—Barbados-born Grandmaster Flash, Jamaica’s Kool Herc, and Afrika Bambaataa—gained their inspiration directly by King Tubby and U-Roy.

If you agree with this strong speculation, dubbing would have been what influenced DJ Kool Herc to do what he did at his now legendary parties. This would make sense because Kool Herc is Jamaican. However, not everyone agrees. An online search into the topic gave me results that are in agreement and disagreement with this opinion. For example, a Reddit user in 2019 claims Jamaican DJs did not extend break beats, or dubbing, in the 1970s, therefore, Herc and dancehall by extension did not influence hip hop. He or she goes on to say, “I also want to point out that Kool Herc migrated to the US at a very young age. He was too young to have witnessed the Dancehall scene in Kingston.”

As someone who spent many summers in Jamaica during my childhood, I can attest that the last statement is irrelevant. I went to my first dance (club or party) in Jamaica at the age of nine-years-old, Bodyguard sound system on the wharf in Black River, St. Elizabeth. Further, you didn’t have to be in a dance in Jamaica to be influenced by music. The music was everywhere. You could hear it sitting on your verandah or on cassettes recorded from the dance, something that was hugely popular in Jamaican music culture until cassette tapes became obsolete. I’m speaking of Jamaica in the 1980s and 1990s, but I assume that 1970s Jamaica wasn’t much different in this respect.

According to jamaicanmusic.com, dub styled music started in Jamaica in the 1960s and extended through the 1970s. It is widely accepted that dancehall as it is known today debuted in the 1980s. Whatever your stance on dancehall’s influence, or lack thereof, on hip hop, there’s no disputing that hip hop is a product of those parties in the Bronx in the 1970s. Those parties were played by DJs who migrated from the Caribbean, who undoubtedly were influenced by music from their mother countries. Even if that were not the case, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer deserved to be on both covers of Billboard’s Verzuz cover. Anecdotal evidence suggests that their’s was one of the most popular Verzuz battles to date. They were the first of the Verzuz battles to give viewers a real show. They gave us a concert; one I would have gladly paid to see.

Adia Kamaria

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow Tulips & Red Buses

Yellow Tulips & Red Buses This is what I would do if I wasn’t afraid, a memoir…

London. What if she pursued her master’s at an English university? Or left Florida to its sun and swamps, and feasted her eyes instead on historic towers set against overcast skies? What if crossing the ocean was the path to a brighter future?

Stuck in a dismal job and entangled in a back-and-forth relationship, Adia Kamaria ponders this unexpected idea for quite a while before finally taking the plunge. But when she does, she does so wholeheartedly.

Yellow Tulips & Red Buses reads like a journal in its vulnerability and hopeful honesty as it recounts Adia’s romantic escapades-first with a young Pakistani bloke, followed by a Nigerian prince-and traces her travels in the United Kingdom and beyond when she’s not hard at work studying. While she quickly learns she can’t leave her problems behind, she does realize that a fresh perspective can do wonders for the soul.

An inspiring view of life and love through the eyes of a thirty-something woman who’s had her heart broken one too many times, this no-filters account will make you laugh, cry, and long for adventures of your.

One of the Lucky Ones

Lucky OnesI was sitting at the gate at the airport on my way to Boston for a job interview. I was looking out the window at Ft. Lauderdale’s bright sky and thinking about how much I really didn’t want to trade in warm days, bright skies and beaches for slush, rust and an annoying accent – but I would do it if I got the job, I had to.

I looked away from the window and went back to reading Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. I was reading it for the second time. Sheryl Sandberg’s narrative on how and why women need to man-up was all that was keeping me motivated in my job search.

I heard a woman yelling at her children as I read. I looked up and the woman sitting next to me said, “She’s so mean,” speaking of the woman that was yelling at her children. I closed the book and started a conversation with her. I asked if she lived in Boston. What was the city like? Where was she from originally? She asked me why I was going to Boston and what I studied in school. She told me she was from Virginia, lived in Chicago for 15 years and had lived in Boston for the past five years.

She and her husband moved to Boston because he got a great job offer there. She has a law degree but has never practiced law. They got married right after law school and she has been a housewife ever since. She’s one of the lucky ones, I thought to myself. A man found her, loved her and took care of her. She landed on her feet. Housewife is a dream job to me. I’ll take crying kids over asshole bosses any day.

I continued to talk to her until we were boarding the plane. We were standing in line in the jetway when she said to me, “I’m looking for a new city. I’m going through a divorce and I have to move out of my house. I don’t have a job and looking for one is a joke because I don’t know what any of the things they are looking for even mean. I haven’t worked in over twenty years.” Immediately, I went from admiring her to pitying her. “My children are grown, they’re gone,” she continued and then paused. “So, good luck to you. Take that job,” she told me and grinned as she took her seat. I nodded, thanked her and wished her well.

The conversation I had with her was short but impactful. Sheryl Sandberg is right. Women need to lean in, all the way in! We need to keep some of our power to be financially independent if necessary. Women are the ones that get left behind when traditional, or should I say old-fashioned, families break down. American society needs to evolve to make it easier for women to maintain careers and families. Women shouldn’t have to feel the need to choose one.  American companies need to make it easier to have a balance between work and family so more women can stay in the work force, thus protecting their financial future. More women need to be in leaderships positions so they can make these changes for women.

Sometimes I get down thinking about the fact that I’m not married and I don’t have any children, but after speaking with the woman in the airport, I think I may be the lucky one. I can do what I want, when I want and my future depends on me. More importantly, I have the chance to meet people like her, who share their stories which serve as advice for me on what to do and not do as I fight to get ahead personally and professionally.

Kisses,

Adia Kamaria

The Simple Life

what-if-I-just-want-a-simple-lifeI’ve been asked twice in the past month what impact I want to leave on the world. My answer was that I don’t. I want to impact myself and then die. The first person who asked me this looked shocked at my response. The second person said I sound defeated, deflated and like I just accepted my fate.  Huh? Does not caring about leaving a huge impact on the world mean that I’m lazy and doomed for misery? What if I just want a simple life? And if that is my fate, so what? What’s wrong with accepting your fate if you believe it’s your fate?

This week I was talking to a friend of mine and we started talking about death. I said I wouldn’t want to live forever. She said, “Really? Why?” as if what I said equated to being suicidal. Why would I want to live forever? Firstly, it’s impossible and secondly, I don’t think life would be enjoyable after 90 or so years old. At that age I probably wouldn’t be able to dress myself, walk or go to the bathroom alone.

I always do what I think is right. I donate to charities, help disabled people cross the street, recycle etc. I have goals, but impacting the world in a major way one isn’t one of them. I plan to live a life that is pleasing to me and let people say whatever they want about me when I’m dead. I feel the way I do because I found that being more content with life as it is makes me happier. Have I done everything I want to do? No. Do I have everything I want? No. Am I unhappy because I haven’t done and gotten these things yet? No.

Nowadays there’s something wrong with being “basic”. Having a job, earning a paycheck and carrying your ass home is for lames. I feel like everyone wants to be the next Puffy, Mark Zuckerberg or Oprah Winfrey. That’s fine, have your ambitions and pursue your dreams. My dream is to take as many walks through as many parks in as many cities of the world as possible. Get married, have a child, spend the majority of my free time with my family, listen to music, maybe skydive, laugh, drink (a lot of) wine, eat stew peas, learn, make new friends, go new places and then die in peace when my time is up. Does that make me an underachiever? Is that too simple to qualify as a dream?

Kisses,

Adia Kamaria

Still Holding You Down?

I spent two days in Liverpool, England last week. While I Liverpoolwas there two of my friends and I did The Liverpool Slavery History Trail. As I expected, the tour was interesting and I learned a lot of new things. Towards the end of the trail, the guide took us to the front of a bank where the artwork in the attached picture is displayed. It’s a white man with his hands down on the head of two slave children. If you look closely you’ll see shackles on their hands and feet. Their hair being different says that they come from two different parts of Africa. Also, their backs turned to each other means they can’t talk to each other because they don’t speak the same language.

This is supposed to be a representation of what the city was built on – slavery. It was installed in 1927, long after slave trading had been abolished in England. We had a debate about whether or not it should be kept up or taken down. My two friends and the tour guide thought it should be left up because it’s a reminder if what happened to black people. They said British children don’t learn about slavery or any black and African history in school so this sort of public representation is needed. The tour guide said I’m one of only three people in his decades of doing the tour that thinks it should be taken down, the other two being children.

I’m not one of those people who blames the white man and slavery for every problem in black communities around the world today, but I am of the belief that slavery is the root of many of the psychological and emotional issues in that community. Because of this, I think slavery should be talked about and the world should never be allowed to forget the damaged it caused an entire race. However, this isn’t what this art does. In my opinion it’s a covert way of saying, “This is where you stand in our society. We’re still holding you down”. I wouldn’t want this on a wall in my city.

I thought about this over and over since I saw it, which is why I’m up at 5 am GMT writing about it. Experiences like this make me appreciate my home country so much more. The United States isn’t perfect. I feel that the nasty stain of slavery is often ignored and racism is definitely alive and well there.  I’m of Jamaican descent so I know slavery is somewhere in my family’s histroy. I’m too young to have gotten a first-hand or even second-hand account of slavery from my ancestors, but at least I learned about it in school. At least there’s a monument to Harriet Tubman in Massachusetts and one to Frederick Douglass in Maryland, people who represent liberation from slavery.

I’ve heard blacks in America talk about how terrible America is for black people. It’s not just America. Sadly, injustice and inequality in many forms is the plight of black people or otherwise darker skinned people across the globe, from the aboriginals in Australia to the Jarawa tribe of India. I actually think that blacks in America are generally better off than in most nations, we just don’t appreciate it.

No Kisses,

Adia Kamaria

Chemistry & Commitment

I spent the weekend with a girlfriend. As always, girl talk involved men and relationships. johncoulter_perfect_chemistry_lcs[1]At one point in the conversation I said something about someone who I regard as my heart, even though what we have right now is at best a complicated situation.  She asked me how I could feel something so strongly for someone who isn’t committed to me. Don’t I feel like he thinks that I’m not good enough to commit to? Commitment meaning marriage. No, I don’t think that. I think that I enjoy the time we spend together and I value his opinions.

Then she asked if I compare other people to him. It’s not that I compare people to him. I compare the way I felt with him to how I feel when I’m with someone else. I want someone to make me feel the way he does. We don’t miss people because of their hair, smile or legs. We miss the way they made us feel.  It’s what we call having chemistry with someone. Then my friend said, “Well, I’ve learned that all the chemistry in the world means nothing if that chemistry isn’t committed to you.”  That made me think. Is it more important to have the pleasure of good chemistry with someone or the security of commitment? Would you rather be happily up in the air with someone or committed to someone who you don’t have chemistry with? Isn’t the latter settling? What good is security in an unhappy situation?

What’s the purpose of a relationship? Is it an exchange of support, companionship and trust in each other? Or is it simply a commitment with no regard for the way two people interact with each other? And what about a commitment from someone makes a relationship secure? Just as people get married, they get divorced.

I wrote a post about two years ago called ‘The Grey Area’. I was saying that there needs to be clarity in relationships, they need to be either black or white. Now I’m seeing just how grey relationships are. Committed or not, they are complicated. Our emotions are like your body jumping out of a plane. Once you’re going down, you can’t stop. You either glide with the help of your parachute (in a relationship your partner is the parachute) to a nice and easy landing or you crash to the ground breaking bones in the process. Either way, once you jump there’s nothing that guarantees how you will land. At least I think so. I’ve never jumped out of a plane before.

Kisses,

Adia Kamaria

Disconnect

no_social_media[1]I was recently driving with a friend while she told me about a terrible thing that had happened to her the day before.
“…and then Justin texted me and I felt so much better, but isn’t that bad?” she asked.
“What? Why?” I asked her.
“Because, I should be able to make myself feel better, you know, happiness is supposed to come from within, not from someone else,” she answered, sounding like a Tumblr quote.

I hear women recite these “rules for life” from various self-help books, blogs and social networks all the time. Some conversations start with “I saw a quote on (insert any social network here) the other day and it really made me think…” My friend asking if it was bad that Justin made her feel better made me start thinking. Whose rules are these anyway?

It seems that people are becoming so caught up in what books and social networks are saying about how to live life that they’re forgetting to listen to themselves. Instead of acting on a feeling they have, they’re remembering quotes and doing what a book said they should do. And feeling bad for accepting something that made them feel good because they think they’re breaking some rule that is supposed to be the key to the happiest and best life.

While some books and quotes can be enlightening and inspiring, we need to remember that they were written by other people based on their opinions. We live in an age of instant access to other people’s opinions on everything from relationships to medicine to cooking, sex and side chicks. If you’re not careful some of these quotes and lessons on life from complete strangers who know nothing about your life will make you question things about yourself that you never have before. Just because Coco Chanel or Rob Hill Sr. said it doesn’t mean that it’s right for YOU.

There’s nothing wrong with or weak about accepting what you need when you need it, even if it comes from a source outside of yourself. The idea that people are never supposed to look outside of themselves for happiness is absurd in my opinion. I believe what is found in oneself is contentment, which is not the same as being happy. There is a certain amount of interaction, affection and approval from other people that everyone needs to be genuinely happy.

I think it’s a good idea to sometimes disconnect from the online “social” world and self-help books, blogs etc. and help yourself by really listening to yourself and giving yourself what it asks for. I believe wholeheartedly that life is a journey where the focus shouldn’t always be on the end result. If we do what we have to in order to get through right now, the end result will be a sequence of satisfying moments.

But don’t take my word for it, listen to yourself!

Air Kisses,

Adia Kamaria

United We Stand

user390395_pic18394_1229515790It’s festival season in London, the season for celebrating arts and culture outdoors. Last Sunday, June 30th, marked the end of the 2013 Glastonbury Festival. A four-day music festival that has been happening in the United Kingdom since 1970. I had only heard of the Glastonbury Festival because when Beyonce performed there in 2011 it was a big deal. There aren’t too many deals bigger than Beyonce in pop music today so for it to be big news that she performed there, it must mean that the festival is huge.

During a lecture in my managing and marketing events class, the professor brought up Glastonbury and why the festival hadn’t taken place in 2012. The reason was that there weren’t enough port-a-potties and police to cover the event and the 2012 summer Olympics simultaneously. I couldn’t believe that was actually the reason the festival had been canceled. The first thing I thought was, if it had been in the U.S. the festival organizers could have called for port-a-potties from another state, gotten state police to assist local police – something! I just couldn’t imagine that happening in America. There are too many resources for it to have happened in America.

The more I thought about it, the expression “United we Stand, Divided we Fall” came to mind. It was the first time I had thought about the phrase in a practical way. My thoughts were in the context of a music festival, but think about the bigger picture. It is much easier to do business within your own country, even if the distance is far away. The laws are the same, currency is the same, language is the same and any necessary travel is easier. Added to that, the country’s large size makes the population one of the highest in the world. More people buying things means more money circulating in the economy, more ordering products from overseas, which equals more leverage in the global economy.

There are 54 countries in Africa and 49 in Europe. The United States could have easily become 50 separate nations. Of course there are several other reasons that the U.S. has been successful in business such as innovation and excellence in higher education, but I must believe that the decision to stay united  plays a major role in the country staying as powerful as it has for as long as it has. This is proof that there is strength in numbers and power in sticking together, a concept that can be applied to many aspects of life.

(Air) Kisses,

Adia Kamaria

Not Who I Am

hiphopglobal_wide-ab6d0bc96c66a7476831f9059cc34d2d589a4f49-s6-c30[1]I’ve been studying in London for the past six months. The best part of this experience is the cultural exchanges I have with my classmates and other students. For obvious reasons, I’m particularly intrigued by the African students I meet.

The one thing that a lot of African students I meet or see all have in common is their infatuation with hip-hop music and culture.  Every day I see them wearing YMCMB sweaters and t-shirts with Jay-Z’s face. They blast Meek Mill and J. Cole from their phones and sing along to the lyrics with a passion that seems to transform them. Almost every time I’m speaking with a black man the conversation is about or related to hip-hop. If they’re not talking to me about hip-hop they’re saying something about President Obama, who is basically a pop star in his own way.  And a black woman made a comment one day that all Black-American women care about is their hair and nails, an assumption that is entirely incorrect!

When they find out I’m from Miami they ask me about King of Diamonds. Have I ever seen Rick Ross? It’s like they assume because I’m black and from America that I must be in strip clubs regularly and I’m hanging out in places that I will see Rick Ross because I’m from Miami. I don’t have anything against strips clubs or rappers and I listen to Two Chainz, Jeezy and Juicy J just like everyone else, but for some reason I was offended. It was offensive to me to feel that a culture that promotes misogyny, violence, materialism and sometimes downright ignorance was the best representation that these people had of me and my country.  Strip clubs and Rick Ross, really?  That’s not who I am.

At home in Miami, I never thought of the negative side of hip-hop as a complete or whole representation of Black-America. I know there’s so much more to it and us than that. I know that many of us, like me, are of Caribbean heritage and still hold onto that culture as our primary way of life. We mix with each other and other races so we have a fairly broad cultural awareness as it relates to that part of the world. America has black best-selling authors, dancers, chefs and successful business people but those things get lost in hip-hop’s shadow abroad. I may be experiencing this because I’m at a university with men and women in their early to mid- twenties, still it’s disturbing.

This isn’t an attack on rap music or hip-hop culture. My experience in London just makes me wonder if rappers realize the impact that have on youth worldwide. Does this impact mean that they have a greater obligation to us to be more responsible in their lyrics and lifestyle?  And if hip-hop can have such a big impact, how can we spread the popularity of other black arts in the same way? Is rap even an art?

Kisses,

Adia Kamaria