An op-ed so racist, and so Worcester, it hurts
I really, really wanted to let this piece of hot garbage go without spending any serious mental energy on it because I only have a few brain cells left and they’re working overtime to make sure I breathe and drink water and eat. But my god, the Telegram ran an op-ed so inexcusably racist it borders on parody.
Titled “Introducing anti-racism training into schools would be a bad idea,” guest columnist Roberta Schaefer spends a healthy 1,700 words attempting to prove with all the pseudo-academic prose she can muster that anti-racism training will teach “Blacks” that they deserve too much in the way of rights or even basic dignity. You may read that as an exaggeration, but trust me on this, it’s not. In fact I might even be being a bit generous which is weird for me. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age.
But before I get into breaking this piece down, a little bit on Schaefer. This is not just some lady. This is a person who has been deeply involved in shaping city policy for decades. She is the founding executive director of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau and she held that job for 28 years. In her time there she basically worked her hardest to make sure that City Hall is the most efficient tax break vending machine that it can be.
She’s also served on the Massachusetts Board of Education, and she’s involved in the Greater Worcester Community Foundation and the Worcester Art Museum, and she’s sat on the Mayor’s Task Force on Job Growth and Retention, which is a fancy way of saying she figures out how to get companies to move here by cutting them nice big tax deals so they can build a fancy building they’ll eventually move out of as in the recent case of Unum.
She’s got pull is what I’m saying. Unlike me, what she says matters to people who hold power in this city. For her to espouse these opinions on race issues in a public forum brings an already regressive city further backward. Shame on the Telegram for running it, but at the same time I’m not in the least bit surprised that they ran it. It was part of a “point-counterpoint” column series where one person writes on one side of an issue and the other person writes on the other side. So this ran alongside a decent column about why anti-racism training is good, but racism is not the sort of issue where there are two sides that should be measured equally. That doesn’t stop traditional journalists from repeatedly and reflexively giving it the old two sides treatment. It’s like there’s a garden hoe on the ground in the same spot every day and traditional journalists walk up to it and step right on the blade and the handle comes up and whacks them in the forehead and they go ah fuuuuck but the next day they do it again.
Schaefer opens her argument against teaching students and teachers about race with some finger wagging at both the Worcester School Committee and the Massachusetts Association of School Committees for moving toward integrating more race training into curriculum and professional development. “Anti-racism training is all the rage,” she says. Like it’s some trendy thing and not an acknowledgement that we have failed generations of students of color who are forced to participate in a system designed to see them fail. Cute.
She then goes on to call the 1619 Project, one of the few good things the New York Times has done recently, a “heavily biased program designed to teach students that slavery and racism are at the heart of what the United States is and always has been about.”
Oh hunny, that’s literally true though. There is no America without chattel slavery and the genocide of natives. We took the land from natives through violence and deceit. We built our empire quite literally on the backs of slaves. Both genocide and slavery are racist and the fact I even have to articulate that is embarrassing for me and this city and hopefully Schaefer but I’m not holding my breath.
But it gets better. This next passage is surreal.
“Racism” once had a clear meaning: the doctrine or belief that members of some racial or ethnic groups are inherently inferior to others, and hence merit discriminatory treatment. By all evidence, however, “racism” in that sense, and policies based on it, have undergone a vast decline in America over the past 75 years. The decline began with the desegregation of major league baseball in 1947, of the armed forces in 1948, Southern public schools starting in 1954, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. We’ve seen an increasing proportion of Blacks in colleges, in the professions, and in elected office at all levels of government, culminating in the election and re-election of the first Black president.
We had a Black president so racism is over now! Never you mind the vast disparities in almost every measure of public and economic health and incarceration rates between white people and people of color. I don’t know how those happened but it certainly wasn’t due to any racism whatsoever and that’s just the way the world is, so.
She also cites an “increasing rate of interracial marriages” as a reason why systemic racism doesn’t exist, which is only worth noting because it’s weird as hell.
But then she really gets to the meat of it. She really just sticks her neck out there and says systemic racism doesn’t exist. If you’re a normal person with even a base understanding of how the world works you know it does exist. Systemic racism is objective fact, and to argue otherwise is the behavior of someone unwilling to interrogate the flaws in the system because they benefit from the system, and also this is America and if I did it so can you, also fuck you too. This is what she says.
But in the wake of the George Floyd killing, and other, scattered instances of police misconduct, the decline in racial prejudice has now been denied, thanks to the invention of terms like “systemic racism” and “unconscious bias,” which respectively hold that all disparities among members of different racial/ethnic groups — in income, occupation, education and the rate of incarceration — are necessarily the consequence of bias and that all non-“minority” members suffer from unconscious if not conscious bias, that must be “cured” by subjecting them to “re-education” by “anti-racism trainers” (who need not be minority members themselves, since they alone are free from the bias that all other “whites” possess.)
I would like to point out, for the record, the callous way she characterized the murder of George Floyd “and other, scattered instances of police misconduct.” She really went and called a cold-blooded, brutal and pointless murder in broad daylight “police misconduct.” And had the balls to say these things are “scattered” and not a constant fact of American life.
She really tells on herself throughout the whole piece — like it’s not a dog whistle if we can all hear it. But for all the highfalutin language, she reveals in the above passage that she doesn’t even have a firm understanding of what she’s talking about. She says that disparities are “necessarily the consequence of bias” if these so-called racism trainers are to be believed and obviously she doesn’t believe them. It’s not individual people being biased, dude, it’s a system. Hence systemic. For someone with an academic background this shouldn’t be hard to understand, which makes me believe you’re willfully not understanding it, and hmmm I wonder why.
Systemic racism is baked into the American pie. It’s generation after generation contributing to and reinforcing a culture which necessarily (to borrow Schaefer’s obnoxious word usage) relies on an underclass to properly function. It is the legacy of settler colonialism, racism, and the genocide of natives. The cultural forces that made it so those things could happen still exist in our culture, they’ve just mutated into things like jailing Black kids for the better part of their life for selling pot once. Or leaving natives to rot away and die in third-world conditions while native women mysteriously go missing all the time and oh well, no one ever finds them. Or gangs of white nationalists going out in the deserts along the Mexican border to slash the water bottles left for desperate people risking their lives in search of one that’s not so awful.
So god forbid the Worcester Public Schools spend a little bit of money to get people to realize how they personally contribute—yes, through their own biases—to a racist culture. It would be so awful if we tried even a little bit to be less shitty to people of color. Hmmm, starting to feel like Schaefer might not actually want that. Let’s take a look at this passage a bit further down.
Above and beyond discouraging Black students from studying hard and adopting the other habits of behavior that make for success in a free society, anti-racism training is bound to generate increasing social strife, resulting from the belief of now-aggrieved Blacks that any failures on their part are the result of oppression, and the reaction of whites who resent being subjected to indoctrination grounded on false allegations about their racial attitudes.
Now. Aggrieved. Blacks. In Schaefer’s mind, we’re going to do racism training and all the “Blacks” are going to suddenly realize what racism is like they haven’t been subjected to it their whole fucking lives and know about it quite well already. Yeah, these Blacks are going to have a lot more to complain about once they learn what racism is, Schaefer says in so many words. We wouldn’t want that, now, would we? And really, we need to think about the white people. What if white people resent learning that they can be shitty sometimes and not know it? What if they had to think even a little bit about how their actions affect other people? That would be horrible, Schaefer says. Unconscious bias is obviously a “false allegation” because I don’t think I’m biased and you can’t change my mind on that.
The passage is casual townie racism dressed up in a cheap suit. You’re just as likely to hear the same argument at Moynagh’s but it would be more like “I don’t get what these Black people want, it was just one guy and he was a thug anyway” which is skipping straight to the point and not hiding behind vague language like “social strife.”
She jumps the shark in my opinion when she says that anti-racism training won’t help Black people but you know what will is broken windows policing. She actually says that. I’m not kidding.
Finally, anti-racism training diverts attention from policies that would actually help Black people. These include better police training (in cities that require it) combined with firm police presence that (since the 1980s), employing Compstat and “broken windows” policing, has brought about a major reduction in killings of inner-city youth.
Yeah just put more people in jail, keep ripping families apart. That’ll help those Blacks! And she also says more charter schools will help which is just like, come the fuck on, you’re not even trying to hide it at this point.
Now, I know Schaefer is a lost cause and there’s no point in trying to change her mind, but everyone reading this should understand that this woman does not come close to understanding the concept which she spent almost 2,000 bad-faith words trying to discredit. This is what passes for intellectual rigor around these parts. This is what gets published in the paper of record. This is the person who spent almost 30 years writing reports that informed crucial decisions this city has made. Worcester is a city which has allowed a person like this a platform, access to power, and influence. And has allowed it for decades.
I’ve gotten madder and madder as I’ve written this post and my anger has sort of reached the crest of the wave and now it’s turned to more of a solemn resignation as it crashes onto the reality there is very little I can personally do to get this city to be good or even normal so I’m going to go smoke a cigarette and stare at the ground for a while.
My dear friend Chelsea made me a fantastic playlist of old punk stuff to listen to while I write, you should check it out if you’re into that sort of thing.
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I have a few pieces coming up that involve substantial reporting alongside the usual vitriol and I am very excited about them! Big things to come!
I saw this op-ed and just instinctively knew this article was coming. I couldn't even get through the damn thing it was so disgusting.
Been a long time since I spent time in the Worcester area - third generation off the boat from Sweden, but moved to CA in '99, and haven't been back since burying Gramma in the Lutheran Cemetery in 2006. But this . . . after reading all of it and then the final bit "I’m going to go smoke a cigarette and stare at the ground for a while" I decided to subscribe. You are my people. Thank you. I'll look forward to catching up.