Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Invisible, old racism

The print version of the old newspaper, the one that gets delivered to my doorstep, had a new subject for me to blog about today, headlined right there, top right, front-page: "Educators to file U.S complaint about DPS."

The story was about an allegation of race discrimination being practiced against African-American teachers in Denver Public Schools.

Larry Borum, according to Denver Post writer Claire Trageser, accused DPS of "plain old discrimination based on race," and I bet Claire Trageser lost many of her readers at that very point in her story, the moment when readers finished reading that exact quote.

Why? Institutional racism.

Herman Malone, an African-American businessman from Denver who co-authored (with me) his book, "Lynched by Corporate America," was this region's forerunner in spotting -- and suffering -- institutional racism, the systemic racism of the sort Borum is complaining of in DPS schools.

Malone suffered it in the business world, through business contracting. Borum is complaining that teachers -- who make a business of their profession -- suffer discrimination at the hands of their employer, DPS.

Borum is chairman of the Denver school district's own Black Education Advisory Council, which counsels DPS board members on issues related to the school district's relations with black students, teachers and parent consumers of the DPS product: education. His criticism of the district, therefore, cannot be taken lightly.

Ironically, Trageser wound up quoting former Denver city councilwoman Happy Haynes, herself African-American, in defense of the district. Haynes admitted DPS recognizes a problem of declining numbers of African-American teachers at DPS, but she said those lower numbers in themselves are not indicators of actual discrimination.

Her response was typical, stereotypical, of an institution's response to an allegation of institutional racism.

Systemic racism often is invisible to those working within the criticized system.

Perhaps it's only visible to those who are its victims.

"Lynched by Corporate America" is a lesson in systemic, institutional racism; in its case, racism existed and yet was denied at U.S. West Communications, the predecessor of now Qwest, our area's largest communications provider.

Qwest, although it settled with six of Herman Malone's co-plantiffs in a federal lawsuit, defeated Malone in his shared discrimination claim before a federal-court jury, and left him hanging to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees for pressing the case.

Not many readers recognize all that as institutional, systemic racism; the book, after all, hasn't sold very many copies.

But Boron's raising the issue of systemic racism in a school district in our region is another indicator that the racism exists here, even if many people do not recognize it. And Boron's Black Education Advisory Council complaint shows more blacks are aware of institutional racism in the age of Obama even if their institutions cannot admit to it.

Speaking of invisible things, though: Old editor that I am, I noticed the missing period after the letter "S" in the Post's front-page headline. I only mention it here because I noticed it.

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