This is how we got here. It’s a story about parents engaging schools as consumers, wanting to get the best school resources for their children. This is the task that mothers are socially assigned to do. A good mom gets the best learning plan, best teacher, best school, best activities and all-around “best” school experience for her kid. A mom with the privilege of race, class, and education can decide what counts as the best. This historical process was initiated after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 was overturned. In her cultural history, “Racial Taxation: Schools, Segregation, and Taxpayer Citizenship, 1869–1973,” Camille Walsh calls this the encroachment of “taxpayer citizenship.” I think of taxpayer citizenship as a case of consumer citizenship localized to public goods, like public education. It is a quasi-legal identity that construes rights as those conditioned on one’s ability to pay taxes. It has always been about exclusion.
Walsh says that taxpaying was conflated to deservingness when white Americans felt their citizenship was threatened by the inclusion of racial minority in the social contract. Black citizens also viewed their right to attend high-quality public schools as a matter if their own taxpayer citizenship. The conflict was set up as a war of who is included in the grand American “We the people” and on what terms. This is evident more than anywhere else, especially in the field of public education. School integration was the center of white resistance to multiracial democracy. This resistance spawned many movements, including neighborhood schools, charter schools and private academies.
Jennifer Berkshire’s “A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” is a good overview of the connection between today’s pre-Covid school debates and that historical resistance. Berkshire is also very smart about how Covid school-opening talk can be a bit artificial. “Parents’ rights” has long been used by the G.O.P. to prioritize wealthy white parents’ desires at the expense of everyone else. She argues that debates on pandemic school closings, teaching race in schools, and other contentious topics are “not just [about] what schools teach and how they’re run but whose voice really matters in those decisions.”
All of this shows us that the citizen-consumer model is not an independent process. It is part how these social processes get enacted, and gain power. Citizens consumerism is a problem for civic well-being. We often talk about how multiethnic societies can be managed. It is equally important to consider whether a nation made up of consumer experts can be governed. In the coming weeks, I will be speaking with people about this question.
I found some interesting reads this week. A timeline of the Biden administration’s Covid response by Justin Feldman is a good primer. This topic is very important to me. This series keeps me informed, but it doesn’t force me to think purgatory. Feldman points out something critical about who we are talking about when we now talk about “the unvaccinated.” There are the willfully resistant, operating from a place of political identity and fear. There are also the elderly, poor, and isolated children. From Feldman
Who was still unvaccinated in late 2021? While the media often highlights the notable partisan divide in vaccination rates, it’s also notable that half of unvaccinated adults didn’t vote for Trump — many did not vote at all. The majority of unvaccinated people are low-income, uninsured or pregnant, incarcerated, or children (including children under 5 for whom vaccination is not authorized). People 65 and older have higher vaccination rates than those under age 5. However, people in their late 70s or older have lower vaccination rates than those under age 5. This suggests that a lack of autonomy (i.e. needing to rely upon others) could play a part. While the racial gap in vaccination rates has decreased significantly, there are still large inequalities in Covid deaths rates. My calculations show that the age-adjusted Covid death rates in the U.S. were 33% higher for Blacks and Latinos, 11% higher for American Indians/Alaska Natives and 34% higher for Pacific Islanders than non-Hispanic whites.
These are interrelated issues that cannot be addressed by the same policies.
Jan Dutkiewicz, Gabriel N. Rosenberg, and Jan Dutkiewicz take a deep look at problems with the Department of Agriculture. They outline a series of institutional failures that echo those found across a lot of the institutions we trust to help make our “informed decisions” mean something. It is, frankly, frightening.
Derek Major, writing for Black Enterprise, points to polling data on racial and sexual minorities’ investment in cryptocurrency. Many readers have written articles to me about crypto’s role in social justice. Many of these readers want me to discredit that narrative. I’m not there yet. However, I am skeptical about any new tool that promises to end centuries of systematic marginalization by using unregulated consumer tools.
Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science, the author of “Thick: And Other Essays” and a 2020 MacArthur fellow.
Source: NY Times