The Problem We STILL Live With

Hello. It’s been a while. My life has been absolutely insane.

In January, I took a contract to write thirty 600-word articles for a VA loans company, and fortunately the friend I report to let me have some flexibility in my regular monthly article-writing deadline, but that meant that when February rolled around, I was already behind on my regular work for this month. Also, my parents finally sold their house after more than a decade of attempting to do so, and they bought a nice, smaller house across town, and then they thought they were going to have to move to Kansas because my dad got a job offer there, and then they decided moving to Kansas was prohibitively expensive even with the prospect of a new job, but in any case they had pretty short window of time to get out of the house they’d been living in for the past fifteen years. So for each of the last four weeks, I drove two hours down to central Ohio for a few days to clean out/pack up my childhood room, pack up my sister’s room since she’s so far away, and help my parents out with whatever else they needed. Then I came back up to Akron to babysit, go to hula class (oh yeah, I’m taking hula now!), do my writing/marketing work, and spend a few minutes with my boyfriend in between everything else.

So I’ve been pretty busy, and I haven’t really had any time for blogging, although I did manage to finally upload the beautiful unicorn art that my sister drew for me! She takes commissions…if you’re interested, let me know! I’ve also been trying, like so many other citizens of the United States, to wrap my head around the new normal of having a narcissistic psychopath as president of the country…which brings me to the actual topic of this blog post.

On November 14, 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first black student at an otherwise all-white elementary school in New Orleans. On that first day, there was so much chaos she couldn’t even leave the principal’s office. White families pulled their children from the school, and only one teacher would teach Ruby. A school board meeting descended into a race riot. Ruby’s father lost his job. She had to be escorted between home and school by federal marshals because angry mobs lined her route. She was threatened with poisoning, and one woman put a black baby doll in a little coffin and stood outside the school with it. Ruby was six years old.

In 1964, Norman Rockwell painted a picture of Ruby walking to school, entitled The Problem We All Live With:

the-problem-we-all-live-with-norman-rockwell

It shows little Ruby in a white dress and white shoes, carrying her school supplies and flanked by four federal marshals, whose faces are cut off because the image focuses on a short child. They’re passing a wall stained by hurled tomatoes, and Ruby stands right under fading graffiti of the “N-word.” In front of the group are the letters “KKK.” The painting originally appeared as a centerfold in Look magazine on January 14, 1964. President Obama had it hung outside the Oval Office from July to October 2011, and when Ruby (now Ruby Bridges Hall) visited the White House during that time, he told her, “I think it’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for you guys, I might not be here and we wouldn’t be looking at this [painting] together.”

On February 7, 2017, billionaire Betsy DeVos, whose family is well known for making massive contributions to Republican political candidates (including Trump), was confirmed in a 50-51 vote as United States Secretary of Education (the vice president voted to break the tie). This happened despite her confirmation hearings being a total train wreck and the facts that she’s grossly unqualified for the job  and absolutely clueless about the state of education in this country. Unsurprisingly, the first time she tried to go into a Washington, D.C., school after her confirmation, she was met by protesters blocking her way, although she did eventually manage to get inside.

On February 14, 2017, a conservative political cartoonist named Glenn McCoy, who works for a newspaper based in a suburb of Chicago, published a cartoon that was obviously trying to parallel The Problem We All Live With. (I am not going to post the image here. You can go look it up if you so desire.) It depicts a child-sized DeVos walking between four men in front of a wall stained with tomatoes and graffiti of the word “conservative” (where the N-word is in the Rockwell painting), the letters “NEA” (meaning the National Education Association, which vociferously opposed DeVos’s confirmation), and the A-in-a-circle symbol for anarchy.

There are so many things wrong with this attempt at drawing a parallel that I hardly even know where to begin.

First of all, wanting a qualified secretary of education and then speaking out angrily when you don’t get one is not anywhere near the definition of anarchy. Also, anyone equating the NEA with the KKK needs to reevaluate their personal beliefs, stat. The NEA is supposed to look out for the best interests of students in this country, and clearly having Betsy DeVos in charge is not in line with those interests, so the group and its members are 100% within their rights (actually, their duties) when they speak out against her. The KKK’s message of bigotry and hatred does nothing to protect anybody. It never has, and it never will.

Now let’s talk about the fact that a little girl born with dark skin fighting for her right to get the education guaranteed to her by the Supreme Court is not in any way comparable to a middle-aged white billionaire political donor receiving pushback for accepting a nomination that she’s not qualified for by any stretch of the imagination. Ruby Bridges and her family were among the bravest of the brave, pressing on in the face of death threats to secure equal opportunities for all of America’s children. Betsy DeVos should never have been nominated for education secretary in the first place, nor should she have accepted the nomination, nor should she have been confirmed by Congress. She deserves every bit of criticism she’s been getting, and to my knowledge, none of it has been violent or threatening.

I don’t understand how we’ve gotten to a point in this country where anyone can think these two cases are equal. (Or separate but equal? Sorry, bad history joke. If I don’t inject some levity here, I’ll lose my mind.) The only choice Ruby Bridges made was to take a stand for what’s right; everything else in her situation, such as her skin color and the state of race relations in the country, was beyond her control. Betsy DeVos, however, has chosen to give millions of dollars to a political party that works every day to take away the rights that marginalized groups have fought so hard to secure. She bad mouths public schools and their teachers without ever having sent her kids to public school, never working as a teacher, and never making any kind of effort to see and understand the complexities of the public school system in this country. And she accepted a powerful position with tremendous responsibility that she clearly wasn’t equipped to handle. She didn’t even know enough to research basic principles of public school education for her hearings (proficiency vs. growth, anyone?).

The fact that we’re equating reasonable and deserved criticism of billionaire politicians with children’s struggles for basic civil rights shows us just how far we still have to go in this country.

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