A women’s college president demanding drastic cuts to maternity leave for employees? Obama’s former chief of staff attempting to ram through more racist school reform in what some already call an apartheid school system?
How can these folks, whom we expect to be leaders in the fight to end sexism and racism, be the ones behind these attacks?
The first thing to do is to look at the facts.
The office workers and dorm-access attendants at Barnard have been fighting for a fair contract for months—the Barnard administration has stonewalled and demanded huge cuts. Mind-boggingly, last week Barnard President Debora Spar herself wrote, “Of course, companies should strive to create generous maternity leaves,” and “…keep fighting the proverbial fights—better day care, better family leaves, more flex time at work and co-parenting at home. These are important goals.” Yet she is in charge of demanding huge cuts to maternity leave and flex time.
And despite all of Rahm Emmanuel’s talk of putting students first, it’s obvious from his actions that he puts himself and his elite friends first. Rahm sends his children to The Lab School, where the director opposes standardized testing (which Rahm wants more of for working-class students), where the school has three libraries (160 Chicago public schools have no library), and where the director actually supports teacher’s unions (which Rahm and the Democrats want to gut). [For those who still believe in neoliberal school reform, see top-education-official-turned-education-advocate Diane Ravitch’s book.]
And of course, Rahm’s attacks hurt blacks and Latinos most. More than two-thirds of Black students in Chicago attend schools where more than 90 percent of all students are the same ethnicity. These students are segregated racially and economically. In 188 schools in predominately black neighborhoods, 95 percent or more of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The same is true for only 3 percent of white students. And the attacks are on both students and teachers. In the schools closed this year, 65 percent of the teachers were black.
Far from fighting against sexism and racism, these leaders use it and perpetuate it. Of course they are not the right-wing bigots that argue rape doesn’t exist or call Palestinians savages in NYC subway ads. The problem is that just because right-wing fanatics are proudly sexist and racist, that does not mean that liberal leaders don’t quietly carry out racist and sexist policies. Obama delivers some incredibly inspiring speeches, but his actions speak louder. Obama promised to repeal anti-abortion legislation while campaigning, and then he himself used it to restrict abortion. Electing a black man as president has immense significance, but he won’t end—in fact he’s contributed to—racist evictions, school closures, and policing.
Often we are taught to believe that all whites benefit from racism and all men benefit from sexism, etc. The facts are undeniable, whites don’t face the murder by police or any of the other insane racism that plagues people of color, and men don’t face constant sexual harassment or the rest of the outrageous sexism that plagues women. But what father is happy about his daughter being sexually harassed? And what white person is happy about a black person being paid half of what she or he makes? In fact, when wages are driven down for blacks or women, it drives down wages for whites and men as well.
The people who benefit from racism and sexism are the people at the top. All of us at the bottom have a stake in overthrowing these oppressions, and the teachers in Chicago and office workers at Barnard show us the way to really fight to end sexism and racism.
The CTU victories of pay increases and new hires will be a huge boon to women (a majority of teachers are women) and people of color, who are hit by unemployment the hardest. The contract also promotes diversity in hiring to fight the loss of black teachers, stops the increase in class sizes, and textbooks. And, perhaps most importantly, it taught the teachers and parents who fought back that they aren’t worthless or stupid, that they know what’s right and that they can fight back and win.
Right here at Barnard and Columbia, the history of working-class struggle against racism and sexism is equally inspiring. The officer workers have always been a majority female and people of color workforce, so it’s no wonder the fight against oppression has been and remains central for them and their union. In 1985 the CU workers went on strike and won a $125,000 fund to combat racism, favoritism, and sexual harassment. In 1992, they won a pay-raise and an increase in the child care subsidiy to $50,000. The union has consistently fought for more equality and they have won, and they show us all how women and men of all colors can unite, that we all have a stake in the fight for liberation, and that it’s not liberal leaders, but everyday working-class people who have the impetus and the power to fight against sexism and racism and to win.