A few days ago, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White commented while being interviewed on an Indianapolis radio station that Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) as a public school system has to “take everybody that come through the door, whether they are blind, crippled, crazy”. Whether Dr. White’s remarks were as some describe as simply insensitive or as he defines them as an “inappropriate colloquial expression” is not the real issue. Instead, the real question is why the IPS community would continue to employ someone who espouses these thoughts and beliefs; representing the City and remaining the educational leader of the children of Indianapolis.
In 1988, Jimmy the Greek made remarks about why he believed the black athlete was a better and superior athlete to the non-black counterparts. For those remarks, Jimmy the Greek was dismissed from his job at CBS. In 1983, Howard Cossell made remarks about a black athlete during a Monday Night Football telecast when he stated "That little monkey gets loose, doesn't he? For those remarks, Cossell left the Monday Night Football booth at season’s end (most believe his departure was involuntary). In 2007, Don Imus of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, referred to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hoes". For those remarks, both MSNBC and CBS fired him from his TV and radio shows. In 2003, Rush Limbaugh suggested on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb got more credit than he deserved due to the media’s interest in seeing a black quarterback succeed. For those remarks, Mr. Limbaugh was forced to resign from his job at ESPN. Just days ago, Hank Williams, Jr., the country music artists whose voice is most recognized from the introduction of Monday Night Football compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. For those remarks, you guessed it; ESPN terminated its relationship with Mr. Williams.
What do these five incidents have to do with IPS and Dr. White? If you answered, Caucasian men invoking their first amendment right and making “insensitive” statements or using “inappropriate colloquial expressions” about African Americans, you would be partly correct. However, if that alone is your final answer, you would be missing something more meaningful.
On the other hand, if you answered that there is double-standard of failing to hold African American leadership accountable you would be correct. The subsequent outrage from African Americans and other organizations seeking the equality of all persons was quick and vehement when the Caucasian men were the “first amendment antagonist”. There was no place whatsoever for “insensitive” or “inappropriate” remarks about African Americans. The punishment for those who made such remarks was generally swift and ended in termination. Yet, the reaction to Dr. White’s “insensitive” or “inappropriate” remarks about predominantly African American and Latino students is peculiarly different.
What do you think would have occurred if Dr. White instead of being African American was Caucasian? Imagine for a moment, a Caucasian superintendent referring to the students of a predominantly African American and Latino – socio-economically disadvantaged – school system as “blind, crippled, crazy”. Imagine for a moment, a Caucasian school board president remaining virtually silent about the Caucasian superintendent’s comments and failing to even reprimand the Caucasian superintendent. Imagine for a moment, the Caucasian superintendent refusing for several days to see any error in his thought process let alone the use of the “inappropriate colloquial expression”.
Now that your moment is up, what do you see? I’ll tell you what history has told us that you should see. African-American organizations like the NAACP, the Rainbow Coalition (Rev. Jesse Jackson), and the Social Action Network (Rev. Al Sharpton) leading demonstrations and picketing outside of IPS Headquarters. Organizations formed to support people with disabilities (U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights), local and national political leaders, the Governor, the mayor, State Education Superintendent, business leaders, and others with community influence denouncing the Superintendent’s behavior and demanding his firing. Parents of African American and Latino students who are most often identified as needing special education threatening to boycott the school until a change in leadership is made. The IPS Faculty and staff, along with the State’s Teacher’s union, uniting with the community to denounce the Superintendent’s remarks and behavior.
However, instead of the outrage that has historically occurred and that would most likely occur if the “inappropriate colloquial expression” was uttered by a Caucasian, Dr. White and IPS suffer the effects of no similar indignation. IPS and the Indianapolis community seems unmoved and disinterested in the effects that having an educational leader who refers to the children of Indianapolis as “blind, crippled, and crazy” can have on not only a school system but a community at large. Perhaps this mindset is the reason IPS is categorized as one of the nation’s "Dropout Factories," a high school where no more than 60% of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year. Maybe it is not the students of IPS who are the “blind, cripple, crazy” rather the Indianapolis community.
What else could keep Dr. White from suffering the same consequence as Jimmy the Greek, Howard Cossell, Don Imus, Rush Limbaugh, and Hank Williams, Jr.?
Is the community blind in that we either cannot or simply refuse to see that of the more than 1.2 million students who fail to graduate from high school on time each year, more than half are students of color, despite the fact that these students make up less than 40 percent of the high school population? Is the community crippled in that we either cannot or are simply to lame to ensure that IPS has system in place to identify kids as soon as they start to struggle in reading, math, or any core subject, and that system is managed by those who have an unquestionable respect for all students regardless of physical, mental or economic ability? Is the community crazy in that we are too idiotic to acknowledge the serious consequences failing schools and failing school leaders have on the future sustainability of our city, state, nation and the American way of life?
If IPS and America as a whole are going to advance our educational system in the 21st century, we are going to have to be able and willing to hold all school leaders accountable. To do otherwise, makes the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana and America “blind, crippled, and crazy”.