Friday, April 21, 2017
Now that Bill O'Reilly is off the air, I think it is time I provide an account of my appearance on the "O'Reilly Factor," since the tape of the episode I appeared on is nowhere to be found
Ten years ago, I received a call inviting me to appear on "The O'Reilly Factor." The occasion was a controversy in a town in Ohio where a white teacher was chosen to teach a Black History course when the one Black teacher in the school retired. I assumed that I was called because my recently published book "White Boy: A Memoir" described how I ended up as a Professor in Fordham's Black Studies Department.
I had some experience in doing media appearances about this subject thanks to my wonderful publicity agent Marlah Bonner McDuffie, and had just done an appearance on the Chappelle Show which brought me some "street cred" so I decided to accept, despite Mr O'Reilly's reputation for eviscerating liberal guests.
When I got to the studio, I quickly concluded that this experience was going to be more challenging than my other media appearances, including those on Fox Business where I was interviewed on Judge Napolitano's Show.
Whenever I was interviewed on television, I was accustomed to be escorted into the green room where guests were to wait by a friendly person, and offered snacks. None of this transpired. A grim faced woman led me to a small room without food and water with a big television on the wall. As I sat there waiting, I watched Bill O'Reilly tear apart the head of the Republican National Committee, someone far closer to his point of view than I was. I quickly realized that Mr O'Reilly looked upon me, a liberal or left wing professor, as "fresh meat". I quickly resolved that I was not going to play along.
My strategy was to be extremely polite and respectful, but constantly change the narrative that he was trying to establish with points on my own. But before that, I had to win his respect through time honor methods honed in the masculinist working
class ethos I was brought up in. Mr O.Reilly needed to know from the outset that even though I was a liberal professor, i was not someone he could push around, that if in fact, it actually came to a fight, i could kick his ass.
So it had to start with the handshake As I walked into the studio with a big smile on my face, I assumed my most intimidating posture, looked him straight in the eye, and shook his hand with what he must have thought surprising firmness ( I have tennis balls cut in half on my office desk which i squeeze regularly to strengthen my forearm) Then I sat down.
When the discussion started, it became clear that Mr O'Reilly's agenda was to show that what he called "Black Racism"- which he claimed was at play when Black parents and students protested a white teacher taking over their school's black history course- was a bigger problem than White Racism.
So I had to change the narrative early. First, I had to say that the Ohio parents concerns were reasonable. That given how US history had been written and taught, it was hardly unreasonable to look upon a white person teaching African American history with some skepticism. I also said that context was important. When I was hired to teach courses on Black History at Fordham, there were six black professors full time and part time, that students could choose from. That is a very different situation from a school where there is only one Black History course taught by one teacher. The area in which I agreed with Mr O'Reilly is that should be no hard and fast rule about who can teach a particular subject based on their background; but i vehemently disagreed with his suggestion that the Black parents and students in that Ohio school were "racist." Give that there was only one Black history course in the school, it was reasonable that they try to find a Black person to teach it,
We sparred about the Ohio situation a moment,, but then i decided to seize the podium before Mr O'Reilly did by saying "Look, reasonable people may disagree about the Ohio controversy, but one thing we can't lose sight of is that White Racism remains a HUGE problem in American society something that CANNOT be compared to whatever alleged discrimination whites experience at the hands of Blacks."
Then, before he could catch a breath, I said the following. "Look Bill. I am not some Ivy tower Professor. I spent twenty years coaching CYO basketball and sandlot baseball in Brooklyn. Just last week, my friend Gary Nielsen, a NYC firefighter, took his younger son and one of his friends, who happened to be Black, to his summer home in Breezy Point, an enclave filled with mostly Irish cops and firemen. When his son and his friend went to get a snack at a local take out place, a woman came up to them, and screamed at his Black friend "get out of here, you don't belong here" and kicked him! Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing, and much worse, that Black people face every day. To compare the suspicion a white teacher experienced when trying to teach a Black history course to this kind of experience doesn't reflect the lived realities of Blacks and whites in this country"
Mr. O'Reilly never expected this and he ended up being at a loss for words. And just as I finished my remarks, I was told time was up!
As the show ended, I shook Mr. O'Reilly's hand and said " I really enjoyed this, I hope I will be invited back to continue his conversation"
I never was.
And now that Mr O'Reilly is off the air, I guess I never will
Friday, April 7, 2017
I live down the block from Saint Anthony's. I have nephews who went to there, it was not only a school that produced great basketball teams. It was a good that produce outstanding, caring, compassionate students who went on to live outstanding lives. It is also the Catholic School with the highest percentage of Black and Latino students. Bob Hurley could have gone anywhere, but he stayed at Saint Anthony's the school he loved, and the school that loved him. It was the basketball power house without it's own basketball court at it's school. If you went to Saint Anthony's you had street respect and academic respect.
I grew up at the outside city basketball courts between Saint Anthon.ey's and the police station. What really happened in my local opinion is gentrification killed Saint Anthony's. When I grew up Downtown Jersey City was blue collar and poor. It was not unusual to see abandoned houses and factories. Families who could afford to keep their children out of the public schools did. The truth is those public schools were pretty good places for a kid to grow and learn as well. I went to Ferris High School, and we were always glade that Saint Anthony's was not on our schedule. Gentrification displaced many Latino, Black, and poor White families. The wealthy, the connected, and the powerful moved in, and blue collar working families moved out. Everything changed, and immigrant communities were lost. Downtown Jersey City stopped being my Jersey City decades ago. We lose some of our humanity and sense of who we are when gentrification comes knocking.
When I was growing up in Brooklyn in the 50's and 60's, the most powerful force uniting Catholics, Jews and Protestants, at least among boys, was the game of basketball. By the time you were 9 or 10, you knew this was a game that the people around you played better than anyone else in the country because the skills were transmitted with religious devotion in schoolyards, community centers, schools, and gyms attached to churches and synagogues.. Whether the players were Black, Jewish Irish, Italian or Puerto Rican, they were coached well, pushed to the highest levels of excellence by fierce early competition, and inspired by great players who were school and neighborhood legends.
As an aspiring player, and someone immersed in the legends of "The City Game" I followed every high school, college and professional star to come out of New York City and the New York Metropolitan area. And I was totally ecumenical in my fandom! Even though I was a Jewish public school kid, I rooted for all the great players coming out of New York City Catholic High Schools. By the time I was in college in the mid sixties, I knew as much about schools like Rice, Tollentine, Bishop Loughlin, All Hallows and Holy Cross as I did about public school powerhouses like Clinton, Columbus, Boys High and Erasmus.
Which is why when inner city Catholic High Schools that had been exemplars of the best of NY Metoropolitan area Basketball started closing, I felt I was losing a piece of my youth. First Rice, then Tollentine, then Lasalle, then Bishop Ford and now, across the river, St. Anthony's of Jersey City, where the great Bobby Hurley Sr. coached for more than 25 years.
These schools were all places where working class kids Black, White and Latino, found an anchor, a skill, great coaches and mentors and an opportunity to show their skills to the neighborhood the city, and in some cases, the country and the world. And these schools helped kids who were not basketball players do some of the same things through academics
I know nothing stays the same and change is inevitable, but I can't help feel that what these schools provided to young people still is needed, but is increasingly hard to find in our gentrifying cities. I know this, with these school closings, New York metropolitan area basketball has lost much of its dynamism, and quite possibly, some of its soul
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
As long as Carl Paladino remains on the Buffalo School Board, the State Education Commissioner and the Regents will be so tainted by complicity with racism that their positions other issues will be compromised
Imagine what it must be like to be a student attending Buffalo schools and know that a key member of the Buffalo School Board, arguably the most powerful person in Western New York, organized a rally where White Supremacists were welcome and the Confederate Flag was displayed
The majority of the Buffalo School Board, thinking of the well being of those children, has called on Commissioner Elia and the Regents to remove Mr Paladino from the Board. That they have thus far failed to do so shows an astonishing lack of political courage.,
Saturday, April 1, 2017
The idea that third graders in New York State have to take 6 days of tests, and can spend up to 5 hours each day on each test (the tests are now untimed), is so appalling as to defy words. Who is OK with that? To me, that sounds like child abuse. Every politician, Regents member, superintendent, principal, and teacher who participates in this yearly ritual of torture needs to take a good look in the mirror. What kind of world are we creating for our children by subjecting them to this. When I was in school, the reading and math tests were two days, at most, and lasted less than two hours. And we did pretty well for ourselves. Maybe that's what education policy makers are worried about. Politicians don't want young people asking too many questions, they way we did in the Sixties, while they enrich themselves and their wealthy contributors.