Maybe it’s Maybelline

The meaning of democracy lies in American values. From a young age we were taught the romanticized version of American history, which most times started with the Boston Tea Party, moved into the American Revolution, and then the mention of, arguably America’s favorite founding father, good ‘ole Benjamin Franklin. Now, of course, it would be preposterous to talk about Benjamin Franklin without talking about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is where I believe ideas of democracy took center stage.

Democracy was framed as the rights of the people (those that were not considered three-fifths of a person) to exercise their freedom in the governing of society. Democracy thus became fundamentally tied to Americanism and to this day I don’t know of any other country that discusses democracy the same way America does. However, tied up in ideas of democracy were questions such as: Who’s American? Who’s American enough to be considered American? and lastly, Who gets to decide who’s American and American enough? One of the most interesting ways in which we saw those questions play out is through the practice of voting and to vote in America you had (and still have) to be a citizen. Well, there we have it! Connected to ideas of democracy and Americanism was citizenship. Therefore, in an almost ironic-but-not-really-ironic way “we the people” was sort of exclusionary, right? “We the people” were only considered a part of “the people” if they were citizens and citizenship was tied to whiteness.

Essentially my point in discussing the historical roots of the use/meaning of democracy is to show that although the concept of democracy in and of itself isn’t complicated, it’s meaning is. I personally, especially with all that has been going on with the injustices that have occurred and the little change that has been made, question whether democracy is just an illusion. Sometimes it feels as if we the people have the power, but it’s as if that power almost always disappears whenever we try to use it. I guess, I just don’t know what democracy means. Maybe my inability to come up with a firm definition of democracy is a reflection of the veil of naivety gradually being lifted from over my face or maybe it’s Maybelline. 🙂

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

The event hosted by Cathy Davidson and her colleagues Carla Shedd and Tressie McMillan Cottom was truly invigorating. Excellent points were made throughout the program but some of my favorite points were centered around ideas of collectivism and community. I believe it was Professor Cottem who stated, in regards to higher education that, “It only works if it works for everybody.” When I heard that quote it reminded me very much of another quote by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer who stated, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” But I think the reason why that quote resonated with me was not only because it touched on the need for collectivism but it also pointed to the fact that some private troubles are indeed public issues. The issue of certain schools, especially schools located in urban areas and concentrated with minoritized students, being inadequately funded is a public issue that mimics the systems and structures that exist in our society. Furthermore, the reason why we have yet to have seen these inequalities fully addressed is that once again they’re viewed as private troubles as opposed to systemic issues. We have to stop placing bandaids over gunshot wounds and address the real issues that exist. Another thing that was discussed was the need for us to see schools beyond a place of learning but to view them as an outcome. An outcome, that for many young people is a means of economic mobility and a newfound possibility of a wealth of new opportunities. Professor Shedd even talked about schools not only being seen as just a place of surveillance but as a place of much more value – a place worthy of investing in. The idea of colleges also being vested in the communities they exist in is also a key part of reimagining the way we view higher-ed institutions. Imagine if colleges were open regularly for highschool students to do research when libraries were closed. Imagine if colleges had childcare programs for working moms in the community and free college prep programs for older children. Finally, imagine that there was also a mentoring program in which students were able to form positive relationships with professionals, thus encouraging them to further their education after high school and to earn a college degree. Wouldn’t that be great? Now I admit maybe some of these solutions might be a bit idealistic. I honestly believe, though, that the possibilities are endless when colleges and communities work together and are supported at the federal and state level. That is where measures such as differential funding can be implemented to create a more equitable space for minoritized students. At the end of the night, though, this program had me asking myself, “Am I doing my part? And how can I do better knowing what I know now?”