“I prithee, take thy fingers from my throat.” — Hamlet
Two years ago, Maud Maron, school parent, community activist, former president of Manhattan’s largest school district, and defense attorney at The Legal Aid Society, wrote an Op-Ed piece questioning the orthodoxy that people are defined by “race.”
I am a mom, a public defender, an elected public-school council member and a City Council candidate. But at a city Department of Education anti-bias training, I was instructed to refer to myself as a “white woman” — as if my whole life reduces to my race.
Those who oppose this ideology are shunned and humiliated, even as it does nothing to actually improve our broken schools.
Though facing severe budget cuts, the DOE has spent more than $6 million for the training, which defines qualities such as “worship of the written word,” “individualism” and “objectivity” as “white-supremacy culture.”
The administration, and many local politicians, buy into a benign-sounding but chilling doctrine called anti-racism, which insists on defining everyone by race, invites discrimination and divides all thought and behavior along a racial axis.
Many of the theories trace to “White Fragility,” a small-minded book which relentlessly insists all white people are racist and need to think about race all the time. Conveniently for its author, who charges $6,000 an hour to discuss this conundrum, there is no way to fix the situation … except with more of her expensive workshops.
Maron’s piece ended with a plea that we stop going at each other’s throats, see one another – even kids – as people, and work together for “the shared goal of integrated, quality schools.”
I want more integrated schools, regardless of whether integration is an academic booster. Diverse classrooms have beautiful gifts to bestow, wholly separate from the crude metric of increased test scores. But we have to think through all this with nuance, not by vilifying some parents or setting parents against each other.
We all want a well-integrated, high-quality public-school system. Parents have the right to demand an education that prepares their children to meet or exceed grade-level expectations, which in America often lag other countries.
Those who yell the loudest about integration should stop the accusations against those who think or speak differently than they do about the shared goal of integrated, quality schools — and find ways to work together.
A “disgusting racist perspective” howled the LAS pooh-bahs. They re-tweeted the response issued by the caucus of black attorneys which denounced Maron “as the racist that she is.” According to the tweet, she’s “a classic example of what 21st century racism looks like.” Her critique of the anti-racist ideology “tells true racial advocates all they need to know: she’s racist and wants the school system. . . to remain unequal.”
“We know for a fact,” the tweet went on, “that Maron’s commitment to zealous representation of poor people of color is questionable at best” and she “clearly has no regard” for them. The tweet proclaimed that one “cannot oppose anti-racism and effectively represent Black and Brown people,” and concluded that Maron “has no business having a career in public defense, and we’re ashamed that she works for the Legal Aid Society.”
(The caucus had earlier instigated a wholesale investigation into Maron’s work at LAS, which the head of the criminal practice told her would be leaked to the press. But since the investigation totally cleared Maron of unzealous representation, the caucus apparently thought better of it).
LAS followed up its re-tweet with its own public statement, accusing Maron of denying “the existence of structural and institutional racism,” and ascribing to her the belief that “by the mere nature of working in public interest and being a public defender you get a pass at looking at your privilege, your role in social dominance and white supremacy.”
“This racist perspective,” continued LAS, “is disgusting and results in Black and Brown people being harmed by individuals in public interest roles.” Maron has revealed that she is “not only complicit in this system of oppression, but seeks to gaslight communities of color who are vocally demanding change in this country.”
(“Gaslight,” according to Google, means “an attempt to destroy another person’s reality,” i.e., disagree with someone’s cherished beliefs.)
LAS concluded with a self-flagellating homily on “white supremacy,” announcing that “power and privilege has [sic] been granted merely because we are white.” The work of white public defenders goes for naught, it declared, until we’ve purged white supremacy not only from society and the workplace, but “from within our hearts and minds.” Any questioning of this mission “is the exact definition of white fragility.”
Therefore, said LAS, it is committed to “bravely” having “conversations” and “critical dialogue and discourse” in the workplace about racism and other evils.
When your employer publicly endorses a statement that you have no business working there, you can reasonably infer that you’re fired. And if the basis is your white fragility, it’s a good bet that race has something to do with it.
Maron filed a Title VII lawsuit claiming that she had been constructively discharged based on racial discrimination, and that LAS had created a hostile work environment. The federal District Court decision came down last week.
Spoiler alert: the first 20 pages (likely written by the summer intern) reasonably set out the law and facts. The rest consists of acrobatics, evidently by a different author, to find for LAS.
The decision rejects LAS’s more embarrassing arguments, such as that Title VII doesn’t prohibit racial discrimination against whites. Quoting Judge Constance Baker Motley, whom no one would accuse of white fragility, the decision affirms that “a Title VII case is a Title VII case on the same terms for plaintiffs of all races.”
The decision “harbors doubts” about LAS’s defense that it’s not liable for the caucus’s denunciation of Maron just because LAS re-tweeted it and followed up with an enthusiastic endorsement. The decision finds no need to decide, since Maron was going to lose anyway.
But even the most result-oriented court couldn’t swallow LAS’s claim that it went after Maron merely because of her political views and not because of her race. Surely LAS would harass anyone who goes around gaslighting communities of color.
Pull the other one, said the court:
“Given [LAS’s] avowed disappointment that [Maron] was a white person who failed to accept that her race and job title obligated her to adhere to their understanding of anti-racism – as expressed in explicit racial lines in their statements – the Court concludes that [Maron] has adequately alleged that they were motivated, at least in part, by her race.”
So why did Maron lose? Because, according to the court, almost nothing short of a gulag meets the Title VII definition of a hostile work environment. Applying the well-worn “it’s not as bad as” analysis, the court recites examples of hostile work environments, such as where a transgender employee is subjected to “inappropriate remarks about his genitalia,” or the employer holds “a town-hall type meeting to discuss the employee’s HIV-positive status.” The court is “hard-pressed” to find anything like that from LAS.
After all, opines the court:
“Title VII “does not prohibit employers from maintaining nasty, unpleasant workplaces, or even ones that are unpleasant for reasons that are due to a protected characteristic.” (italics added).
(We thought that was exactly what Title VII prohibits, but what do we know?)
The decision suggests that “work environment” means only the physical office, a surprising notion in this era of working remotely. But according to the court, it “unavoidably reduces the degree of hostility” that Maron was on sabbatical and “not actually present” in the office while LAS was publicly denouncing her as the cause of racial oppression.
Nor was Maron effectively terminated just because LAS announced that she had no business working there. The court handily reasons that since the LAS collective bargaining agreement guarantees that employees on sabbatical can return, “this fact alone compels the dismissal of her constructive discharge claim.”
Bottom line: Maron asked for it by “injecting herself” into a public discourse involving race. LAS, on the other hand, was simply announcing its commitment to “bravely” having “conversations” about racism, transphobia, etc.
We know all about these types of “conversations.”
So Maron loses and LAS wins, but at what cost? LAS could have been a place where people of all kinds come together to uphold the rights of the accused, the imprisoned, and others who need a lawyer but can’t afford one. It’s not a denial of racism to recognize that the problems are far more complex and not solved by setting people at each other’s throats.
The notion that a good cause justifies persecuting those who disagree is the root of centuries of misery, from the burning and beheading of heretics to the excesses of liberation movements hijacked by extremists. The notion of good races and bad races should have been buried with a stake through its heart after the Holocaust. People are individuals for better or worse. And, as the comedian said, “Buttholes come in all colors.”
Excellent as usual.
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The Times, today, reports that staff are fleeing NY public defender offices, including LAS. The reason, the Times says, is low pay. But as a place to work for someone who wants to defend the accused . . . . Hey, are you allowed to represent white indigent folks who won’t admit that they aren’t really facing criminal charges because they’re white and only people of color get arrested?
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I was curious about the decision in this case, searched around, and thus found your excellent blog.
Thanks for this article and all the others you have penned.