Seattle School District Takes Down Odd Definition of "Cultural Racism"

(the one that included "having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers").

Here's my earlier post about this definition on the Seattle school district's "Definitions of Racism" Web page. Here's the new version of the page, put up in response to complaints that were apparently prompted by today's op-ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Andrew Coulson (Cato) (praising school choice as the long-term solution for such problems). Here's Coulson's blog post (Cato@Liberty) on the subject.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Seattle School District Takes Down Odd Definition of "Cultural Racism"
  2. Seattle Public Schools' Web Site Says Individualism is a Form of "Cultural Racism":
Hans Bader (mail):
Here's my blog post on the subject:

The Seattle school district, the largest school system in Washington State, has a nasty, insane message for budding entrepreneurs, civil libertarians, and free market conservatives: your belief in individual rights or individual initiative brands you as a racist.

The Seattle Public Schools formally define individualism as a form of "cultural racism," declaring that "cultural racism" includes "emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology."

On their web site, they also define racism to include stereotypically white traits such as "future time orientation," which is a pejorative word used among African-American studies professors for studying and "acting white" to reap future advancement, rather than devoting one's energy to being hip or cool and enjoying the moment.

It is racist for the Seattle schools to stereotype achievement as a "white" characteristic. Plenty of non-whites study and exercise self-discipline. No school system should disparage student studying and achievement. That is at odds with a school system's basic educational mission.

The Seattle schools also declare "equality" of treatment to be a form of racially-biased assimilation, favoring instead affirmative action in the form of "unequal treatment for those who have been disadvantaged over time," to give historically oppressed groups "special programs and benefits."

The "equality" they deride -- the notion that "people who are the same in those respects relevant to how they are treated in those circumstances should receive the same treatment" -- is the same notion of equal treatment whose infringement is the basis for a disparate-treatment discrimination lawsuit under the federal civil rights laws, under U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

In an apparent conflict with federal law, the Seattle schools deny that whites can be the victims of racism. They define racism as limited to acts against groups that have "little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites)."

By contrast, federal appeals courts routinely rule against institutions that fire or harass white employees, recognizing that whites can indeed be victims of racism. See, e.g., Bowen v. Missouri Department of Social Services (2002) (racial harassment of white employee by black co-worker); Taxman v. Board of Education (1996) (termination of white teacher instead of black teacher). And the Supreme Court held that racial discrimination against whites by local governments is generally illegal in City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. (1989). Affirmative action can't be used to justify terminating or harassing an employee.

The Seattle schools' policy, which appears to condone unlawful racial discrimination and retaliation against whites, is the product of its Equity and Race Relations department, whose director, Caprice Hollins, a multicultural "educator," was selected with the approval of representatives of the Seattle Education Association (the local teacher's union), the NAACP, and the Urban League.

Thanks to people like Hollins, the Seattle schools will be able to spend their time teaching (and practicing) racism, rather than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The Supreme Court is currently considering a challenge to the Seattle schools' policy of assigning pupils to schools based on their race, in the case of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. The Seattle schools' racist web site should be brought to the Supreme Court's attention, since it speaks volumes about the school system's discriminatory purpose, and a discriminatory purpose invalidates even an otherwise permissible affirmative action policy under the Supreme Court's 1996 decision in Shaw v. Hunt.

(Links to case cited above at
6.1.2006 2:38pm
Old Guest:
It's odd that an Op/Ed in the paper should have been necessary to get the school board to take down this nutty web site.

Lots of people e-mailed school board members and Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporters about it, but the school board members didn't care, even though they knew perfectly well it was angering many denizens of the web, and the liberal newspaper reporters (even those whose beat was education) swept the story under the rug, since it didn't fit their ideological agenda.

Apparently, Op/Ed pages are often less ideologically biased than the "news" section.
6.1.2006 2:43pm
The new web site contains no longer attacks individualism as being racist, but it contains the same sort of attacks on racial equality.

Now it attacks what it calls "unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality."

Seattle was historically a rather successful example of a racially diverse melting pot.

Apparently, the nut-jobs running the Seattle schools want to reverse that.

And its rejection of colorblindness is right out of the Supreme Court's discredited segregationist decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.

Caprice Hollins, the race-baiting Seattle school employee who is responsible for the new racist web site, should be fired.
6.1.2006 2:51pm
eddie (mail):
This is off point: Any reason why the recent First Amendment decision by the Supreme Court in Garcetti vs. Ceballos seems to have been ignored by this blog?
6.1.2006 3:06pm
Caprice Hollins, it appears, is one of those people with an unassuageable grievance, who must at every opportunity get it off their chest. Pathetic, but not harmless.
6.1.2006 3:12pm
Hans Bader (mail):
Good question, Eddie.

I personally have a blog post about Garcetti v. Ceballos, which you can find at:
2006/05/scotus_free_spe.html .

But this blog doesn't seem to have discussed it yet.

Too bad, since Volokh Conspiracy contains a lot of First Amendment experts.
6.1.2006 3:13pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Caprice: what an appropriate name, since she seems to make her caprices the policies of the Seattle public school system
6.1.2006 4:01pm
TomHynes (mail):
Good point Thersites: the new statement's blanket rejection of a color blind society jumped out at me also.

I thought that "melting pot" and "color blind" were Mom and Apple Pie phrases. How can you reject the goal of a color blind society?

Considering how many people are likely to read the new statement with a critical eye, proofreading might be appropriate.

I am also looking forward to a Garcetti vs. Ceballos post.
6.1.2006 5:19pm
Michael B (mail):
Well, if they would have continued with those constituting conceptions the resulting house of cards would have been amusing at times, alternatively comic and decidedly less comic, with most episodes passing under the radar. Kubrick could have done something with this, on film, and to some extent did so.

Too though, the same governing mindset is still in power, so we don't really know if this will continue, de facto, rather than de jure and more overtly.
6.1.2006 5:20pm
Michael B (mail):
Oh, yes, thanks to Thersites. Didn't read the new material. Caprice's title should be Direktor of Ideology and Compliance.
6.1.2006 5:31pm
Derrick (mail):
The melting pot axiom, I'm all for, but the "color-blind society" has become a huge cannard. When I hear someone eloquently argue for the "sex-blind" or "attractiveness-blind" or "age-blind", I might support it. The fact is that if I walked into a room with most of the people in these comments, you would automatically realize that I was black. Now, hopefully that illicits a neutral or even positive response from you, but you will know the difference in my skin tone. Martin Luther King Jr.'s goal was to "not judge" based upon the color of one's skin not to act like the color of one's skin doesn't exist.
6.1.2006 5:35pm
Michael B (mail):
Related, L.A. Unified School Dist., news broke within the last hour or two. Eyes wide shut.
6.1.2006 5:51pm
I wonder if blacks automatically would see me as white when I walked into a room full of blacks? This is nutty thinking. Of coarse they would. We as humans have eyes. The question is would they automatically say there is a whitey one of the people of the oppressors.
6.1.2006 5:51pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
We should be thankful that the Seattle School District published what it really believes: support for the concept of Jim Crow laws, as long as white people are the victims. They are treading on dangerous territory because if white people are going to get branded as racists time and time again for nothing, then one day they might just decide to really be racists—"might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb."
6.1.2006 6:06pm
American pjs:
Writin' here from an airport bar. Methinks this particular example of peecee affirmative action gobbeledygook deserves to be memorialized in the lexicon and hereby dub any future occurence a "caprice classic." cheers.
6.1.2006 6:21pm
Jim Miller (mail) (www):
Credit where due: I believe the first person to pick this up was a Seattle area blogger, "Andrew's Dad". (As I recall, his son is in a Seattle school.)

That said, the ideas in that definition are not, alas, that unusual, especially in urban schools.
6.1.2006 9:02pm
The Voice of Reason (mail):

"I should say that assuming that only Whites can be great writers or composers is of course indeed racism; but providing a list of the greatest composers and writers that consists only of whites may be perfectly legitimate, depending on your criteria (which could be entirely fair, though not indisputable, criteria) of greatness."

While I don't necessarily agree, the point is that the general impact of posting such a list in the public square, even if fairly compiled (the latter proposition), implies to a sufficient number of persons, both within and without the majority, that the former proposition ("only Whites can be great writers or composers") is not only valid, but also sound. Such a list will be pointed to by some in the majority to demean those in the minority (i.e., it promotes overt discrimination); such a list will be interpreted by those in the minority as an official and orthodox statement by the powers-that-be, which has bearing on social reality (i.e., it increases apathy and alienation); even worse, some in the minority will believe they are incapable of becoming great composers or writers (i.e., there's deadweight loss). It is true that many in the majority and minority will simply say it is a list fairly compiled and true that many will say even if it was unfairly compiled, no "reasonable person" would care what some silly old list says. But, as you know, "the reasonable person" is a fiction. The point is that, in reality, such a posted sign will affect enough people in a predictably and measurably racial way to fairly call the social disturbance caused by its presence "racism" and the gain denied society because of its presence is sufficient to justify its removal under the harm principle. That, I think, is the argument being made, which you fail to address.

I also think the "future time-orientation" has to do with cultural identity and worldview. Some cultures find their pride and locate their identity in family history and ancestral ties. Similarly, plenty of non-European philosophy denies the future and the past by emphasizing the now. Demanding that children deny their cultural identity or organizing philosophy when they enter a school building can have obvious detrimental impact on their ability to feel comfortable and welcome and thus to learn. It also is unnecessary indoctrination, as once you go to college and start working in the real world, no one cares if you're a Buddhist or a Taoist or if you burn incense in memoriam of your grandfather's spirit. Again, I don't necessarily agree with this argument, but there it is.

Likewise, prioritizing one standard form of English has the impact of delegitimizing whatever dialect the child may have learned at home, even if that dialect is perfectly functional in the real world. This is not necessarily racial, or a call for bilingualism. Imagine you spell "color" as "colour" or "recognize" as "recognise." Given that your English is functional and your spelling is correct, there really is no reason to punish you by lowering your grades simply because you happen to have been born to British parents. If there were an influx of British students who spelled thusly and a policy of refusing to recognize their divergent usage, one would expect to see a correlation between British parentage and low grades on spelling tests. The argument is that's unfair, because in the real world, no one gives a good god damn whether you spell color as colour or recognize as recognise; everyone simply assumes you're British and leaves it at that. When dialects diverge on grammar, you have the same problem.
6.2.2006 1:32am
Bottomfish (mail):
If we take The Voice of Reason literally, then it is practically impossible to make any statement of values, or even of preferences, without antagonizing someone under a "principle of harm." The underlying premise seems to be that antagonizing some people is obnoxious but antagonizing others is not. This is the only way The Voice of Reason could have its (his? her?) way. This is in fact the unstated premise of all political correctors.
6.2.2006 6:57am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Some ways of looking at the world are more efficient than others. Or, as Voice would probably say, more efficient in one culture than in another.
That would be okay if we were willing to let the shortfall in economic progress be considered a natural result of non-future-time-orientation, or whatever the phrase is, and nobody got to complain about being shortchanged by The Man.
6.2.2006 8:51am
Caprice: what an appropriate name, since she seems to make her caprices the policies of the Seattle public school system

Yeah, but she was named after the piece of crap Chevy from the late 60s. =)
6.2.2006 12:14pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Voice of Reason,

The original text spoke of "identifying only Whites as great writers or composers," not exactly of making up supposedly-comprehensive "lists" of the "great." (I realize that it's the person you quoted who first said "list," but as I can't find the quoted material in this thread, I don't know who that was.) In any case, I would be very much surprised if the Seattle public schools so much as mentioned "great composers" in their curricula, never mind compiling lists of them. And "composed" music, with composers' names attached to it, is largely though not entirely a European tradition. Most of the world's other great musical traditions are at least partly improvisational, and what fixed elements there are (the "composed" parts) are more often than not anonymous. There can be, in other words, "great music" to which you can't attach the name of a "great composer." There's an awful lot of it, too.

A curriculum in music that threw in, say, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges or Samuel Coleridge-Taylor or Florence Price or Scott Joplin or even Duke Ellington's more "symphonic" scores by way of "ethnic balance" in a tour of the "Great Composers" would be doing the musical genius of the African diaspora a great injustice simply by focusing on stuff that was written out. That's not where the greatness is, but if you want "composers," that's the best you have.

I also think the "future time-orientation" has to do with cultural identity and worldview. Some cultures find their pride and locate their identity in family history and ancestral ties.

Right. We wouldn't want Seattle discriminating against the "worldview" of, say, the Daughters of the American Revolution, would we now?

Seriously, whence this assumption that remembering the past necessarily precludes thinking of the future? This racistly "future-oriented" society of ours perversely requires at least a couple years of history study to graduate high school. How can that be? Contrariwise, I defy you to name the society on earth in which people take the example of the lilies of the field quite literally. All peoples think towards the future, if it's only as far as the next winter or the next possible drought; all peoples plan ahead.

As for "Standard English," the difficulty with your example is that it's the work of a moment (well, a week, tops) to learn the trivial differences between US and UK spelling and grammar conventions and adjust them to the norm around you. If you are living long-term in an environment whose conventions you aren't used to, you are better off learning them and applying them.

In any case, there's a certain tension, shall we say, between the claims of the proponents of Ebonics that Black English is a separate language with its own grammatical conventions, vocabulary, and the like, and that Ebonics is completely intelligible to Standard English speakers, so that there is no need for speakers of the former to learn the latter. Someone in the debate over Ebonics in the Oakland public schools years back retorted that Black children in Oakland undoubtedly understand Standard English, since they, like all American children, are often glued to the TV; so why should they not be instructed in it?
6.2.2006 3:38pm
markm (mail):
The bottom line is, "bilinugual education", which actually turned out to not be bi-lingual at all but merely teaching in Spanish (quite different from teaching Spanish), has only achieved one thing: helping ensure the future supply of gardeners and maids.
6.2.2006 6:37pm
Old Guest:
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has finally run a news story on the Seattle schools' racist web site.

Excerpts are below:

"Friday, June 2, 2006

School district pulls Web site after examples of racism spark controversy


An outpouring of criticism forced Seattle Public Schools on Thursday to pull a Web site that viewed planning for the future, emphasizing individualism and defining standard English as examples of cultural racism.

. . .

In its place Thursday was a message . . . written by Caprice Hollins, the district's director of equity and race relations, [that] said the site wasn't intended to 'develop an 'us against them' mind-set.'

But she may have stepped into a second controversy by saying the site also wasn't intended 'to hold onto unsuccessful concepts such as melting pot or colorblind mentality.'"
6.2.2006 6:48pm
The Seattle Times still hasn't covered the controversy at all, though.

It's too politically correct to report on the controversy, although half of Washington State has heard about it from other sources.

It has no hesitation about sliming any critic of affirmative action by calling them racist (even when the critic of affirmative action is herself a minority), but when advocates of affirmative action like Caprice Hollins make bizarre statements, the Times averts its gaze and keeps silent about it.
6.2.2006 7:00pm
Hans Bader (mail):
The Post-Intelligencer, though, has a funny editorial cartoon at the Seattle school bureaucrats' expense.

It can be accessed at:

It makes the point that the school officials believe that anyone who disagrees with them is a racist.
6.2.2006 7:33pm
glangston (mail):
I wonder how the School Teacher's Retirement System is doing? Wait, that would be racist of the district to have one of those.

Time for school choice.
6.2.2006 8:30pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Coulson's defense of madrassas is clever but I am not persuaded.
6.3.2006 2:57am
Jeff Davidson (mail):
Hi -

I'm not a big fan of the image of the melting pot, based on personal experience with trying to melt things in a pot. Unless you keep stirring the pot, the scum rises to the top and whatever's on the bottom gets burned.
6.3.2006 9:26am
Tareeq (www):
Wow. Now Seattle has managed to turn google's very cache of the page into a 404 error.

Who knew the forces of anti-racism were so powerful?
6.3.2006 9:27am
Tareeq observes that the Seattle Schools have managed to thwart access to their old web page (the one equating individualism with racism and denying that minorities can be racist toward other minorities) through Google, generating a "404 error" when Google users try to access it.

Below is the text of the web page as it formerly appeared on the Seattle Schools' web site. I am including it for the benefit of Tareeq's benefit and others interested in the controversy), and to facilitate public debate about that web site, which is a matter of great public interest.

"Equity and Race Relations

Definitions of Racism

The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). The subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.

Individual Racism:
The beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can occur at both an unconscious and conscious level, and can be both active and passive. Examples include telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet, or believing in the inherent superiority of whites.

Active Racism:
Actions which have as their stated or explicit goal the maintenance of the system of racism and the oppression of those in the targeted racial groups. People who participate in active racism advocate the continued subjugation of members of the targeted groups and protection of "the rights" of members of the agent group. These goals are often supported by a belief in the inferiority of people of color and the superiority of white people, culture, and values.

Passive Racism:
Beliefs, attitudes, and actions that contribute to the maintenance of racism, without openly advocating violence or oppression. The conscious or unconscious maintenance of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that support the system of racism, racial prejudice and racial dominance.

Cultural Racism:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as "other", different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.

Institutional Racism:
The network of institutional structures, policies, and practices that create advantages and benefits for Whites, and discrimination, oppression, and disadvantages for people from targeted racial groups. The advantages created for Whites are often invisible to them, or are considered "rights" available to everyone as opposed to "privileges" awarded to only some individuals and groups.

Source: Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, 1197 eds. Adams, Bell &Griffin

A pseudobiological category that distinguishes people based on physical characteristics (e.g., skin color, body shape/size, facial features, hair texture). People of one race can vary in terms of ethnicity and culture.

A group whose members share a common history and origin, as well as commonalities in terms of factors such as nationality, religion, and cultural activities.

The way of life of a group of people including the shared values, beliefs, behaviors, family roles, social relationships, verbal and nonverbal communication styles, orientation to authority, as well as preferences and expressions (art, music, food). "What everybody knows that everybody else knows."

A dynamic process that occurs when members of one culture (culture of origin) come into contact with another culture (host/dominant culture) over a long period of time. The process involves exposure to, reaction to, and possible adoptions of aspects of the other groups culture. Adapting to the characteristics of the larger or dominant culture, while retaining some of one's unique cultural traits.

The process of giving up connections to and aspects of one's culture of origin and blending in with the host/dominant culture. Also, the wholesale adoption of the dominant culture at the expense of the original culture.

An attitude or opinion that is held in the absence of (or despite) full information. Typically it is negative in nature and based on faulty, distorted or unsubstantiated information that is over generalized and relatively in-flexible. Prejudices can be conscious or relatively unconscious.

Treatment of a group of people within a society that results in the systematic denial of equal access to civil rights, freedoms, and power within that society. It involves a devaluing and non-acceptance of the target group and can be manifested economically, politically, socially, and/or psychologically. Individuals, through their values and behavior, can collude with a system of oppression which contributes to its maintenance in a society.

"In any given circumstances, people who are the same in those respects relevant to how they are treated in those circumstances should receive the same treatment" (p. 45). Equality defined in this way, looks at the individual and the circumstances surrounding him or her. It does not focus on group differences based on categories such as race, sex, social class, and ethnicity. This view is one of assimilation because it assumes that individuals, once socialized into society, have the right "to do anything they want, to choose their own lives and not be hampered by traditional expectations and stereotypes" (Young, 1990, p. 157).

"…. deals with difference and takes into consideration the fact that this society has many groups in it who have not always been given equal treatment and/or have not had a level field on which to play. These groups have been frequently made to feel inferior to those in the mainstream and some have been oppressed. To achieve equity, according to Young (1990), "Social policy should sometimes accord special treatment to groups" (p. 158). Thus, the concept of equity provides a case for unequal treatment for those who have been disadvantaged over time. It can provide compensatory kinds of treatment, offering it in the form of special programs and benefits for those who have been discriminated against and are in need of opportunity."

Equitable Access
Equitable access provides groups of people access to resources, services and programs that would not otherwise be available to them due to disadvantages created over time resulting from many factors including marginalization, racism, discrimination, and oppression. In essence, equitable access attempts to create a level playing field between the have and have nots.

Equity and Equality Definitions came from Krause, J. K, Traini, D. J., &Mickey, B. H. (2001). Equality versus equity. In J. P. Shapiro &J. A. Stefkovick (Eds), Ethical leadership and decision making in education (76-90). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum."
6.3.2006 11:35am