My new column at Salon: on racism, privilege talk, and schools

I’m happy to announce that today I begin a new gig as a columnist at Salon. I’ll be writing a bimonthly (or is it biweekly: I can never get that one straight) column on the kinds of things I write about here. Here’s my first column, on racism, privilege talk, and schools.

Facebook can be a weird place on Martin Luther King Day. Some of my friends post famous passages from MLK’s speeches. Others post statistics on racial inequality. Still others, mostly white parents, post photographs of their children assembled in auditoriums and schoolyards. These are always hopeful images, the next generation stirring toward interracial harmony. Except for one thing: nearly everyone in the photos is … white.

In her public school this year, my first-grade daughter learned that Daisy Bates helped integrate the Little Rock schools. She knows that Ella Baker, someone I’d never heard of till I went to college, was part of the civil rights movement. Meanwhile, her school has a combined black and Latino population of 15 percent, down from nearly 30 percent just seven years ago.

In school, white children are taught to be conscious of race and racism in a way I never was when I was as a kid in the 1970s. Yet they go to schools that are in some respects more segregated now than they were in the 1970s.

Read on here.

And if you have ideas for columns—stories that aren’t being reported, authors who are not being interviewed or reviewed, topics that need to be addressed—please don’t hesitate to email me at I’m always looking for material.


  1. s. wallerstein March 8, 2015 at 9:31 am | #

    I don’t think the illusion of having the schools doing the work of creating a more equal society is as exclusively American as your article suggests.

    Here in Chile, as you know, there was a huge student protest movement in 2011, which not only demanded free quality education for everyone, including university education, but also questioned the incredible class/income/wealth inequalities in Chilean society demanding radical reforms or in some cases, revolutionary change.

    Michelle Bachelet was elected president in 2013, promising to carry out some of the student demands. In the practice, however, their demands for a more equal society in class/income/wealth terms have been reduced by the Bachelet government to certain positive and progressive, but insufficient reforms of the educational system including some integration of students from low income backgrounds with those from higher income backgrounds in the classroom. with the implicit and at times explicit suggestion that education will “solve” Chile’s incredible class, income and wealth inequalities (class is not only a question of money).

  2. Eduardo Flores March 8, 2015 at 11:28 am | #

    Mr. Robin,
    I do not believe there will be changes until minorities consistently vote.
    Folks can “beg” for better quality schools or better opportunities. But I doubt anything will change because the policy-makers in the position to change things are the same people who are racist and creating inequalities.
    -Eduardo Flores

  3. David March 8, 2015 at 12:31 pm | #

    Congratulations Corey on your newest assignment. You will reach a broader audience now with your well-tempered, but incisive articles. I look forward to following them and your personal growth as an intellectual.

  4. jonnybutter March 8, 2015 at 12:37 pm | #

    In school, white children are taught to be conscious of race and racism in a way I never was when I was as a kid in the 1970s.

    This dodge also takes the form of politicians exploiting racial anxiety but then hotly denying their personal racism (the ‘tell’ for me is that they all tend to use for this the same cliche about not having a ‘racist bone’ in their bodies, whatever the fck that means). Aside from the fact that exploiting racial anxiety when you know better is, in a sense, worse than sincere racism, it’s a huge dodge because it treats racism as if it were something unspeakable and rare and strictly personal. The fact is that racism and bigotry are about as rare in the world as hydrogen, and pretending they are unspeakably aberrant is just about avoiding dealing with them.

    Example # n+1 that liberal identity politics can be, and often is, incredibly feckless.

  5. jonnybutter March 8, 2015 at 1:11 pm | #


    A class consciousness manifestation of this is the fact that in the US, even the term ‘Middle Class‘ isn’t about class! It’s about personal ‘choice’ and identity. “Sure, I am worth $3 billion, but look at my uniform! Blue jeans! And not only denim, but also that most aggressively prole-signifying garment, the baseball cap! See? I’m a baseball cap/ponytail-through baseball cap kind of guy/gal!”

  6. Rhys William Roark March 8, 2015 at 2:35 pm | #


    On bimonthly v. biweekly:

    Reflecting on my youth reading lots of comic books and my older self reading other things and noting their publication schedules, both on the bottom of front page and in any editorial comments, my understanding is this:

    bimonthly: every other month (remember one notable instance of this was in reading an issue of Detective Comics in the mid-to-late 70s where readers were complaining of its switching to a bimonthly schedule over the eight times a year one: What!?!?!? You’re going to issue this just SIX TIMES A YEAR!?!?!?

    biweekly: every other week, AKA: SEMI-monthly.

    My sense is that the publishing world has this pretty fixed (and my guiding sense since childhood thanks to all those comic books), even though it is the case that the definitions can change elsewhere, so bimonthly is taken as biweekly and biweekly means semiweekly: (hate it myself)

    My intuition: Salon (congrats! read this daily!) is asking you to write something for every other week (biweekly or semimonthly) rather than every other month (bimonthly).

    Feel free to correct this


  7. Branden Robinson March 8, 2015 at 7:24 pm | #

    I came here to say what Mr. Roark(e) did, so I can only echo his comments. Does that make me Hervé Villechaize?

    Anyway, it becomes clear if you think about it mathematically.

    Events that recur regularly are said to occur “periodically”. The “-ally” is the key.

    Take off the “-ally” and you have the length of the period.

    Yearly, or “per annum”? Annually.

    Monthly? Once per month.

    Now let’s drag in some Latin.

    What’s a semiweek? Half a week. Thus, semiweekly. Once every half-week.

    What’s a biweek? Two weeks. Thus, biweekly. Once every two weeks.

    “Semiweekly” and “biweekly” follow along the same pattern.

    Good article and wonderful news about your new gig. Congratulations!


    • Rhys William Roark March 11, 2015 at 11:12 pm | #

      Just saw this.

      Perhaps if we have a consensus on the scheduling issue, we can say “IT”S PLAIN!, IT’S PLAIN!”.

      Interestingly, I did receive some fun ribbing on this back when I was in middle to high school when Fantasy Island was on . . . people asking me where my white tuxedoed, little person companion is.

      It didn’t help that, at the time, my father actually worked for Chrysler (remembering the Ricardo Montalban commercials for the company) and my mother drove this tank of a Cordoba. And no, it didn’t have that damn “rich Corinthian leather “. . .

  8. xenon2 March 8, 2015 at 8:43 pm | #

    ‘Of the 5,103 students offered placement in eight specialized high schools, 5 percent were black and 7 percent were Hispanic, the same as last year, while 52 percent were Asian and 28 percent were white, the city said as more than 70,000 eighth-graders learned about their high school acceptances. At Stuyvesant High School, historically the hardest to get into, black students earned 10 of the 953 seats.’ March 5, 2015 nyt

    Poverty, frequent moves, more inexperienced teachers, less read to as babies, more reasons to drop out—you name it—-this is the reason.
    Why don’t we pay are teachers as much as doctors, engineers, lawyers?

  9. Anonymous March 9, 2015 at 1:33 am | #

    Dear Professor Robin,

    Wonderful article and congratulations. I am curious how this theme connects with another discussion I have been seeing on the internet lately–it was reported on by Josh Barro I think; one in which quite affluent people, in the typical case white professional families where both parents work, stretch their resources to the maximum in order to afford homes in “good” public school districts. As a result, they feel oppressed when asked to pay more taxes and complain that they are not really affluent at all, despite earning very large salaries. What I frequently suspect in these stories is an effort to get kids into a school district with a substantial white majority; that only certain demographic arrangements will be acceptable these people. The story reported by Barro is ostensibly about class aspirations, but I wonder to what degree race is involved.

  10. RN who likes to read about political economy March 9, 2015 at 2:10 pm | #

    Dear Corey, I have been reading your blog for a few years now and I’m also a fan of your book “Fear…” but haven’t commented before. Wanted to say thank you for addressing this issue in your first Salon piece. In reaction I reread your post from 2012 about why teachers are so hated (which I feel was dead on!) along with much of the comment stream. I want to share with you this link as I feel considering your areas of expertise I would love to read some of your thoughts if you had the time. I used to be a teacher in a public high school in Queens and am now a parent and an RN. I have been following the education reform debates pretty closely and, it seems, like you, follow the opinions of Diane Ravitch with great respect. What fascinates me are the issues you’ll see highlighted in the linked article: the labor issues combined with the strategy of market liberalization, how it all ties into issues of opportunity and privilege and so on. I imagine you’ve been following what is going on with the mayoral election in Chicago at the moment, and also what is going on with Cuomo and education currently in NY: both democrats, and both, it appears to me at least, closely allied to the President. And to address the previous comment by anonymous above, as a parent I am currently in the process of doing some voluntary segregation (relocation of school district) for the sake of my children’s education, however at present I live in upstate NY in an area where race is not an issue. I can assure him that socioeconomics is the issue for us. The funding of public schools is full of inequities in our current system. As ambivalent as I may be about these things we are basing our choice of public school on things like test scores and placement rates to four year colleges. Here’s that link and thank you again for your blog!

    • Corey Robin March 9, 2015 at 2:29 pm | #

      Hi, RN. Thanks for your comment and your kind words. Your comment reminds me of something that’s important to emphasize: while the question of racial segregation gets all the attention, it’s scaffolded onto a massive edifice of inequality that need not involve race at all. Whenever you have massive differentials like the ones you describe, people are going to to self-select and self-segregate in order to better their children’s lives. The problem is systemic, not individual and not only racial.

  11. Charlie Huisken March 9, 2015 at 2:13 pm | #

    I tried and failed to introduce the word “fortnightly” to describe to customers ka periodical that was published every two weeks when I co-operated a bookstore (This ain’t The Rosedale Library) with a magazine rack.
    Customers looked at me with that glazed over stare.

  12. Some guy March 10, 2015 at 9:34 am | #

    Corey, as long as you are on the subject of racism and schools, I wonder if you have any thoughts about this…

  13. thom March 10, 2015 at 1:20 pm | #

    fortnightly sounds like a damned good word. Maybe flashcards?

  14. gstally March 23, 2015 at 5:49 am | #

    My dad burned this song into my mind. For him it was college. I think it captures a time of lost identity where you had a generation’s dysphoria, such as the beats (or beatniks to some) amongst others (such as those forerunners to our contemporary transgender or rather “a gender nonconforming entity” like Camille Paglia), specifically caused due to the collapse of the black/white constitutionally mandated dichotomy. I say this simply because we Americans take up our constitution in an almost dogmatic fashion. Or, in other terms, we Americans often fall back to our constitution, our law, for moral guidance. The constitution, and the law from which springs, is not merely a formality to much of America but a divine entity. I have even heard of an instance, though as I understand not wide spread in the least, of a cult where men would pray to our dead president Lincoln! Americans often, or at least in my direct experience, in regards to moral issues fall back on to a constitutionally, or rather legally, backed definition of right and wrong as if it was a safeguard for transcendent morality.

    To give a more contemporary and personal experience I was discussing with a friend some problems with the conception of originality via the historical relativism present in the legal definition of plagiarism. I tried to point out that if Shakespeare had written many of his plays today, drawing on (for him) contemporary works along the normative styles of his day, he would likely have made himself open to a lawsuit. My friend was outraged by my suggestion. Not that he had an issue with the facts of my argument per say (which was simply that how a society comes to understand plagiarism and originality in art and then define and enforce it accordingly is drastically impacted by it’s prevailing, and changing, norms embodied by the law) but that The Bard, an artist of artists, would be a plagiarist by our most basic standards of plagiarism because he’s just that awesome. I tried to defend my love and respect of Shakespeare’s exquisite talent to no avail so suggested a different example of what I was speaking of and shifted the conversation on to Tarantino. I pointed out that any appropriated translation, such as Paradise Lost, was technically, by our legal standards, “plagiarized” yet still can be considered an independent work of art such as the marvelous film Reservoir Dogs:
    Little did I realize he was an even bigger Tarantino fan than he was of Shakespeare. It didn’t go well. I really want to emphasize I’m like little bo peep in real life.

    In short I think the 60s-70s revolution was caused by the collapse of segregation. The legal end of White identity was the legal end of Black identity which was a big deal to the American psyche (I believe) than people are willing to admit and it send ripples of secondary cultural effects that we are still coming to grips with.

    Crazy thought, but it’s out there now.

    • gstally March 23, 2015 at 5:55 am | #

      “I pointed out that any appropriated translation, such as Paradise Lost, was technically, by our legal standards, “plagiarized” yet still can be considered an independent work of art such as the marvelous film Reservoir Dogs”

      That is to say, the work of translating a film not just into another language, but another culture as well, is part of unique genre that can be considered an independent, and quite enjoyable, work of art, so long as we all recognize where everything came from.

    • gstally March 23, 2015 at 7:10 am | #

      To clarify, I’m not saying that desegregation and it’s resulting questioning of the authority of traditional racial identities (yeah I get the whole perpetuation of constitutionally enforced racial lines via affirmative action, but, while I acknowledge it sustains a heavy “ghost” of racial class it does not lend the weight of the whole US courts, gov, & military authority to its maintenance) created transgendered individuals free love, etc. I am saying it weakened generally traditional identities & bonds in ways that if desegregation/civil rights movement hadn’t have occurred the 60s cultural revolution wouldn’t have resulted from it either.

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