Education

Race/Off

October 10, 2017

Walter Reed Middle School

In the 1997 film Face/Off, Cage and Travolta swap faces. Welcome to L.A. 2017, where parents swap races.

Folks often ask me how I came to attend an all-black high school. Alexander Hamilton High (“Hami”) was supposed to draw evenly from L.A.’s white/Jewish Westside, and the area east of Robertson Boulevard (the proverbial “tracks”), which, at the time (the early ’80s), was predominantly black. The idea being that you’d get 50 percent kids from the “bad” side of Robertson, and 50 percent from the “good.” The problem was, two whiter public high schools were nearby: Beverly High (in Beverly Hills) and University High (in Brentwood). If Westside parents could “finesse” their address—using daddy’s office building, or grannie’s house—they could qualify to send their kids to Beverly or University, thus avoiding Hami without having to shell out for an expensive private school. As a result, Hami ended up being heavily imbalanced (about 85 percent black). Didn’t matter much to me, but to a lot of the kids I grew up with (and their parents), Hami was a “black hole” to be avoided at all costs.

In 1984, L.A. decided to crack down on the address falsifiers. Dozens of kids, all white, mostly Jewish, found themselves forcibly “resettled to the east.” I found this umsiedlung somewhat funny. Here were kids I hadn’t seen since elementary school, looking bewildered and a little scared as they found themselves adrift in a sea of shvartzers. But it didn’t take long for a natural order to arise. The small minority of newly arrived “deportees” took over the student government, the theater program, and the school paper. The parents of the resettled poured money into the school’s emaciated coffer. The food in the cafeteria improved, extra security guards were hired, and the auditorium finally got a decent sound system. The Westside parents were obsessively concerned about their kids’ education, something I couldn’t say about some of the black parents. Fund-raisers were held, corporate donations were solicited, and the resulting improvements benefited everyone, including the black students.

A year later, Hami became L.A.’s designated musical-theater magnet school, to ensure that in the future, white kids would arrive more voluntarily. See, back then, the white kids were wanted. It was understood that they brought good things with them. And no one was afraid to admit it.

A lot can change in three decades. Today, the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) is being crushed under the weight of a beast called PHBAO (pronounced “fuh-bow”). PHBAO stands for “Predominantly Hispanic, Black, Asian, or Other,” and the point of the program is to prevent LAUSD schools from having a population of white kids greater than 30 percent of the entire student body (for the sake of this piece, I’m counting Jewish kids as white, because the LAUSD does). If an LAUSD school has even one white student over the 30 percent limit, teachers are pulled and sent to PHBAO schools, programs are eliminated, and class sizes are increased.

“These are the rocket scientists in charge of education here in L.A. ”

Most Americans (and probably most Angelenos) were unaware of PHBAO until earlier this year, when the LAUSD initiated another race-based aktion: Nine schools were robbed of their PHBAO status because they had dared to creep above that 30 percent white-kids quota. Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood is one of those schools. With 1,665 students (47 percent Hispanic), the LAUSD discovered that this year Walter Reed had increased its white population to 38 percent (in raw numbers, there were 50 white kids too many). So goodbye money, supplies, and teachers, and hello increased class sizes!

Needless to say, to the parents and staff of Walter Reed, this “fuh-bow” was totally FUBAR. Fox News and Breitbart covered the initial story, but before the week was over, the conservative pundits had packed up and moved on. Which is a shame, because they missed the best part of the story.

North Hollywood sits in California’s 29th Congressional District. CA 29 is solidly Democrat. Hispanics outnumber whites in terms of the district’s population, but whites are still the largest voting bloc. And registered Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans. So how did the good liberal folks who have a stake in Walter Reed Middle School respond to the prospect of losing that PHBAO money?

Poorly.

The white parents blamed the Mexicans for “pretending” to be white! Seriously. White parents scolded Mexican parents for listing their kids as white when enrolling them. As reported by L.A. School Report (a nonpartisan news site devoted to covering L.A. school-related issues):

Walter Reed’s principal, Jeanne Gamba, first suspected something could be wrong with the reported racial mix at her school when she was holding a parent conference with a mother who had a Latino surname. The mother had a Spanish translator provided by the district. Yet the mother was identified as white.

It’s difficult not to laugh at the irony here. As reported by L.A. School Report, several Jewish parents who identify as white criticized Mexican parents for doing the same. “Oy gevalt, only we get to be racial chameleons! Know your place, you meshugenah beaners!”

The Mexican parents fought back, blaming (wait for it…) Trump for their race-shifting. They argued that Mexican families have no choice but to identify as white in order to escape the president’s upcoming Nazi-style racist roundups of immigrants. The absolute insanity of this claim is breathtaking. If the Mexican parents are right, if “Trump Nazis” ever come to Walter Reed Middle School to round up students who might be illegal, will they ignore obviously Latino students just because their parents checked the “white” box on the enrollment form? “Hmm…the kid’s name is José Cienfuegos “Flaco” Rodriguez, his skin’s brown, and he only speaks Spanish. Round him up. Wait, hold on! Let him go! His mom checked the ‘white’ box.”

Absurd as it may sound, many Walter Reed parents were swayed by this argument. According to Erica Fox, a self-described “white Jewish mom,” “In this era of Donald Trump and the fear that he has caused, I know there are families afraid of his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric and I worry that the data will not be accurate during his administration.”

Having agreed to blame Trump instead of, you know, batshit-insane leftist racial quotas, the comedy quickly skyrocketed from Benny Hill-level absurdity to Spike Milligan-style surrealism. A bunch of white parents decided to strategically falsify the racial description of their children in order to solve the “fifty white kids over the limit” problem:

“I know I can find some minority designation in my family heritage, I will be changing my status as soon as I can,” said Reed parent Alexis Prescott, in tears while speaking at a meeting with district officials who explained that the school could lose five teachers and a counselor and increase class sizes from 34 to 39 students. “People don’t realize how this can affect their schools, and we have to let everyone know. This is my worst nightmare.”

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