Thursday, June 16, 2011

Capitalism and Catherine Ferguson Academy

Imagine you're a Republican.

Indulge me. Just for a minute.

Imagine you're a Republican, and that there are a lot of things you Care about.

One of those things is Family Values. 1.5 kids and a split-level spouse, as a former professor of mine is fond of saying. Family Values means that marriage makes everything better. Unemployed? Get married! Pregnant? Get married! Abusive boyfriend? Get married! To him!

"The first marriage was between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden," as Rep. Steve King of Iowa once said, during the Defense of Marriage Act Congressional Hearings. More on DOMA in another post.

The Nuclear Family, according to these people, will survive the Nuclear Holocaust.

Nothing left but cockroaches and Fundamentalists.*

So in some ways I'm not surprised about what happened with Catherine Ferguson Academy.

A Detroit public high school specifically for pregnant women and young mothers, the academy has been extremely successful in sending their graduates out into the world prepared for college, careers, AND taking care of their child/ren. Students don't have to worry about daycare; their children are looked after at school while their mothers attend classes. The academy even has a working farm, where students take care of chickens and milk goats. Goats, people.

And, of course, because the school has been so successful and amazing and wonderful that every student in the past ten years has been accepted to college, it is closing tomorrow. Permanently. Because conservatives.

Apparently, it's too expensive. Which is funny, because it's a little less expensive than keeping a single mother and child on welfare for a year.

It's beginning to look like you, my Republican friend, aren't as pro-family as you claim.

Sorry. I know you're not really a Republican. But poetic license, okay?

Conservatives aren't worried about the money. Okay, maybe a little. They're always worried about the money.

They're worried that poor women will succeed with the help of your tax dollars instead of getting married and bootstrappin' it like the poor are supposed to. My ancestors did just fine, they tell you.

Not the view seen by the ancestors of the students at Catherine Ferguson.

Most of the students at Catherine Ferguson are black or mixed-race. Over ninety percent are qualified for reduced-rate or free lunches. And the majority of them are pregnant.

You'd think that any decent person would want these girls to succeed.

Perhaps the problem is that they ARE succeeding. Perhaps this is threatening to the wealthy, straight, white males that run this country. Perhaps these girls should be put on welfare where they belong, stuck in the system, so that conservatives can shrug and say, well, we tried, but look, they never get anywhere. Clearly, welfare isn't working, let's cut it.

The treatment of unwed black mothers in this country is abhorrent. In our society, the black female body is considered less-than by the dominant white paradigm--black woman have been slaves, unwilling participants in experiments (Henrietta Lacks), and uncompensated for their work. Virtuous women, we learn, are not only virgins, they are white. Black women have been construed as having less worth than objects since slavery days. No one cares about black mothers in this country because blackness is considered worthless. And, if you're unmarried, that's even worse.

For a much more articulate discussion of black motherhood as marginalized, please read the excellent blog Womanist Musings, run by Renee.

Conservatives probably think that Catherine Ferguson Academy is SOCIALISM. I'm pretty sure that the problem with conservatives is that they get so caught up in words and principles--liberty and freeeedoooommm!!!--that they won't stand for anything that disrupts the power of the free market or even hints at getting marginalized people on a more even keel.

Conservatives think that everyone has just as good a chance as everyone else. It's the myth of meritocracy.

When they win, they pat themselves on the back, convinced that they were right all along when it's really the SYSTEM of free-market capitalism that rewards the already privileged.




* sentence lifted more or less wholesale from the excellent apocolypse comedy novel Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

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