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Brann-ded in Inglewood

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Inglewood High School | Photo: ATOMIC Hot Links/Flickr/Creative Commons

Don Brann, Inglewood's state-appointed school superintendent, stirred things up recently when he remarked to a reporter that extending his taxpayer-funded personal security detail provided by CHP officers was justified because, you know, violence in "present-day Inglewood" is always imminent. For the record, the mess in the district is mostly about a bad economy, poor management and plummeting public school enrollment over time. It is not about violence or fisticuffs. Brann said later that he was implying that when districts are taken over by the state, local feathers are always ruffled and tempers often flare. One can't be too careful.

What didn't get explored in all the righteous indignation that followed was an obvious racial component to Brann's remarks and in his subsequent mea culpa, a letter to the mayor and city council. In that letter he called his words "insensitive" and "unfortunate." These sorts of adjectives have become standard in apologies for racial faux pas, which are always worded to make the faux pas sound like a squabble between friends and not a reflection of socially embedded racism that permeates so much of our lives, education being only one example. Brann is white and running a district that's virtually all black and brown. I can't imagine that when he expressed wariness about Inglewood he wasn't thinking of Compton Unified, where the state takeover in the '90s stoked plenty t of drama -- let's just say that tempers definitely flared. But Compton is a different city than Inglewood, with a similar racial demographic but with a very different history and tenor. It is notably poorer and more roiled by small-town politics because politics for so long has really been the only game in that particular town. And of course it's gotten tarnished as the gang capital of SoCal, perhaps of the whole nation, a reputation that has been hard to shake.

Inglewood's had its own issues, some of which are similar to Compton's, but overall it's more middle class and, partly because of geography, more integrated into the sprawl and energy of greater L.A. We abut LAX, and now we've got the Fabulous Forum back. We have a big mixed-use, Forum-adjacent development coming on line that's supposed to the coup de grace to a mini-renaissance designed to grow a new sort of population that walks dogs and drinks lattes. (I do both very consistently, but evidently there aren't enough people like me to rebrand Inglewood -- not yet anyway).

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These distinctions are subtleties that were clearly lost on Brann. He's a veteran educator with an impressive bio, but like many white people, he likely sees Compton, Inglewood, Watts, South Central, etc. as all of a piece. All are places from which all of us need protection, if not today then at some point. And the unfortunate reality -- to borrow his word -- is that public school districts that serve largely black and Latino students tend to be underperforming and under-resourced, wherever they're located. They tend to be vulnerable to stagnation and mismanagement, sometimes corruption, because too many people simply don't care about what happens to the young people those districts serve. That constituency is simply not of any great political consequence, despite all the hand-wringing we do about the importance of education and how we need to turn it around (the idea of education, it seems, is ultimately more important than the actual kids being educated, or not, especially when they're black or brown). That negligence to me is itself a kind of violence, a metaphorical bloodletting of talent and potential that's got to stop.

Brann, by the way, works in Inglewood but lives in nearby El Segundo. El Segundo is ten minutes away from here but a million miles away in many regards. For starters, it's tiny but very comfortably middle-class, largely white and has its own school district that's remarkably diversity-free. It is what Inglewood isn't. That's the whole point of El Segundo. Seems to me that if Brann is going to do anything for the schools in the small town east of him, he's going to have to get out of his comfort zone.

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