Sarah Manski dropping out of the Madison Metropolitan School District school board race less than 48 hours after winning the primary was another swift kick in the gut to Madison’s minority population. Manski’s husband was admitted to a sociology PhD program in California. That trumps her school board candidacy. Nobody knew anything about this until it happened.
The unfortunate consequence of this was the silencing and the marginalization of a woman of color — Ananda Mirilli — in a city that frequently and consistently silences its people of color. Ananda, an extremely passionate, smart, hard-working, experienced, and knowledgeable woman who spends a tremendous amount of time with young people in her community, is left on the outside looking in. Campaign over. Hours and days and weeks of very hard work all down the drain because another one of Madison’s liberal power elites treated her school board race as a back-up plan. That’s a special kind of entitlement. It’s the manifestation of blatant white privilege.
As awful as this was for Ananda, it wasn’t even the worst thing done to her by the Manski team and other progressives during this short campaign in which she was maligned, slandered, and disregarded.
It all started with some far-fetched fiction from a Manski letter blasted out to listservs as she launched her campaign:
“One of Sarah's opponents in this 3-way race is a supporter of using public tax dollars to fund private schools. She was recruited by the former head of a Bradley Foundation-funded group that promotes the corporate takeover of public education.”
It was a complete falsehood. It had nothing to do with what Mirilli — a Brazilian immigrant, single mother, passionate community member, and soldier for social justice — was all about. It was a disgusting, Willie Horton-esque attack.
But the damage was immediately done. And this was massive, irreversible damage. Ananda was part of a sinister GOP scheme to privatize education. And for Madison’s liberal elites who never venture into minority areas or have conversations with minorities, those listserv blasts and chain letters were all the information they needed to make a decision on their candidate … despite Manski being, according to second-place finisher and fellow white progressive TJ Mertz, “completely inexperienced.”
Soon after these lies started to go out, I asked Ananda about all of the allegations and illicit ties she was supposed to have had and she just looked at me sadly and said, “I have no idea. I don’t know any of these people. I’ve never heard of them. I’m just a working-class single mother who lives on Rimrock Road who is passionate about education and wants to see something better for our children. It’s really sad that they have to do this to me.”
And so the MMSD School Board race that came crashing down pretty much typifies the status of race relations we see every day and the tremendous racial divide we have in Madison right now. White elite liberals dictating to, condescending to, and manipulating Madison’s communities of color. This is when they are kind enough to not completely ignore them which, unfortunately, is most of the time. As the Editor in Chief of The Madison Times Weekly Newspaper and the Vice President of the Board of Directors for Centro Hispano of Dane County, I have attended just about every major minority event, forum, scholarship fund-raiser, reading day, conference, gala, educational awards ceremony, and more over the last decade. And most of the minor ones. Not once have I ever seen Mrs. Manski or Mr. Mertz at any of them.
In over a decade.
That’s not a problem in and of itself — we all hang in our own circles and we all go where we feel comfortable. The problem arises when Mr. Mertz or Mrs. Manski want to be the powerful mouthpiece for a minority population that makes up the majority of the Madison Metropolitan School District yet have barely spent nary a second in those communities that they need to be vigorously representing and fighting for. Communities they need to know like the backs of their hands. Communities that need to trust them.
More troublesome than the disconnect — as troublesome as that is — is the slandering of the only candidate of color in the race and then screwing her out of a chance for her voice be heard in the democratic process.
If you are a person of color in Madison, this is not new news by any stretch of the imagination. Madison’s minority population has always felt disrespected, ignored, talked down to, condescended, misunderstood, and lied about by the greater white liberal elite power structure. The anger has always been there, but Madison’s demographics have been changing, and that anger is growing louder. Believe it.
Being liberal in itself is not necessarily the problem. I am unabashedly liberal as is Ms. Mirilli. While liberal theory is generally egalitarian and intuitively antiracist, it’s also — in the cases of communities like Madison — too often paternalistic and condescending. We — even if we’ve never been to a School Board meeting in our life and even if we spend little to no time in the minority community and with minority kids — know more than you. It’s cute that you are running … but we will crush you.
This is the same white liberal elite that had no idea that blacks and Latinos graduated at horrific rates in Madison until Kaleem Caire came to town and shouted it over and over a few years ago.
And then proceeded to make him public enemy no. 1.
As white liberals, we get excited to point out Republican racism. It makes us feel good about ourselves. It puts us in a safe spot to ignore our own racism, our own faults, and our own segregated city. Look at what Sen. Glenn Grothman said! What a racist! Yet somehow we’re not particularly appalled at own almost completely white Common Council year after year and our liberal elite white power structure. Somehow we’re not really appalled that people of color come to this town from New York, California, Texas, and Latin America for school and immediately leave when they get done because Madison has nothing to offer them culturally and because Madison’s treatment of minorities depresses them.
That’s because there are two Madisons. At our own fun, liberal, near-eastside extravaganzas — La Fete de Marquette, Willy Street Fair, Marquette Waterfront Fest, Orton Fest, etc. — there’s nary a brown face or a black face in the crowd. Slightly less than you’d find at a Republican Convention. In the same vein, at all of the fantastic minority events that I go to in Madison, I am almost always the only white person in the room (except for Mr. Jon Gramling).
I often hear conversations among my white liberal friends talking smack about and making fun of Milwaukee and its hyper-segregation, its tremendous white flight, its subtle and overt racism. I want to shout at them. “WE ARE MILWAUKEE JR.”
In short, our white-dominated liberal events and organizations in Madison never come close to resembling our growing diverse population and never include multiple voices, styles, and cultural norms. While our discussion of the horrendous achievement gap that has existed in Madison for 40-plus years was finally started by a black guy, it’s only allowed to be discussed and solved by a small group of whites who have no feel for, connection to, or dialogue with the minority communities they want to save.
So, the challenge I issue today to all the nice white liberals in America’s third-best city to be a nice, white liberal is to finally make an effort to get to know all of the people of your city. Because you won’t slander somebody you know. You won’t fabricate things about them. You won’t silence their voices. You won’t ignore them. You won’t segregate them if you know them. Right?
As it turns out, Ananda was way more knowledgable, passionate, and qualified than Manski. As it turns out, she has no illicit ties; no evil far-right Republican intentions — just a Brazilian immigrant with incredible educational expertise and experience who has a minority child in a district that has for decades upon decades failed minorities.
But it’s too late for Ananda now. She should be at forums, debates, radio shows, and conferences expounding upon her vast and unique experience with education as we use our democratic system to flesh out the best candidate for the School Board job at this extremely crucial juncture in Madison.
But her voice has been silenced.
You can write her in (as I will) but a write-in candidacy is nearly impossible.
My challenge to Madison is to get to know Ananda and all of the Anandas out there ... before you completely dismiss them.
Check out the “What’s Up?” section of this paper. There are literally dozens and dozens of minority-related events you can go to. Make an effort to go out of your comfort zone. You might like it.
We can begin today to work to bridge the tremendous divide that has developed between our two Madisons or we can watch it continue to deteriorate together.
A. David Dahmer is Editor in Chief of The Madison Times Weekly Newspaper.