Can someone explain Cathie Black to me? No, really. Please?
It’s not enough that she was handed a job for which she met neither the education nor the experience requirements. It’s not enough that she seemed (and still seems) to have only vague willingness to acknowledge that there are actual reasons for so many people to be supremely pissed off to see her take on this job. It’s not enough that she thinks appointing someone who has some skills to work under her is enough of a bone to throw at her detractors.
No, none of that’s enough. She has to sweeten the pot by insulting the parent population of the school system she is now running.
We want kids to learn how to code switch, to know that (for stark example) they shouldn’t call the recruiter across the desk “my nigga” during a job interview. We expect them to know this and many other subtle and not at all subtle things. We demand it. We are annoyed/saddened/disgusted/ vindicated/disappointed/discouraged/amused when they aren’t able to clear the bar.
And yet we have, in the office of school’s Chancellor, someone who can’t make a simple leap: she couldn’t figure out that a “joke” that might play as she sips cocktails with friends before they go in to dinner wouldn’t meet the same reaction when tossed out to a room full of the people who are the butt of the joke.
Because it’s not enough that her joke was in poor taste, that telling a room full of people that they ought to quit procreating like rabbits is so problematic as to defy adequate articulation. It’s that the woman who is in charge of our school system isn’t clever enough to look out over a lecturn at her audience … and not realize that she needs to swallow that joke.
At first I thought I’d be insulted by that joke no matter who said it and no matter when, but that’s not true. If Mike Birbiglia — to pick at random — said it in a story he was telling on This American Life, wouldn’t I laugh? I really like him. I think he’s wonderfully funny and a fabulous story teller. I’d probably laugh. I’d wince a little, but I’d laugh. But Mike Birbiglia isn’t the New York City Schools Chancellor. He isn’t even close. If he was telling that story on This American Life, he wouldn’t be standing in front of a room full of New York City public school parents talking seriously with them about a major problem facing the school system. Mike Birbiglia could say a whole lot of incendiary things about New York City public school parents, and I’d cut him slack all day long. Cathie Black’s another story.
And that’s not because I’m one of those people who thinks she shouldn’t have been given this job. It’s true that I’m one of those people, but my reaction to hearing about her “joke” simply serves to illustrate one of the many reasons I think she shouldn’t have been given this job. She doesn’t get it. Doesn’t get who her audience is. Doesn’t understand that she’s not hanging out with her friends when she’s talking to that audience. Doesn’t get that the snarky asides she can toss out over cocktails are inappropriate coming from the mouth of the Schools Chancellor. Someone who can’t figure out not to tell that joke has a long way to go before she’s ready to be running the City’s public school system.