A man with shoulder-length, hemlock-wood colored hair, who looked as if he longed for the Woodstock-era, the Beatles and free-love – although he hadn’t even been conceived then, took to the podium to be the next speaker at my son’s 8th grade graduation ceremony. My mind was drifting, lulled by the staid speeches with identical, predictable content (do well . . . good luck . . .). I began to think about what I would order at the Japanese restaurant we were going to for the post-ceremony lunch – they have awesome Himachi, definitely want some of their Brussel sprouts — when the word, “diversity” was uttered. My brain stopped idling and paid attention. We must celebrate our great diversity…he said (or something along those lines), which caused me to elbow my best friend—a bit too hard—in her side.
She, on the right side of me; and my husband on the left-sat on the pews in the historic Grace Cathedral—and comprised the only Black people in the audience, at least within our eyesight; though we outnumbered any other race. Yes, in the approximately 600-person audience, there were other Black people, Asians and a few Latinos; some who were considered “economically disadvantaged” and attended the school on scholarship; one openly gay couple; but the majority of the attendees were White, upper middle-class to old-money wealthy.
But I understood why the speaker used the word, “Diversity”. First, he sees it. We, those who are different stand out to him (despite the foolish assertions that people don’t see color—differences do stand out). So, even if we, minorities are only 3% of a group, we are noticed by White people; while they remain oblivious that everyone else looks just like them. Second, “diversity” is a feel-good buzz word that schools and businesses use when touting their merits. Most have a diversity statement that outlines their ”commitment” to diversity; they ensure that they include at least two pictures of ‘minority’ children on their website and marketing pamphlets, and laud — like this current speaker – their acceptance of all.
And then the school leaders must play a diversity-themed “Where’s Waldo”: Isn’t Josh in the 2nd grade ½ Black? Terri is legally blind in one eye. The Roggio’s are originally from Spain. Mark now identifies as gay. They search, they add, they recruit. They want to be able to say that they are 15% diverse; that 20% of their students are Black; that 15% of their staff is women. It is a numbers game.
But we are not numbers. We are people.
School administrators, hear me: we, minorities, are people. And we are sending our most precious people to be groomed under your care and direction: our children, our babies. So, we need you to thread your commitment to diversity through the fabric of your school with the tenacity one would need to hand sew a burlap dress, with a dull needle and fine thread. Push, focus, and create inclusive environments for a diverse population where all students can freely blossom into their unique selves.
School personnel, you must fully understand:
- The Current Schooling Situation
- Private schools are whiter than the overall school-age population in most states, particularly in the South and the West.
- Black, Latino, and Native American students are underrepresented in private schools.
- Private schools are more likely than public schools to be virtually all-white, defined as a school where 90 percent or more of students are white. 43 percent of the nation’s private school students attended virtually all-white schools, compared to 27 percent of public-school students.
So the decision to go to a particular private school is a completely different process for a minority parent than it is for a White parent. Yes, we understand that your school boasted the highest SAT scores and Ivy league acceptances than all others in the area, but is that worth my child being placed in an environment where no one looks like he does? Would you do the same: send your White child to an all Black school if the academics were superior?
- We May Lose Something Critical If We Send our Kid to Your School
This is one thing that I know for sure: there is nothing more valuable and powerful than a person who loves themselves: no degree, no experience, no education . . . period. You must feel incredible about yourself to do incredible things; and that happens rarely when you feel invisible, alone, and odd. It is almost impossible to be comfortable with standing out when you spent the first half of your life trying to blend in.
I know too many highly educated Black people, with enviable resumes who are miserable. They have felt alone, like an outsider, and confused for much of their lives. They don’t fit in—anywhere. Those people don’t succeed. I’m not saying they don’t earn great degrees and build incredible careers; but they don’t achieve the levels of happiness and true contentment of those who feel good in the skin they are in.
Our kids will not be included as much as the majority population: there will be fewer play-dates, birthday party invites, dating opportunities, requests to dance, Snapchats, etc. There will dumb questions asked: do you wash your hair? Can I touch it? Is that your Dad? Dumb things said: After my vacation, I’m almost as dark as you now. You aren’t really Black. You are different than most Asians.
Will our kids come out of your school with an impressive degree but with a broken spirit and low self esteem?
- You Probably Aren’t Providing a Multicultural Education
You probably—being all prestigious and all—are reading, studying, and discussing the “GREATS.” How many of those people are African, African American, Latino American, Asian-American, etc.? How are non-white children supposed to think that they are great if the education presented by you teaches them that “great” is reserved for white males (unless you are good in a sport of course. At that point, we will remind you of how great you are). You and your colleagues aren’t purposely omitting the accomplishments of others; you are simply providing the same education you received.
Understand that if the only real time you spend discussing Black history is slavery and Martin Luther King, Jr. you are providing a warped, distorted, racist view of history that will damage every child in your class. If the only novels being studied have only White characters and are written by White authors you are pushing a —- and —-. And as a sidenote, there are great classics that don’t use the word “Nigger” in them. Why put minority kids in such an uncomfortable situation. That’s ignorant and insensitive.
- Your Commitment to Diversity Should Be Reflected In Your Staff
- You Must Call On Parents and Students to Educate You
You know kids. You know education. You don’t know what it is to live as a minority. Listen to minorities. Let them help you to build your programs, curriculum, and disciplinary practices. It is okay to ask questions. We will respect you more.
- Be Real, Honest and Open
No matter how many times you tout your diverse staff and student population, read your diversity statement, or try to cover-up racist incidents — we know. It’s tough for minority students in all White environments. We see the problems; we feel the problems every day. We need for you to recognize the problems; and diligently work at creating an environment which serves each child and the enriches the whole child.