Monday, July 09, 2007

Supreme Court decision

The June 28, 2007, U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined public school systems cannot take "explicit account" of a student's race to achieve or maintain diversity in their enrollment troubles me.

Some people protest the justices' decision on the basis of funding. Supporting schools through property taxes ensures that poorer communities will always be at a disadvantage. I dislike that. It's unfair.

But what hurts my heart is that the Court's decision deprives our country of a means of promoting diversity and cultural awareness.

My first year of college, one of my classmates was from a small rural community. He told me in his 18 years of life, he'd "only ever met half of a black person." There are so many things wrong with that statement. For purposes of this blog, I'll focus on just one. I'm dismayed that, in a country that publicly boasts of its cultural diversity, privately people can come from communities that never experience diversity and we're OK with that.

Perhaps using race as a factor in determining student body make up isn't the right solution. But I don't think as a country we should stop looking for a way to bring our diverse cultures together. If only so that one day no one will be able to say anything remotely like, "I've only ever met half of a (fill in the ethnicity) person."

What are your thoughts on this topic?



Liz Cclifford said...

Jeez! How do you address the whole race intermingling quesion in a little blog without writing a dissertation on the subject!

I grew up in a small, somewhat rural town in the midwest. In the late 70's and early 80's, our cultural diversity consisted of the descendants of Polish and Irish Catholics, conservative Dutch Reformed and Christian Reformed, Protestant English/Scots/Irish, and a few kids adopted through religious organizations from South Korea (when he was about 6, my brother aspired to have a cool "squashed flat" nose like his friend Matt, who was adopted from Korea).

Yes, we had ethinic jokes. Do you know what Polacks wear to a wedding? Their bowling shirts! But I never came into contact with any serious racism. In many ways, we were better prepared to deal with people of other cultures and races because we didn't have prejudices against them. Yes, we did have dumb questions. Like why the palms of black people are lighter colors? But that is ignorance and lack of experience, not prejudice.

In college, when I dated an exchange student from Eritrea (before falling madly in live with my husband of 21 years), my mother was more concerned about the etiquette of a potential marriage of mixed religions than the fact that he was the color of milk chocolate. Who would perform the ceremony, for pete's sake! It was a logistical problem, not a social one.

So, in some ways, it isn't a bad thing to have not met people of other colors until we went out into the world. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes ignorance is just ignorance. Ignorance ain't great, but it is better than prejudice.

But, to be my own devil's advocate... I am glad that my daughter is growing up in a more mixed group. Her school friends come in all shades and backgrounds and our own family grows more ethnically and culturally diverse with every passing generation. And with that diversity comes knowledge, tolerance, and appreciation.

But does it help or hurt to mandate diversity? I am morally against any institution that excludes people for pretty much any reason. But by mandating diversity, we are excluding people, too. "I'm sorry, but you can't come to school here. You are purple and we already have 500 purple people enrolled. Try someplace else." Then the purple people revolt and form their own university and are told they can't be limited to just purple students and faculty, they have to have diversity! It is a very weird situation and I am not seeing any easy answers.

Angela Henry said...

Very thought provoking post, Patricia. I also attended college with kids that had never been exposed to people of other races. Some of them were open to meeting and interacting with people of diverse backgrounds, while many others weren't. I have no idea what the answer is in bringing our diverse cultures together. Maybe it's something that needs to be addressed at a young age. So, many people get their attitudes about race from their parents.

patricia sargeant said...

Hi, ladies! I'm sorry it took me so long to respond to your comments. I'm attending the Romance Writers of America conference in Dallas. I left Tuesday morning, and my flight was delayed. What a day!

Anyway, ...

Liz, thank you very much for posting your response. It's wonderful and very thoughtful. A great deal of insight and I appreciate your sharing your personal stories. Your experiences are really uplifting. As I mentioned, the Court's decision kind of hurt my heart, but your personal examples gave me hope.

You're also right about it not being easy to address integration in a blog post. That's one of the reasons it took me almost two weeks to address the topic. My goal was to spark discussion as opposed to soliloquizing. (Have I spelled that correctly? I left my dictionary in Ohio.)

I recognize integration is a complicated issue, which is why an easy solution doesn't exist.

I'm also glad, Liz, that you mentioned the difference between lack of knowledge and prejudice. I agree with you. Everyone has a lack of knowledge in some or many areas. The danger comes when that lack is filled by preconceived and inevitably erroneous misconceptions and generalizations.

Thanks again, for commenting, Liz. Your family's experiences have lifted my spirits.

Hi, Angela. Your observation that so many people get their perspective of other races from their parents is a good point. I think it would be wonderful if school curriculums could include more culturally diverse topics. At the elementary school level. Perhaps with guest speakers. Just something to consider.

patricia sargeant said...
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