|(Orlando Sentinel) The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 85 years old last week. I have thought about him more this year than in years past. I wonder what he would think about Orlando’s racial topography. |
Take a look around Orlando and the surrounding areas. Are we raising our children in racially exclusive or segregated communities where they don’t socialize or interact with children of different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds? Do the parents and children north of Interstate 4 socialize with the parents and children south of it? Denying problems is a convenient response to hard societal questions. Have we become accustomed to existing peacefully in largely segregated communities?
Who is responsible for ensuring that our children become culturally competent anti-racists? This is the American dream, right? If not, what types of children are we raising, educating and releasing into society?
I ask these questions because my family recently experienced several racialized episodes at my daughter’s new school, causing me to ponder the racial state of our union. As an African-American father raising children in a predominantly white community, I don’t have the luxury or privilege of ignoring racial caste or racist behavior. I wish I did.
My oldest daughter attends what is touted to be one of Orlando’s most prestigious private schools. She is one of few African-Americans in her entire grade. I was concerned about enrolling her for several reasons, including feedback from parents that diversity was not a priority except in the recruitment of star athletes and that there was a general climate of racial insensitivity.
Since the school was founded under the logic of white flight after legal segregation was struck down, I also had concerns about its enduring heritage. There is no racial diversity on the board of trustees or in senior administration, and there is an acute lack of diversity among teachers.
Unfortunately, diversity, particularly African-American, can only be found among the ranks of the menial staff — those working the hardest for the least income. I was and remain concerned about how the attitudes of some parents and children may reflect the school’s racial hierarchy, which apparently seems normal to most families.
Notwithstanding, after several conversations and face-to-face meetings, my wife and I were impressed with the way in which the middle-school director and his senior staff addressed our concerns. We enrolled our daughter in the school’s summer math program, and she excelled thanks to a committed math teacher. When the fall semester began, everything was peachy, and she made new friends.
Then, like a hurricane, my daughter was assaulted with sexually inappropriate and racist taunts from fellow students. Yes, the N-word was used several times, and children were disciplined. While their behavior was malicious and injured my daughter’s spirit, I don’t believe that all of the children involved had malicious intent. In fact, I question whether some of them understood the gravity of the N-word. Why didn’t they know?
After speaking with several African-American families with children who attend and attended the school, I learned that what happened to my daughter was not an isolated incident, and that there may be a pervasive legacy of racial insensitivity. Students and teachers are not provided with cultural competency training, which would strengthen social relations and help diversify the curriculum, and there is no specific policy on racially offensive language and behavior.
To his credit, the school president personally apologized to my family and has constructively engaged several African-American families in a discussion about how to improve the school. He has also been a proponent of diversifying the school’s board of trustees. Upon request, he has committed himself to leading a meeting of African-American families to ascertain the scope of what appears to be a wider problem and solicit their assistance in determining what actions need to be taken to ensure that his students are prepared to succeed in a multicultural America.
I think King would demand that elite and privileged schools confront rather than reinforce Orlando’s segregated landscape by intentionally devising culturally rich and safe learning environments that train new generations of highly educated and culturally competent child-leaders, despite their otherwise segregated existence.
We remain faithful. Keep hope alive.