Separate but Equal: The Racial Divide in Schools
By Cynthia Murga, Director
On May 25, 2020, the world’s eyes opened as we witnessed the killing of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That day, which I refer to as the “Great Awakening,” sparked outrage, shame, and, more importantly, action. Every business, school, and citizen had an opinion. Statements were released, and many—companies and individuals alike—began to wade through the uncharted territory of confronting social injustice. But I began to think, what role do students play in all of this? What stance should schools take when teaching social injustice? What is appropriate?
For me, these questions resurfaced recently while reading “Dividing by Race Comes to Grade School,” an op-ed by Bion Bartning that ran in The Wall Street Journal. In the article, Bartning describes the new direction his children’s private school decided to take shortly after the “Great Awakening.” He goes on to describe the communication from the school that encouraged parents/caregivers and educators to acknowledge racial differences (as opposed to a ‘colorblind’ stance) and offered reading recommendations such as Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility.” The school also suggested families should join school-sponsored “affinity” groups to bond with people from their ethnicity or skin color. One was called simply “the POC,” short for “parents of color.”
I understand the importance of connecting with members from your culture and race, but I believe affinity groups should be open to allies and others that want to be part of fostering change. We should strive to consistently remind people of underrepresented groups that they are not alone, and they should know exactly who their allies are—affinity groups are a great way to spark those relationships.
The op-ed also referenced intolerance programs in schools throughout the country, including encouraging third graders to rank themselves according to their “power and privilege,” and a training session in which white teachers were told that they “spirit murder” black children and should undergo “antiracist therapy.”
We are in a time of over-correction, but it is desperately needed to aggressively forge the charge of change our country needs after 400+ years of racism. More than ever, we must come together to reaffirm the rights of equality, and I believe it is appropriate to teach anti-racism in schools. For there to be real change, there needs to be a diversity of voices and a diversity of experiences—and what better place for thoughtful conversations than within our schools.
By enforcing a segregated approach in how we discuss issues of systemic racism, we will only get further away from teaching the next generation of students that equality and togetherness are essential. It is vital to continue to integrate students and teach them to celebrate their differences collectively. To reach the level of equality that many of us seek in this country, educators must teach students to break through division by honoring the humanity in each other.