Friday, May 29, 2009

Segregation 2009 — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

It was 55 years ago this month that the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that "separate but equal" was unconstitutional. That historic event happened five years before I was born, and I grew up believing that segregation was just an ugly part of our past.

Just four months ago, we inaugurated our first African American president — an event that I never expected to see in my lifetime and a day when I was so proud to be an American.

On May 1, 2009, just a few weeks ago, a high school in Montgomery County Georgia had separate black and white proms — events that I didn't know still existed.

I'm so disappointed.

Perhaps "disappointed" sounds like a weak adjective in this context, but when I was a kid, we knew we had really screwed up when my mother said quietly that she was "so disappointed". She had expected better of us. We knew better. We had chosen to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. That's how I felt when I read about segregated proms in the new millennium.

Our family has chosen to live in a racially and socio-economically diverse community on the theory that at least our children's public school experience will look relatively like the "real world". That has proven to be both more and less true than we ever expected.

When my twins were little, there were two girls in their grade named Brianna — one caucasian and one African American. One day, my son told me that Brianna had helped him on the playground. When I asked which Brianna, he said "the tall one." I was pleased and excited to think I was raising my kids to be "color blind". I was also amused, since the two Briannas were relatively close in height and they both towered over my tiny boy. His world view was all about looking up.

All too soon, however, those innocent views of the world — those ways of choosing friends based on geographical proximity or a mutual love of trucks — began to mutate into standard societal divisions: the boys stopped talking to the the girls in about third grade, and by middle school there were clear divisions along racial and economic lines, as well. My naive vision of a rainbow-colored community disappeared in the black and white reports of achievement gaps, teen pregnancy rates, and drop-out statistics.

I'm so disappointed.

The high school prom may be a perfect metaphor for American race relations today: we all wait around for an invitation to the dance; it never lives up to our expectations; and once you bring alcohol into the mix, things are bound to get ugly.

Perhaps we need to make it a less formal affair — think of it like a spontaneous potluck picnic. Sure, there may be a few bugs, too much potato salad and not enough pie, but everyone is welcome and if we just relax a little, we'll probably have a good time.

When Susan isn't being disappointed by the latest news reports, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog. This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post.

Photo credit: Mirror Ball Amsterdam by yozza/Ewan Topping

No comments: