As a nation, it appears we’re still not quite there when it comes to having “an honest discussion about race.” And with all the cries for “inclusiveness” it’s not exactly clear how that turns into “exclusiveness” – as occurred recently in an Illinois high school.
On February 27th, as part of Black History Month, Oak Park and River Forest High School organized an event called “Black Lives Matter” – in fact they mattered so much that no white lives were invited.
As the Chicago Tribune reports, “white parents reported that their students were turned away when they tried to attend the Black Lives Matter event. The parents said they were offended that in a school and community that prides itself on diversity and inclusion that students who wanted to attend would be excluded.”
“As of last year, the school’s student population was 55 percent white, 27 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic, 6 percent multiracial and 3 percent Asian, according to the school’s website. The high school’s percentage of black students is more than twice the national average for the black population as a whole, and the percentage of students who identify as multiracial is about six times the national average, according to the U.S. Census.”
Nathaniel Rouse, the school’s (black) principal who organized the event, said it was not intended to be exclusive – although I’m not sure what part of “no white students may attend” would not be interpreted as exclusive.“Rouse, who has been principal at the school for seven years, said the decision to allow only black students was based in an idea known as affinity grouping. In an affinity group, the philosophy is that students of one racial persuasion are able to express themselves fully and safely.” Do you think Principal Rouse would call inner city black neighborhoods “affinity groups?” Is a whites-only golf club an “affinity group?”
Birds of a feather do indeed flock together. People of different cultures and interests often do prefer to congregate together. If they choose to do it, it’s an “affinity group,” if they don’t, it’s segregation or a ghetto.
If I go to a Chinese restaurant and see mostly Chinese people eating there, I figure that’s a good sign. After all, they know the food, right? Am I being racist?
The point Rouse was making however is that different groups – whether black, Hispanic or Asian – feel more comfortable voicing their opinions among their own racial peers.
“I found it has been far easier for me to talk about my experiences with racism with individuals that look like me,” he said. “I still struggle myself with talking about my experiences with people who don’t look like me.”
Fair enough. There’s nothing wrong with groups of like-minded people meeting together to discuss their shared experiences. People do it in churches and synagogues every week.
But trying to promote inclusiveness through exclusion doesn’t cut it. You can’t have it both ways.