Monday, August 30, 2010

Old School

I caught a bunch of articles over the weekend (here's one) about the controversy at Nettleton Middle School, in Mississippi--a public school where some Jim Crow-era segregation rules still remain on the books and active. Specifically, the school has issued written guidelines outlining which student government positions students of different races can run for. President: Whites only. Secretary/Reporter: Blacks only. (Oh, you're of mixed race? Sorry. Try again in high school...)

To be fair, I should say these rules remained active, up until this past week, when the national media caught on to the story. School officials say the rule was kept in place to ensure diverse representation on the student council. Okaaaaay.... But to set up a hierarchy where white students are always on top runs counter to the very ideas of integration and inclusion. It baffles me that any group of educators in this day and age--the day and age of our first black president, after all--would think that any form of segregation is a good way to promote diversity.

It also saddens me that I'm not surprised to learn of these situations. I know there are still schools where there's a black prom and a white one. I know that drama teachers in the south may be told not to cast interracial couples in student plays for fear of community reprisal. I know that in the nighttime corners of such places the Klan still rallies, spewing hate from underneath their hoods.

I want to give the school district the benefit of the doubt, but to do so makes me wonder about all the mistakes we make in trying to overcome prejudice. How many more will we uncover as time goes on? On the other hand, I'm suspicious of a group that--practically overnight--reverses a policy decision they claim to have believed in, just because a lot of people suddenly took notice. Did they really not know what they were doing?

What else can we do, collectively, to bring these situations to public attention, so that they can be corrected?

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