“You are trapped by your ZIP code”

I grew up in DeKalb County, Georgia most of my life. DeKalb County is home to one of the largest and wealthiest black middle class populations in the country, and has been home to that population for 20+ years. However, in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, many schools in the southern part of the county became overcrowded and had trailors in the school yard. To respond to this problem, the county created a program called M2M, which stood for Minority 2 Majority. The reason for the name is because the northern part of the county is majority white (and has been for many years), and the schools in that area were underpopulated (smaller classroom sizes), and therefore often better. Keep in mind, this before No Child Left Behind really took effect.

For almost 10 years, through M2M black students were bused to schools in the northern part of the county, and as one of those students, I can say, socially, everyone’s horizons were broadened. Diversity enhances everyone’s education experiences, it’s just true. As a matter of fact, it was the parents who had the problem, not the students. I had friends whose houses I was allowed to go to, but they couldn’t come to mine.

M2M ended in 2003 and became a limited lottery-based system called Optional Transfer, until it was completely dissolved. The reason for the dissolve was that a city on the northern end of the county called Doraville experienced an influx of Latino immigrant students in the early 2000’s. Many were either undocumented or refugees from conflicts in Mexico and Central America. The county shut down the program (in the middle of the school year), basically saying that they did not need M2M anymore, because the schools had been diversified by Latino students.

My family moved to a better school district in a better area when I was 14, so I was largely unaffected by this change. However, for some of the students who were forced to go back to the overcrowded schools in their districts, the consequences were grave. I see some of those people who I knew from that time in my life, and they do not have two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree like I do. Some became teen parents, some are working minimum wage jobs. I know that my  life and education would have been different if it were not for that program. However, I would have been protected longer from facing the realities of white privilege and having my blackness questioned, hair touched, qualifications prodded, and generally being scrutinized by people who simply did not understand the constant code switching that I had to (and still have to) do in order to get through the day– I was in middle school.

Even if it’s just background noise, listen to Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life program “The Problem We All Live With.” It talks about a scenario much like the one I just described happening in the year 2014 in Missouri. Here is the link: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/562/the-problem-we-all-live-with 

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A thought on white privilege

I have read a lot in the news and on social media about privilege, why black lives matter, and police brutality lately. Yet there are still those people who deny that white privilege is a thing. I’ll give you an example of white privilege in its most innocent form. There’s a high school senior shadowing our graphic designer today, because she wants to study graphic design in college. Her mother is friends with the publisher’s wife. No doubt, whatever she learns here today will be invaluable, and when the time comes, she may even be able to do an internship here.

I think back to me at 17. I wanted to be a magazine editor, but I didn’t know anyone who worked at a magazine, other than Vanessa Williams on “Ugly Betty.” I did not meet a black woman who wrote in magazines about the arts until I was 21. Until then, I literally just had blind faith. But here this girl is at 17. This is great for her. She gets to shadow someone who looks like her doing what she wants to do.

For most people, seeing someone who looks like them do the thing they want to do is critical to not killing their dreams. But, when you’re black, it takes time to overcome decades of systematic oppression to even get into a position to know people who do the things you want to do. White privilege is not having to wait until we have overcome. White privilege is knowing someone in that position to even give you that opportunity.

Marching with Selma’s foot soldiers

“Going to Selma was always an escape from the daily grind, primarily because of its emptiness. There was no Target or Starbucks, and there still is not. Selma has one of a few things and not a whole lot of anything, except history. Every year there is a commemorative march and jubilee street festival and concert to honor the civil rights activists who marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. This year’s fiftieth anniversary celebration brought tens of thousands of people from all over the world to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, as demonstrators did five decades earlier.”

 

My thoughts on UO

The University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon video is all over CNN and my timeline on Facebook and Twitter. I have never seen a university react so quickly to anything. Universities are bureaucratic mines where ideas rarely lead to action with any sort of speed. However, I question whether they acted too quickly.

The fraternity members were absolutely wrong and should be ashamed for their words and actions, but hate speech is protected under the first amendment. The psychological damage of hearing the n-word is very real, but does completely suspending the fraternity set a bad precedent for universities being able to suspend students who say something they don’t agree with? There are deep-rooted institutional injustices that students of color face at predominantly white institutions everyday, and many of them chant in protest. Are they now subject to suspension if the administration does not agree? The fraternity has been suspended from campus for at least four years and fraternity members have been kicked off of the football team. This is serious.

I appreciate the message of an intolerance of bigotry that the University of Oklahoma president and Sigma Alpha Epsilon are trying to send by acting in this way, but I’m not sure these actions will yield the results they want. The 2014 movie Dear White People put incidents just like this one on the silver screen to show us who we are and how we react in the face of difference. It also showed us that the change in campus culture has to be within the student body, not the administration. This is not the first time that SAE chanted the n-word on the bus, and they are not the only Greek organization doing it. However, silencing the racists by taking away their frat house does not solve the problem. And condemning teenagers who want to be everything except different does not solve anything either. To what extent do you create a safer campus environment for some students, while silencing another group?

This is a many layered complex issue, and I certainly don’t have the answer to solve the problem. I just returned from Selma, Alabama where I participated in the activities commemorating the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and incidents like this are just another reminder that we have so much work to do. But, I believe we can all start with love. Love is patient and kind. You can never lose anything from showing love.

Q&A with Rain Pryor

rainpryor

I interviewed actress, singer, and comedian Rain Pryor, daughter of famed comedian Richard Pryor, about her one-woman show Fried Chicken and Latkes. Here’s a taste of our conversation:

ArtsATL: Do you remember your first school play?

Rain Pryor: The first school play I ever did was Winnie the Pooh and I played the ass Eeyore, because — this should be in my play, but it’s not. I auditioned to play Raggedy Ann, but I didn’t get to play Raggedy Ann, I got to play a gingerbread girl, because they were like, “There are no black Raggedy Anns.” Winnie the Pooh was always played by a white boy, so it wasn’t like I was going to get to play Winnie the Pooh.

 

Race Reads

    • Millennials are less tolerant than you think “The fact of the matter is that millennials who are white — that is, members of the group that has always had the most regressive racial beliefs, and who will constitute a majority of U.S. voters for at least another couple of decades — are, on key questions involving race, no more open-minded than their parents. The only real difference, in fact, is that they think they are.” http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/01/millennials-are-less-tolerant-than-you-think.html