Sunday, February 05, 2006

Diversity or Diversion?

Originally posted on allied...

Obviously i'm coming at this topic from a perspective that isn't all that common--mom of woman-to-be of color, white (not including the Sicilian ;-) ) wife of a black man living in America, the south even, south east to be precise--not too extraordinary; not your every day thing either.

you can say that's a disclaimer; you can say them's the facts, jack. either way. all I'm really trying to figure out is why black history month bothers me--and why it bothers me that it bothers me.

First, let's talk about what's good about Black History Month. Obviously, the incorporation into a sorely lacking public school curriculum when it comes to the accomplishments of an entire group of Americans whose contributions have been largely overlooked in favor of a distorted image of homogeny. Really Important Contributions, one might say, by people who were once Not Free (AKA enslaved) in the aforementioned country, and in the not-so-distant past--making these contributions all the more meaningful.

So, good goal: Teach the little children that black americans (contrary to what Broadcast Mainstream Media & Advertising have done their best to infuse into our children's growing brains) have done more than play sports and music, light fires, and loot. Who knew?

Inventors, physicians, astronauts, executives, artists--lots of Smart Successful People who these same little children never saw in mainstream curriculum, on their local news channels, in the newspapers, or on the bookshelves at the library.

Given that reality, I see lots of good reasons for schools to "celebrate" Black History Month.

As a mom, I don't.

My experience is that Black History Month has become a 30-day paranoia immersion period for the white children rather than a learning experience about our culture and shared history.

Let's look at it another way.

Jenna has white friends--and I mean Nordic white. Jenna has friends of color (all different shades and ethnicities). But the poor white kids don't quite know what to do when black history month comes around.

And i don't blame them. Here they've been, playing along for years without distinction, except for the occasional summer tan contest, in which "peach" and "brown" have always been the closest crayola colors to the real deal, so that's what the children have naturally labeled each other's skin hues.

Along comes a school "celebration" that alerts our children to their differences and explains that sometimes children of different backgrounds (EMPHASIS on the Black and White during this special in-class intervention) have a hard time playing together, but that the color of our skin shouldn't make a difference. AND NOW: Let us All Focus On the Color Of Our Skins for the Next 30 Days.

Thank you for making an issue out of what we as parents (our friends and us) believe is a non-issue.

Put into practical purposes, here's a story from 2 hours ago. We're at a friend's house tonight, we moms are hanging out while Jenna plays with her friends of four years. The kids get into a conflict over some x-random thing. And out of the friend's mouth:

"I think maybe we're having trouble playing together because I'm white and she's black."

We look at each other with a sly smile, yah--that isn't even her own sentence structure, let alone the way the kids have ever described one another. Any correlation between the book report due next week on a Role Model of choice for Black History Month?

A similar uncharacteristic exchange happened with another of Jenna's friends of many years last week. Again, the homework topic: African American Heroes.

The peach kids don't know if they're supposed to say Black as in "Black History Month" or "African American" as in "Your Favorite African American Heroes."

And so, forced symantics enter their world of "peach" and "brown" -- shades of the same family, more similar than different. Our childrens' variations on a theme are replaced with learned symantic segregation.

Like any good idea, Black History Month needs to evolve in order to remain relevant and positive-purposed. How about taking the combined knowledge base of the many resources around Black History Month and incorporate it into various curriculum approaches -- resulting in an HONEST, overall look at American history, one that does not exclude, but includes.

How about we drop the 30-day rehab sensitivity training intensive for elementary school kids and replace it with real WORK on the part of the adults shaping public education and classroom curriculum into the future.

How about peach and brown?

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