Friday, August 28, 2009

Southern Segregation

I have to tell you, Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors. And it is not because he has such gripping, traumatic storylines, it is because the water always plays such an important part in his stories. If you are a water person you will understand this. I have lived next to the water almost all my life. My moods and emotions are tied into the tide (hee hee). Seriously. There is a slower pace of life amongst those of us who live by the ocean, or the river, or a harbor. The southern accents are different here and people live by a code of life that is fast disappearing elsewhere.

But the other reason I like Pat Conroy is he gives a realistic portrayal of racial issues in the south. If you have never read "The Water is Wide" I highly recommend you read it. If you think we have come a long way in racial issues, you don't live where I live.

Now I know several of you called me out on the flamboyant southern man whom I felt was racist. I concede that point. His comment was in bad taste, but maybe not racist. But still, I always try to look at things from a non-white person's perspective. There's a history there that can't be denied.

I knew moving to our new town that we were going to be in the minority. Our town is 57% black. The thing that is different in our town is that our town, way back when, fell on the side of the Underground Railroad and abolitionist supporters. How can that affect today, you ask? Ask the black and white families of Pop 259 who share the same last name and the same plantation owner as a great-grandfather. It matters. Our town appeared to have a great balance and good relations between black and white people. That's what I thought...until E went back to school.

Apparently a lot of the white parents hand-picked their teachers for their kids. The principal said that he wasn't going to honor those requests, but he did. So what we have in E's grade are three classes of 98% white students and 2 classes of 98% black students. E is in an almost all black class. I really don't care except for the fact that I am afraid it might make it a little harder for her to make friends since she already has to cross the "new to town" barrier and now has to cross the race barrier, too.

But what disturbs me is that the parents created this situation. And the other white parents keep telling me I need to do something and get E into a white class. They seem to think I am crazy for holding my ground. I have met E's teacher, I have read her letters home, I have seen her give my daughter extra attention to make her feel comfortable. To me the teacher is more important than the class. We're staying put. But shame on these parents and this principal for allowing segregation to exist. How are we ever going to move forward?

Anyway, my rant for the day is done. I did want to let you all know that Dionne was released from prison and all but "accessory after the fact" charges were dropped. He will be on probation for two years and must attend school or maintain a full-time job, but he has been released. Thank the Universe!


Anonymous said...

I went to elementary school in Florida back in the 70's. It was half black and half white, and there was no segretation, even back then. I do not understand how this school can get away with this kind of segregation, especially if it is a public school.

Jeannie said...

Why aren't the black parents kicking up? Or do they prefer being separate too? Is there a large "culture" difference between the whites and the blacks?

BusyBee said...

My goodness. I don't know what to say except SHAME on the parents and the school.
And.....Pat Conroy does not write enough books and there's too much time between them.

Paige said...

I am from a Southern family, and it is more than location---it is in your blood.

The school gets away with it because no one challenges it, or they can hang it on some other inocuous excuse

And I totally agree with you on leaving her stay put where she is.

But I also understand the other parents. Reality is sometimes so far from how things should be, and not everyone is strong enough to sacrifice so much to be the example. In fact, few people are.

It is eary to think we know what is in someone else's mind, but we never truly know their motivations, weaknesses and priorities--at least not enough to judge them

Living in Muddy Waters said...

Jeannie, I don't know how the black people feel about this. I am so new to town. The only reason I know any white parents is because I am working at a preschool where there are a lot of people who have children that attend the same school.

And Paige, I agree with you that sometimes there's a reason that things are the way they are. I lived in one of the scariest towns in my state where I couldn't even get served at a restaurant because there was so much animosity towards white people. But this town is not that way...normally.

I guess I should have given more background info on why this attitude really surprised me. We are only now being infiltrated by gangs where every other town I lived in was solidly mired in them. There is a large portion of a black middle class. My neighborhood alone is a diverse mix.

But, and this is a big but, this school failed its AYP last year after another school was allowed to send its kids to it. The influx of new kids (mostly black) seemed to scare the parents. But these kids came from a poorly funded and poorly staffed school. They're not bad kids, they just needed a real education.

It's all so complicated. But I am going to allow my daughter to be the token white child because I will not perpetuate this belief. I may not speak out but I believe actions speak louder than words.

Anonymous said...

This is one issue that is obvious because it stares you in the face. You look out and you see a shade of skin making the difference. There are many forms of discrimination, race is an easy one to make people crazy over; its the hidden forms of discrimination that you have to look for and see what the real fear is. It is all fear based. Like any phobia there is a fear that feeds it and gives it a power to scar people for life and pass it down to their children. If you're forced to examine all your prejudices and fears you might be able to see that all people are crazy . . . just in different ways.

Anonymous said...

I just started reading your blog a few months ago, so I'm slow to understand the dynamics of your life (particularly life in the South).

I have to point out to you though, that although you feel strongly about taking a stand to not further racial seperation in your community, it's your daughter who may suffer for it. How does she feel about being the only child of her race in her classroom? Have you asked her? Her situation can be very isolating for a small child, and very stressful, too. It may impede her chances of making friends - of both races. My daughter (this was years ago) was one of only two girls in a kindergarten classroom of all boys. It was very awkward and stressful for her and the other girl, and made for a very long and upsetting school year. And who, do you suppose we invited to her 5th birthday party? You guessed it - the only friend she had was the lone other girl from her class - just a heartbreakingly sad year.

I can't imagine what it would be like to be the only person of my own race in a classroom in a school that obviously has racial issues. Just thought it was a different perspective you might want to think about.