Let’s talk about polite racism

Sarika Bansal
Jun 24, 2015 · 3 min read

Gerard, I enjoyed reading your piece, and I admired your devotion to your son’s education — until I got to this section (update: I see that you’ve now removed it):

Many parents will tell you that their neighborhood school was not an option due to performance. To be sure, we did not want our kids to attend a mediocre or bad school either. But there is another factor, for me, in any case.

It’s hard to be a minority in any situation. It’s hard to be the only woman, the only elder person, the only black kid, the only white kid. Most CPS neighborhood elementary schools are predominantly African-American. I did not want our son to be a minority in his school, during the years that he most needed to develop his confidence. Diversity is good, but not necessarily when you are the one bringing it.

I appreciate your willingness to say what many others think but keep to themselves. But this really, really rubbed me the wrong way.

Your son has a parent who cares enough about his education to sleep outside for over half a month. He has a parent who works at a startup software company that allows (somewhat) flexible hours, as opposed to, say, a fast-food chain with 11-hour shifts. Your son is, dare I say, born into a life of some privilege. He’s already got a much better start than many other children in this country, like many of those at Lincoln High School. Or the children referenced in this fascinating piece about the effects poverty has on the young brain.

You talk about your son needing to “develop his confidence” in his early years. I challenge you: How, precisely, would being a minority and interacting with young Black children take his confidence away? Especially considering all he has going for him?

This issue is personal to me. I attended a public high school that, at the time of my graduation, was 75% non-white. It’s higher today. As an Indian-American, I was part of that statistic. Most of my classmates were Black Americans, Haitian immigrants, and a smattering of other ethnicities.

My school district, East Ramapo, was much whiter (and wealthier) a decade prior to my having attended. Then started a phenomenon called white flight. Sensing that minorities were entering the neighborhood, white families started moving to other parts of the county. We’re not being racist, they would say. We just want a better future for our children. There’s talk of the good teachers leaving. We read about fights breaking out in East Ramapo schools. And don’t Clarkstown schools have a great AP program?

I believe some academics have studied this phenomenon. School diversity has a tipping point. You pass it, and white people — and others of means — start leaving in droves. It often has nothing to do with the quality of the school.

Incredibly, some white families in the East Ramapo area began paying five-digit sums to send their children to other public school districts in the area. They didn’t want to move, and they liked the idea of public school… just not when it was filled with, you know, them.

My 11th grade American History teacher told us about some encounters he would have in his personal life. “You teach at Ramapo?!” people would ask, incredulous. “Oh wow. What’s that like?”

He would bulge his eyes in response, and try very hard not to roll them. “It’s crazy — they got blackboards, and chalk, and desks. And kids sit in classes and learn.”

I don’t mean to make you feel guilty about your choice. I was lucky to have some pretty amazing teachers, to whom I largely credit my professional success. (And most of them did leave, partially due to other drama that ensued after my high school graduation, as is discussed in This American Life.) That may not be the case in Cincinnati.

But this issue about confidence levels when you’re a minority? Consider this. Even despite the influx of African-American students supposedly threatening my self-worth… I got into an Ivy League school at the end of it? Is that the point?

Written by

Editor-in-chief of BRIGHT Magazine (brightthemag.com). Lover of wit and hot sauce.

More From Medium

More from Sarika Bansal

More from Sarika Bansal

Just Buy It. ✔

More from Sarika Bansal

More from Sarika Bansal

Facebook, You’re A Coward

More from Sarika Bansal

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade