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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Post-racial America, in black and white

A recent blog post by Taunya Lovell Banks addressing the race requirements for running for student office at a Mississippi public school caught my eye. For the past thirty years, the Nettleton Middle School allowed only white students to run for eighth grade class president or reporter. Only black students were eligible to run for the office of vice president or secretary-treasurer. As an Asian American and the president of my eighth grade class (way back in the day), I was stunned – not only by the racial exclusion of blacks from certain offices and whites from other offices, but also by the apparent exclusion of non-whites and non-blacks from all student government positions. This policy resembles the South Carolina pageant policy of yesteryear that prematurely ended Nikki Haley’s run for Little Miss Bamberg. Pageant officials were accustomed to crowning a white queen and a black queen; Haley, as an Indian American, didn’t fit the bill.

Although the Nettleton school announced an end to the racially restrictive election policy on August 27, 2010, the story is a reminder of the binary paradigm of race that leads many to see the world around them in black and white. While it may be tempting to dismiss the school’s policy as a vestige of our racially charged history, the view of race as purely a black-white issue persists. Yet, neither Mississippi, South Carolina, nor any other state in the union is solely populated by blacks and whites. The time to recognize this demographic fact is long past.

I’ll close with a personal anecdote. In my college days, I recall sitting in the back of a police cruiser (long story, don’t ask) in Memphis, Tennessee, listening to the officer at the wheel dictate our coordinates to dispatch. She described our progress heading west on Poplar Avenue and informed dispatch that she was traveling with – then she paused and glanced back over her shoulder at me before continuing – a WHITE female in the back seat of her cruiser. Instantly intrigued and genuinely curious, I leaned forward and said, “I didn’t know I was white.” She replied, by way of explanation, “Well, you’re not black.”

Posted by Susan Kuo on September 8, 2010 at 07:55 PM in Culture, Current Affairs, Law and Politics | Permalink

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Comments

If I recall correctly, this was one of the under-appreciated quirks in the Parents Involved cases. Seattle used two categories, white and non-white. Lousiville used "black" and "other." So Asians and other "others" would be lumped in with "white," in Lousiville, but if those students moved to Seattle, they would magically become non-white and thus lumped in with black students.

That feature alone seemed to justify finding a lack of narrow tailoring, and I think many who self-identify as left or pro-diversity were so upset at the core ruling that they didn't appreciate the offensiveness of this twist. Or, in other words, their binary thinking trumped this third way of thinking, so that their very error (binary thinking about the right and wrong side of the case) paralleled the underlying binary problem.

Posted by: cynic | Sep 9, 2010 3:25:17 PM

Makes me want to break out and sing "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow."

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Sep 9, 2010 7:05:25 AM

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