A few weeks ago, the Fort Worth ISD board of trustees split along racial lines when it named a black board president, a black vice president and an Anglo secretary. Anglos and blacks on the board banded together to vote as a bloc, drawing the anger of Hispanic members who were shut out of offices by a 5-4 margin.
In last year’s Texas redistricting fiasco, and in this year’s national elections, we have heard and continue to hear about candidates’ efforts to appeal to black voters and/or Hispanic voters. Issues like health care, immigration, welfare, job creation – almost every issue in the election gets filtered through the lens of race and spun to appeal to one minority or another.
As someone who came of age in the 1960s, I have to shake my head.
I thought America would be past all this by now.
I think most Americans are ready to get past it, if our leaders would only let us. A few self-appointed representatives-of-their-race seem intent on keeping this pot boiling, long after the smoke of the ’60s has cleared. They are at best misguided. At worst, they are cynical hyprocrites, playing with people’s lives and dragging out the worst in America for their own self-interest.
Fort Worth isn’t Wise County, but their disheartening division serves as a warning to us all.
A school board should be the last place for this kind of racist wrangling. School trustees are in office for one purpose: to do the best they can for all the children. Most levels of government would give their eye teeth for that kind of clarity. A school board should be the easiest place in the world to get on the side of the angels and stay there.
So what does it mean when ethnic groups square off? What are they saying? Do we just assume that white school trustees will tilt the playing field in favor of white children? Is it taken for granted that black trustees want what’s best for the black kids, and to heck with all the others? Is it a given that Hispanic trustees favor only the kids whose native tongue is Spanish?
If so, we need to abandon the word “trustee” and come up with something else.
By federal law, since the LBJ era, we don’t allow that kind of discrimination in any area of public life. America has made enormous strides in my lifetime in the area of racial equality. The gains were hard-won, with the blood, sweat and tears of many good people who came together to fight for justice and equality.
So why now, in 2012, do politicians computerize and analyze to make sure their message targets this minority or that ethnic group? Why do we continue to draw lines around minority neighborhoods, as if they all vote as one bloc? Why do we perpetuate the myth that only a black person can understand blacks? That only a Hispanic can muster any admiration for immigrants from Mexico? That whatever your race, that will be a primary consideration in every decision you make?
As a middle-aged white male, I’m beyond resentment at this pigeonholing of people by color.
I’m an American. The experience of slaves brought to this country, their struggle to be free, then another 100-year struggle to win full civil rights – that’s part of my history and my culture.
I’m a Texan. The soil under my feet was once part of Mexico. The Spanish language and culture are mine, too.
I understand that racism still exists. I understand that government has a role to play in seeing that people of all ethnic backgrounds have equal access to the institutions of this country, equal opportunity to rise and participate in the American dream. I get it.
But I’m starting to believe our leaders don’t get it. It appears a new brand of top-down racism has become institutionalized, part of the fabric of government even as it fades from society, or tries to. Discrimination that would never fly in the classroom is now somehow OK in the boardroom, the council chamber, the halls of Congress.
I’m pretty sure young Americans don’t become racists just by growing up here. Not anymore.
They’re learning racism from their leaders.
I can’t imagine a worse place for that old ghost to rear its ugly head than a school board.
For once, I hope the kids aren’t paying attention.