Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why I Remain Thankful in a Fractured Country

BVP Giving Thanks Blog Series- Part IV

By Katelyn Silva, Chief Communications Officer at Rhode Island Mayoral Academies
Cousins taking a silly "selfie" are a reminder of a better future.
We’re living in a country where our schools are becoming re-segregated, our communities divided, and, in too many instances, young black men are dying. It’s hard for many to feel thankful.

The number of black students in schools where 90 percent or more of the population are minorities increased from 2.3 million to more than 2.9 million from 1993-2011. Compared to 1970, today, the wealthy are far more likely to live in separate communities from the poor. Black males between the ages of 15 and 19 are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white peers. The frustration and anger is justifiably mounting.

I—as a white, middle-class woman—share those emotions.

Yet, as Thanksgiving approaches, I've tried to find silver linings in my tiny piece of the world that may point towards a better tomorrow. 

Here are a few things for which I am thankful:

I’m thankful that when my 3-year-old daughter differentiates between her cousins—both named Ava—by saying “my cousin with the brown face” or the “white face,” she says it with pure candor because it’s as important a differentiation as what color shoes they’re wearing that day. Her love for them is equal and unbridled. This will never change—even when the world “teaches her” not to talk about the color of someone’s skin (as if that beautiful difference is a hushed secret). Inter-racial love and family is a byproduct of our evolution as a society and it will bring us further still.

I’m thankful that I am not one of the 75% of white people who do not have a single person of color in their social media circles—indicative of the much larger problem of our segregated communities, schools, and life experiences. How do you forge interracial friendships in racial isolation? How can we learn to understand one another when we don’t have any relationships with each other? My life would be flatter and devoid of so much had I not been fortunate enough to have friendships across race and class.

I’m thankful that the richness of my relationships professionally and personally has taught me the truth of my white privilege, while never feeling questioned about my (and many other’s) genuine desire for that to change.  Being white does not mean you are bad, racist, or don’t care, it just means you inherently have privileges that others don’t. It’s important to be aware of those.

I’m thankful that in a world where injustice happens more often than it should, the job I go to everyday is about bringing children together, not keeping them apart—through K-12 educational options with diverse populations. Research shows that when students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds learn together side-by-side, prejudice and stereotyping among those students is reduced. Friendships across racial lines flourish and greater levels of cultural competence develop. Interracial friendships are one of the single most important indicators for reducing prejudice.

I’m thankful that in the intentionally racially and socio-economically diverse Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, the students are learning, playing, and growing together—inside and outside of the school buildings as friends and peers. Non-prejudiced kids tend to grow into non-prejudiced adults. Studies show that white students who attend diverse schools are far more likely to attend diverse colleges, live in diverse neighborhoods, and work in diverse organizations. Significantly, students of all races who experience high levels of interracial contact are “more likely to feel that positive steps should be taken to mitigate exclusion based on race.”  

I’m thankful for the conversations being had across America about the reality of racial prejudice and injustice. Not every one of them is fruitful. Not every one of them is valuable. Some are downright incendiary. But, many, especially amongst our younger generations, are coming from a place of authenticity and a want for a more equitable and just future. There can be no doubt that until we start talking openly and honestly about racial injustice, we can never hope to overcome it.

After yesterday’s ruling that Darren Wilson will not be indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown, many Americans are feeling less than thankful. The deaths of young men like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice have made it all too clear that not enough people can be grateful for the same experiences I’ve enjoyed.

My hope is we start talking to one another, attending school together, and living side by side in real ways. When that day comes—and I believe it will—then, we can all be truly thankful.

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