Intellectualizing to Inaction: The Well-Intentioned Failure of Rich White “Diversity.”

Rosetta Lee, a diversity speaker, gave a talk last night to parents of Key School students. Photo: APat Staff
Rosetta Lee, a diversity speaker, gave a talk last night to parents of Key School students on diversity and race issues. Photo: APat Staff

by Vicky Bruce

Like the rest of the country, people of color and non-Christians in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County are reeling under the fallout of the boldly-bigoted Trump administration.

To see the make-up of kids at the Key School (of which I have one 7th-grade Caucasian), you’d be apt to think that these kids are immune to the deluge of discrimination streaming through society’s angry underbelly. The pricy private school goes K through 12, and most kids are from well-to-do families and parents have multiple degrees and connections. The kids are all colors and several religions.

But they are not immune.

Last fall, African American children in the middle school heard the “N” word hurled at them for the first time by a new student. LGBT kids were told they were going to hell by a peer. And recently, several Latino kids were taunted that their parents were going to be deported.

All this brought the Key brass to collaborate about what to do. One of the things they came up with appeared last night in “renown expert” Rosetta Lee, a Korean-American bisexual from Seattle who came to give Key faculty and parents a lesson in diversity. We were told that the faculty had been enlightened by Lee earlier, and the parents were given the same opportunity yesterday evening.

Lee’s talk turned out to be a lot about Lee, a teacher at a girls’ school in Washington State who had lots of her own experiences with racism. She had multiple PowerPoint slides and big words and flow charts. She said things like “dimensions of variability” and “accumulated impact microagressions.” Then she told of so many things that you shouldn’t say or do in any situation that, had I been a person of limited pigment who had never spoken to a person of color, I would be absolutely paralyzed to do so.

A few parents, those with PhDs mostly, were able to glean some semblance of sociological comprehension out of her talk. Most of us were left shaking our heads. What to do now, we asked?

Neither Lee nor head of school Mathew Nespole was prepared for the question. There were no planned follow-up action items for parents, many of whom had come to learn how to make things better. When Nespole asked for patience, and for us to appreciate that Key was working on it, one African American father took offense. The single dad estimated he’d dropped a cool $300 thousand at Key School for his high-school senior’s education, and that his son had been subject to some of the same discrimination he’d experienced thirty years before. Other parents pointed out that while Key purports to celebrate diversity, the faculty of the middle and upper school is lily white and can’t possibly relate completely to children of color.

Key School is not alone in their tone-deaf answer to dealing with diversity issues. I’ve recently seen a lot of paralysis in well-intentioned white people who want to help, but seem frozen in their tracks, afraid to fumble, to say or do the wrong thing, to be judged. Legendary local Civil Rights activist Carl Snowden (who graduated from Key School in the 1970s and would have been a great guy to come speak to Key parents about race issues in Annapolis) said recently on a panel discussion about race in Annapolis; people need to meet people in other communities. When they do, they will find people just like themselves.

Matthew Nespole; I challenge you, the Key School Board of Directors, and all of the Anne Arundel Caucasian community. This is honestly the most vital moment in fifty years for white people to stand up and take action. We need zero PowerPoints and 100 percent more talking to each other, interacting and standing up against injustice. We need to be fearless in the fight for true equality, and that includes letting go of the fear of not always doing exactly the right thing.

Vicky Bruce is an Author, Filmmaker and an editor for the APat. She is from Riva, Maryland. 

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