District Administration December2017 - 12
Beverly Daniel Tatum
people bring it to your attention.
So for white people, most of whom
are still living in majority white communities and working in largely white
settings, it's no surprise that that dimension of identity goes unnoticed.
If you are the only white person in a
largely black environment, you're going
to be paying attention to it.
One of the strongest tools is teaching
by example. You describe one effort-
the Atlanta Friendship Initiative-to
bring people of different races together. How does that work?
It was the brainchild of a white man in
Atlanta named Bill Nordmark, and he
sought out a relationship with a black
man he knew only casually, John Grant.
But he explained his idea to John and
asked John if he would be willing to
work with him on it, and John was very
enthusiastic in his reply.
They set out to identify pairs of
people who would be willing to make a
commitment to get to know each other
across lines of difference. Today there
are more than 200 people participating,
but the list is growing all the time. The
people who are asked to participate basically agree to do two things.
One is to meet with your partner
four times a year, once a quarter. And
then have some gathering of your family and that person's family at least once
a year. So really it is about developing
friendships, but friendships with people
you probably wouldn't know otherwise
and who are different from you in some
And as the Friendship Initiative has
gotten more visibility, people from other communities have been contacting
the founders to say, "We really like this
idea and we'd like to try it in our town,
how would we do that?"
Can something like that take place in
a K12 environment?
12 December 2017
Part of the challenge that we have in schools
is that children are not being brought together
on equal terms.
Well, the idea behind it is that when
you bring people together there's a basic
social/psychological principle operating. Bringing people together on equal
footing and asking them to engage in
a cooperative activity that is sponsored
or sanctioned by authorities tends to
improve inter-group relations.
Sports teams are the classic example
of that. Everyone on the team is there
because they know how to play. So
in that sense they're all equal. They're
asked to do something cooperatively.
I always think of former New Jersey
senator Bill Bradley, who really had a
good understanding of racial relations.
He often attributed that understanding
to his experience playing professional
basketball, because he got to know
black players and got to see the way in
which they were treated differently than
he was. That opened his eyes to the issues of racism.
This is to say that it is certainly
possible in a school setting to bring
children together and ask them to work
cooperatively toward a common goal in
ways that can encourage better understanding and improve group relations.
Part of the challenge that we have
in schools is that children are not being brought together on equal terms.
They're being separated, with some
groups being labeled as smarter than
other groups. And we know that there's
a high correlation between racial group
membership and where you get placed.
There are things that schools can
do structurally that certainly can help
young people get to know each other
and have positive relations. And when
schools do those things you are much
less likely to see the kind of rigid separations in cafeterias that we were talking about at the beginning.
You end the book hopeful but, again,
that was before the administration
rescinded DACA, threatened the
Dream Act and instituted a travel
ban. Is your hope still as strong?
Well, it does worry me, because progress is rarely linear. It's usually two steps
forward, one step back-you make
progress, then there's resistance to that
progress and a backlash against it.
We can lift up the example of the
election of President Obama in 2008-
whether you liked him or not-as
symbolically significant that the United
States elected the first African-American president.
That said, immediately following
his election there was the backlash
of growth in white supremacist hate
groups and also concerted efforts at
We see two steps forward and sometimes a step or a step-and-a-half backwards before we move forward again. I
think there's widespread agreement that
we're now in a backward moment.
I do believe it's possible to move
forward again. But that's not going to
happen without a concerted effort. If
there's a message to the reader, it is that
we all have to take responsibility for
that forward motion if we want to see
it happen. DA
Tim Goral is senior editor.