Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Snobs & Bigots

I'm losing my cool. Aside from the title of this post, I'm going to refrain from expressing any of the thoughts I'm having about the place where I live or the people who run the school district. Instead, I'm going to put the evidence to you, and allow you to decide.

1. An excerpt of an email from our superintendent, 7 February 2007:

"Finally, are we a Schools of Choice district, or will we become one? The answers are emphatically NO and NO. Boards of Education must intentionally and by resolution opt in to that program; ours never has and has no future intention of doing so. It would mean opening our district to all residents of Oakland County on a virtually unrestricted basis, something we know our constituents would not want. So if you hear rumors to that effect, please know that they are without foundation."

2. Last fall, there was an incident where a high school student felt threatened enough to bring a handgun to school. He lost his nerve and threw the weapon in some bushes, where it was recovered. When the district reported the incident and attempted to answer parents' questions, one of them was overwhelmingly whether the group of students threatening the gun-toting kid were residents or tuition-based kids. As it turns out, they were all residents, students at the other high school. (No email excerpt or citation.)

3. Also last fall, there was a fight at a football game, something nearly unheard of in our district. Once again, the district attempted to inform and ease concerns of parents who, once again, eagerly questioned the origin of the students involved. Once again, all were residents of our illustrious and privileged and nationally recognized district. I happened to not only witness the fight, but help break it up, and was surprised that witness's accounts didn't lead to the district some way or another mentioning the student's skin color. (Again, no email excerpt or citation.)

4. The latest offense: Below is the entirety of an email sent today from the assistant principal of a middle school:

"This morning at approximately 7:35 a.m. an East Hills student observed a suspicious vehicle driving through the Heathers Club complex. The student was not approached nor was there an attempt to engage her in conversation. The vehicle was described as a small cream colored compact car driven by an African American male between 40-50 years old. The Bloomfield Township Police department was notified and will continue to investigate the incident."

And my response:

"Ms. [Assistant Principal],

"Forgive my intrusion on your day; an acquaintance of two district principals, I realize you may spend a good portion of your evening responding to the email sent out a few minutes ago regarding the report of a suspicious vehicle in the Heathers Club complex.

"I am mailing you not to express concern about the incident, but about the announcement itself. I was offended at the apparent tone of prejudice, both socioeconomic and racial. While it can be said that nothing in the email is blatantly inappropriate, it's clear that both the student who reported the vehicle and you yourself (and by extension, the BHS District) thought the fact that an older black man driving a compact car through an exclusive upper class neighborhood created an inherent danger. As an intelligent, tolerant person, and as a district resident, this severely disturbs me.

"I am not familiar with the Heathers Club complex, so I cannot say whether the anonymous driver had any right to be on the streets therein, but two particular points in the reported incident bother me: the driver was not on school property, and the student was not approached. I realize and respect the responsibility of you and the District to inform students and parents of dangers, both real and potential, but I am at a loss as to how this incident justifies any such concern.

"The attitude of exclusivity shown here is a dangerous symptom intolerance and ignorance, and I urge you and other District representatives to examine the subtle signs of both that regularly present themselves in the everyday business of the Bloomfield Hills/West Bloomfield area. We cannot afford to pretend these things only exist in less privileged areas, and we cannot raise tolerant, diversity-minded children in any environment where seeing someone who doesn't exactly fit our expectations causes a legitimate safety concern.

"Thanks for your time. Kind Regards,"

(et cetera)

* * * * *

Update 20 Feb 08: I received two responses this morning, one from each recipient of my original email. To paraphrase them, the car in question apparently slowly passed the reporting student, a 6th grade girl, several times, and the driver stared. At one point the car stopped for 2-3 minutes. The girl got scared, which is understandable, and told someone about it. The email was sent on the advice the author's administration and local police. Apologies were profuse, and the word "certainly" was used in each response regarding the intent not to offend. Also, a follow-up email was sent district-wide by the superintendent addressing my concerns and clarifying the situation.

All this is very nice, and does actually justify public notice, but I stand by my assertion of subtle signs. It seems ironic to me that in a community that, united by great forces (wealth and greater-than average education), would like to believe itself risen above the common ignorances that plague society has fallen back one of humankind's greatest flaws: the I'm Better Than You complex.

Another update: names removed.

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