I am the captain of my ship–as well as the author of today’s note from 1979 or 1980. And, as you’ll see, in 9th grade I was already on my way to becoming a master of race relations and cultural sensitivity. (My former boss and friend, Kirk Koepsel, once told me, “Sarcasm doesn’t translate into writing.” I have always hoped this isn’t true, but if it is, please know I was just now being sarcastic.)
I grew up on the east coast–elementary school in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area and intermediate and high school in a D.C. suburb–so, consequently, my formative years were blessed with a fair amount of racial and cultural diversity. I had White friends, Black friends, and every shade of brown in between. There were plenty of Latino, Indian, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern kids at Herndon Intermediate and Herndon High School. In 9th grade, I had an Iranian friend whom I asked to teach me some Persian (Farsi) words and phrases. Sadly, all I can remember today is halet chetore, which means “How are you?”
However, my closest friends were White, and, if I think about it, I can only remember being at their homes, knowing their families and spending most of my one-on-one time with them. Time spent with friends of color was always in school, or at school-related social events–rarely individually, and never at home.
What many of my peers probably don’t remember is that I attended our senior prom with my friend K., a Black football player whose family had moved to Herndon from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). I am ashamed to confess that I told my parents I was going with a different (read “White”) friend because I didn’t think they would approve. K. and I wore matching tuxedos, and double-dated with the mutual friend and his girlfriend, who deigned to join the three of us in our dapper finery and wore a dress instead.
It’s particularly fascinating to reflect on the scenario briefly referred to in my note–of which I have absolutely no recollection–at age 51, when I spend half of each workday in a community college diversity center. I’m far from being the most culturally fluent person in the room, but in the past couple years, my horizons have expanded enormously thanks to my job. My Latino boss–with whom I have almost daily conversations about some aspect of cultural competency–has brought both Tim Wise and Robin DiAngelo to our school to speak on White privilege. I’ve read several of their books, I participated in a year-long Inclusion & Cultural Fluency leadership training series, and I’m learning to speak Spanish because my inability to communicate with so many folks has been driving me crazy for a long time.
In other words, I’ve made a personal choice to improve my cultural competency and increase my understanding of White privilege. This is a priority I will work on throughout the rest of my life, whether or not I continue to pursue a career in higher ed. I may not remember why the Korean boy made me nervous, nor why I thought I needed to “feel sorry for him,” but from the perspective of more than thirty years later, I now know to challenge myself when I have thoughts like these.
How’s life? mine’s just boreamundo. actually it’s pretty gross. my life is in a rut. it’s been there for the longest time. but i’m planning on having a heap o’ fun this weekend. Friday night I’m going to a party, Saturday night I’m going skating, now I have to find sompin’ to do sunday.
i told C. about ya not being allowed to go to Roanoke. She’s really upset. I think we could try and talk your parents back into letting you go.
I sit with this
Vietnamese Korean guy in Bio & M. isn’t here. He carries a Korean-American dictionary around with him. I feel sorry for him but he makes me nervous.
This class is sorry. I wish I could’ve gotten into Mr. S. 2nd period, because I’m pretty sure that’s where A. is now.
Mr. S. sez they need pitchers on the softball teams ‘round here.