CON­VER­SA­TIONS ABOUT RACE

Record Observer - - Opinion - By MARY WIL­SON LEVEN­THAL © MARY WIL­SON LEVEN­THAL

A group of con­cerned cit­i­zens opened con­ver­sa­tions about race in Queen Anne’s County on Sun­day night, June 26. About 60 county cit­i­zens sat to­gether at ta­bles of six to eight where African Amer­i­cans and Euro­pean Amer­i­cans shared fam­ily-style dis­cus­sions over a home-cooked sup­per. Ev­ery­one talked about what race meant per­son­ally in their life ex­pe­ri­ences.

The evening arose through the work of the Mul­ti­cul­tural Pro­fi­ciency Sub­com­mit­tee of the Queen Anne’s County Lo­cal Man­age­ment Board, which is re­spon­si­ble for pro­grams that up­lift the lives of chil­dren and their fam­i­lies in our com­mu­nity. June 26 marked the first of what is planned to be monthly Sun­day Sup­pers to Talk about Race.

Iron­i­cally, this im­por­tant step took place just days be­fore the hor­rific events in Dal­las, St. Paul, and Ba­ton Rouge un­folded. Na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence with the racial di­vide has been fes­ter­ing since the 1960s when Pres­i­dent John­son fa­cil­i­tated leg­is­la­tion that squarely ad­dressed civil rights. The lack of in­ter­cul­tural com­pe­tence we con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence to­day in 2016 mir­rors the civil un­rest of the ‘60s.

Over the past few decades, con­ver­sa­tions about race in Queen Anne’s County have not been loud enough for most of us to hear. Given that the large ma­jor­ity of Queen Anne’s County cit­i­zens are Euro­pean Amer­i­cans, racial dis­par­ity has not been in most peo­ple’s line of sight. Typ­i­cally, be­ing “White” has meant be­ing omit­ted from con­ver­sa­tions about racism. The Queen Anne’s County Sun­day Sup­pers will help am­plify the value of such con­ver­sa­tions.

At the close of the June evening, we were in­vited to share in­sights from our ta­ble con­ver­sa­tions about race. One woman vol­un­teered that she had never thought about what it meant to be a white per­son in the com­mu­nity. She elab­o­rated that this was in stark con­trast to her new­found aware­ness of how “be­ing black” was in­te­gral to the ev­ery­day think­ing of African Amer­i­cans about them­selves and the ac­tions they chose to take.

This woman’s ex­pe­ri­ence demon­strates what is of­ten com­monly as­sumed with­out con­scious thought, that is, that be­ing an Amer­i­can is be­ing white. Why else do we say African Amer­i­can, Asian Amer­i­can, His­panic Amer­i­can, but do not bother to say Euro Amer­i­can?

I, too, am guilty of per­pet­u­at­ing this so­cio­cul­tural per­spec­tive. When I wrote my doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion on mul­ti­cul­tural teach­ing prac­tices, two aca­demi­cians ad­vised me to use Euro Amer­i­can, rather than white in my writ­ing. I ar­gued that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of re­search con­tin­ued to use the term white as a means of clearly iden­ti­fy­ing ways of dis­tinct think­ing about dif­fer­ences in race and cul­ture. In ret­ro­spect, this ar­gu­ment is valid only if read­ers rec­og­nize white power with its in­her­ent priv­i­leges and as­sump­tions.

So why has it been hard for us to have con­ver­sa­tions about race? Cur­rent de­mo­graphic data should help us to talk freely. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. 2010 Cen­sus, Mary­land al­ready has a pop­u­la­tion with a 53 per­cent ma­jor­ity de­fined by what were once called mi­nor­ity groups (U.S. Cen­sus Bureau, 2011). This same cen­sus pro­jected the mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion would be the ma­jor­ity na­tion­wide by 2042. The data does not ap­pear to have helped us be­cause th­ese statis­tics do not de­scribe the make-up of our county with its African Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion of only 7 per­cent.

Vi­o­lence across our na­tion over the past few weeks has stim­u­lated more con­ver­sa­tions about race na­tion­wide. June’s Queen Anne’s County Sun­day Sup­per stim­u­lated us to ac­knowl­edge that here in Queen Anne’s County we live in a White cul­ture. Now we need to act on that knowl­edge to ap­pre­ci­ate values, be­liefs, and world views that dif­fer from our own. They call on us to go be­yond our con­ver­sa­tions and act on cor­rect­ing in­equities that ex­ist in the fab­ric of our own com­mu­nity.

This is the first of sev­eral col­umns on “Con­ver­sa­tions About Race” by Dr. Mary Wil­son Leven­thal, who has taught in Queen Anne’s County since 2001. Her early teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­gan in Philadel­phia in­ner city schools in the late 1960s at a time when con­ver­sa­tions about race were lead­ing head­lines. Mo­ti­vated by her teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, she au­thored “In­ter­cul­tural Aware­ness in Ru­ral Ti­tle 1 Ele­men­tary School Teach­ing Prac­tices” (2012). Hav­ing de­voted more than 40 years to ed­u­ca­tion, Leven­thal has served as a teacher, ad­min­is­tra­tor, par­ent vol­un­teer, com­mu­nity ad­vo­cate and school board mem­ber. She has worked in pub­lic, pri­vate and in­ter­na­tional schools and uni­ver­si­ties. She has a Doc­tor­ate of Ed­u­ca­tion in Teacher Leadership from Walden Univer­sity, an M.B.A. from the Univer­sity of Hong Kong, and a B.Sc. in Ele­men­tary Ed­u­ca­tion, summa cum laude, from Tem­ple Univer­sity.

DR. MARY WIL­SON LEVEN­THAL

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