CON­VER­SA­TIONS ABOUT RACE IN QUEEN ANNE’S COUNTY

Record Observer - - Opinion -

By MARY WIL­SON LEVENTHAL

Con­ver­sa­tions about race in Queen Anne’s County have been go­ing on for decades, but the vol­ume of these con­ver­sa­tions is fi­nally get­ting loud enough for more of us to hear and lis­ten. Given that our de­mo­graphic data does not mir­ror what most of Mary­land and our neigh­bor­ing coun­ties look like, it has been easy to take a pass on par­tic­i­pat­ing in these con­ver­sa­tions. Our county’s pop­u­la­tion is about 90 per­cent Cau­casian, so not only is it easy to avoid such con­ver­sa­tions, but it is also easy to dis­en­gage from any civic ac­tion that bol­sters mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and so­cial jus­tice.

It is also eas­ier to hand the re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­dress prob­lems and out­comes stem­ming from racial dis­par­ity to our po­lice and teach­ers. Yes, peo­ple in these jobs are com­mit­ted to serv­ing the com­mu­nity and work­ing to make it a bet­ter place with each con­tri­bu­tion they pro­vide. This is a nat­u­ral beach­head. How­ever, re­cent con­ver­sa­tions about race are louder and more ro­bust, telling us more than that is needed.

Many re­cent na­tional con­ver­sa­tions in­cluded talk about re­newed train­ing and sys­tems for our po­lice force. Yet a just and equitable so­ci­ety can­not be built en­tirely on train­ing and re­vamp­ing sys­tems. Train­ing and sys­tems are di­rected at a sub­set of our so­ci­ety. This can help com­mu­nity lead­ers with a skill set, but racial in­equities come about be­cause of our mind­sets.

When we learn to rec­og­nize our own mind­set, we can then in­ter­nal­ize that un­der­stand­ing so our per­sonal ac­tions sup­port fair treat­ment and equitable op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­one. In that way we are ready to build mean­ing­ful skill sets in sup­port of a stronger, more just, com­mu­nity. Recog­ni­tion of per­sonal mind­sets is not the sole re­spon­si­bil­ity of our uni­formed po­lice. The com­mu­nity’s en­tire cit­i­zenry must be en­gaged.

Tack­ling the mind­sets of peo­ple is dif­fi­cult. It means tak­ing time for in­tro­spec­tion where we think about why we be­haved in a par­tic­u­lar way. It re­quires find­ing ways to help in­di­vid­u­als to re­flect on their be­hav­ior. Aware­ness of your own mind­set height­ens your aware­ness of dif­fer­ences and sim­i­lar­i­ties in other peo­ples’ think­ing. This is where con­ver­sa­tions about race can make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in our lives. Con­ver­sa­tions can re­move a deficit world­view that im­pairs re­la­tion­ships and weak­ens so­ci­ety.

One of Queen Anne’s County’s early con­ver­sa­tions about race in­volved a No­vem­ber 1993 au­dit of our pub­lic schools con­ducted by the Mary­land State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. The au­dit as­sessed how stu­dent di­ver­sity was be­ing served. The Jan­uary 1994 fi­nal re­port had 16 rec­om­men­da­tions to strengthen equitable ser­vice to our stu­dent pop­u­la­tion. The au­dit stim­u­lated a valu­able con­ver­sa­tion to build aware­ness of a need. We were called upon to act.

Twenty years later, lo­cal res­i­dent Mary Walker who strongly ad­vo­cates for so­cial jus­tice in our schools brought the doc­u­ment to the at­ten­tion of school of­fi­cials. In 2014 she pointed out that the 16 rec­om­men­da­tions made in 1994 were not im­ple­mented fully to bring pos­i­tive change. Be­cause there is a large ma­jor­ity of Cau­casian stu­dents and fam­i­lies mak­ing up our school com­mu­nity, it was easy to for­get that ac­tion must fol­low mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion.

Let’s not step back from par­tic­i­pat­ing in con­ver­sa­tions about race in Queen Anne’s County. These con­ver­sa­tions lay the ground­work for in­creas­ing our aware­ness of our per­sonal iden­tity. Through greater self-knowl­edge we in­crease our sen­si­tiv­ity to­wards oth­ers and gain an aware­ness of so­cial dis­course that re­sults in un­just prac­tices to­ward those who are dif­fer­ent from one­self. Once more of us share our aware­ness of our per­sonal mind­sets, we will cul­ti­vate ac­cep­tance, adap­ta­tion, and in­te­gra­tion of other world­views into our daily lives. This en­ables us to act eq­ui­tably in our schools, on the street and ev­ery­where in our com­mu­nity.

DR. MARY WIL­SON LEVENTHAL

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