CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RACE IN QUEEN ANNE’S COUNTY
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