Starting Trouble / Trouble Starting
By: Dr. Waples
So you want to talk about race. I do, but I haven’t always. My suburban white childhood in faraway exotic Charlotte, NC, was one when I very rarely had to confront race in a personal way, although I was engaged in personal interactions with race on a daily basis. My middle-class parents hired an African American housekeeper who was a loved and trusted parental figure for my sister and me. Over the years, I met many of her kids, but I don’t think I ever had to give any thought to how my family was entangled with hers. In first grade, I went to a segregated public elementary school: that fact still blows my mind. I went to the same school the next year, and there were four black kids in my class of maybe twenty-five. What I learned about them is that the black kids were the ones who got in trouble: I hadn’t learned anything yet about implicit bias, and neither had my teachers. (Now I can wonder what preparation those teachers received before their classrooms diversified: I’m sure it was far from adequate.)
My awareness about race grew because of the time I spent in classrooms, and in books. My teachers had names like Jean Toomer, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and especially Ralph Ellison, who stands at the center of my PhD research and writing. Probably the most meaningful single text that changed my worldview was the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize, which is still breathtaking and foundational more than thirty years after its release. When it came out in 1987, I had just moved to Mississippi, was just learning how to be a teacher, experiencing life in an independent school for the first time, just becoming aware of all the different subtle and overt varieties of cultural and institutional racism. By the time I finished grad school in 1996, my view of myself as a person, and as an American, was as someone personally committed to equality, but a citizen of a prosperous, powerful, violent nation whose pragmatic walk has never matched up with its idealistic talk. I imagined that my way of contributing as a person and as a citizen in my lifetime would be to play a significant role within an educational institution, to teach others to see the problems I saw, to pursue solutions to these problems, and to support each other across our many identities. I don’t think my approach has changed, even though there has been so much to learn along the way.
What has started to happen for me gradually over all this time, and I hope will continue to happen to me, is that the news that makes it to my head also makes it to my heart. The 2010’s were a decade in which the racial violence of the past continued, but media, especially social media, made sure that names and faces were attached to those crimes. We learned to know the names and say the names of those we lost, and as a native Charlottean, it’s important to recognize that no community is immune from the violence of racism. But I’m here primarily to talk about race at Country Day, and I am proud to say that I have also been learning the names of my fellow Buccaneers, whose heads and hearts have taught me what courage and perseverance and generosity and service within their community looks like, what a powerful example it sets. I could name so many names, and I would still fall far short of naming all who deserve to be recognized. While all students come to school to learn – whether they’re in the mood to or not – some students, especially students of color, often discover that to come to school, they have to be willing to teach as well as to learn – whether they’re in the mood to or not. Who else will explain to their peers, and sometimes to their teachers, that racism exists on so many levels, implicit as well as explicit, in moments of omission and awkwardness and distance, far more than in moments of anger or hatred. Whether they’re in the mood to or not, some students come to school in a space where good will and trust can’t be assumed… and even to hint at this truth is to be accused, whether silently or directly, that they are responsible for the discomfort of the accusers. Thank you, CCDS students of color – and faculty, staff, and administrators of color as well – for continuing to enter this space, in spite of all the uncomfortable and disappointing moments. Thank you for continuing to share your gifts and your hope for something better, whether you were in the mood to or not.
The simple truth is that I couldn’t have written these lines if it weren’t for the books that I have read, including books that CCDS has bought for me. One of those books has been with me for most of my time at CCDS: Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race (1997). Another is a book that I’ve been bringing to my students since 2016, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me (2015). Last year, the DAF Executive Committee conducted a book study of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (2018). The first place that I held each of these books in my hand was in Brian Wise’s office: I owe a lot of my development when it comes to racial awareness to CCDS, which has paid for me to attend national workshops like SEED and POCC and DLI. I also owe more than I can say to my personal friendship with Brian over more than two decades.
When I began writing this piece, I planned on discussing Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist and Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, two books that dig deeply into the day-to-day mental struggle of living in a racist society. The books that I have read, in 2020 and before, have taught me that it’s okay – in fact, it’s necessary – to use the R-word, to acknowledge the ugly truths of the culture we live in, because we can only change it by confronting it. If we white people are, to use DiAngelo’s term, too fragile to confront the world that we have made, and that we continually re-make in an attempt to enjoy our privilege without acknowledging it, then we will never be fully human – at least, not any kind of “human” we should be proud to be. When we see examples of our inhumanity in our media, we understandably want to turn away. But we can’t indulge in that privilege.
So, how do we get where we want to go? As I think my story shows, reading is good, reading might change our minds and our outlook, but all of us are dependent upon others – even upon institutions! – to turn new thoughts into fresh beliefs, better actions, unfamiliar habits of awareness and empathy and advocacy. CCDS students (and faculty and staff and administrators) need to read and to talk and to listen and to work with each other. We pride ourselves on being a superior “college-preparatory” school. But we can’t only prepare students for college admissions. We owe them some preparation for those midnight dorm conversations that get more sincere, more real than the ones during sunlight hours. We need to help students be prepared to meet that roommate, that professor, that new best friend, that boyfriend or girlfriend, who is not quite who we expected, who opens up new angles in our world, who helps us become a better version of ourself.
To get there, we need to follow the late Congressman John Lewis’s famous advice: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Certainly John Lewis’s life influenced him to relate “making some noise” to “get[ting] in … trouble,” but why should that be so for us at CCDS? Why should it be scary to make some noise about how we can be, and how we need to be, better? In this piece I’ve praised and thanked CCDS, and I’ve also described it as a place that has problems that it must face and work on. I’ve learned over my time here that the school is very good at being all things to all people, at letting everyone find their own preferred idea of “CCDS” and be relatively undisturbed in their enjoyment of it. We can praise our Affirmation of Community, even while we take pains to make sure each person’s idea of “community” goes unchallenged. The “necessary trouble” I’m envisioning here is to recognize the difference between taking people where they are, and leaving people where they are. We need to go to the trouble of teaching and living a version of “community” that is more inclusive than we have managed so far. I’m pretty sure it will be worth the trouble.
Diversity Books and this White Guy
By: Mr. Roseberry
So you want to talk about race. It’s the title of Ijeoma Oluo’s book, but sometimes it feels like the title of my life. My go-to explanation for my race fixation is straightforward enough: I grew up never fitting in with my deeply racist family, and I eventually broke those family ties, partly over my marriage to a person of color, and partly because I couldn’t take the conflict, anger, and anxiety that comes with incessant bigotry. I’ve spent much of the past 15 years untangling what all of that means, and I don’t imagine I will ever be done with that work.
But that’s just part of it. Reading books about race and social justice in the context of my personal life is a strange counterpoint to doing that same work in the context of my independent school career. While I have become more aware over the course of my adulthood of who I am and how I see the world, I have spent my professional life in privileged institutions striving to recast themselves into open and fair communities. There’s real tension there—just as there always was between me and my family. But unlike my family, my schools and I claim to be working toward the same goals. So, this relationship continues, always testing, always pushing, with an uneasy mixture of compromise and acceptance, dependence and antagonism.
Summer is usually a break from my independent school world, but this past summer blurred those boundaries as it turned into something none of us had seen before. As race moved to the forefront of our national consciousness, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist became wildly popular, at least with groups of well-intentioned white folks trying to respond to the massive civil unrest we witnessed online, in person, or both. For me, the BLM movement inspired great hope, but that hope was (and is) tempered by how well I understand how BLM is seen by my racist brother and the many millions who think like he does. When justice moves forward, racism waits and transforms, attacking through known tactics and twisting itself into new atrocities for a new day.
So, what was my response to BLM? I read How to Be an Antiracist, like the other well-intentioned white folks. In the context of my personal journey of understanding, Kendi’s book didn’t particularly widen my awareness. But in the context of my professional life, I thought it was going to be a venue for engagement and discussion with colleagues. I was excited to do something with all my reading, all my experiences—but after an initial meeting and lots of interest, things quickly moved in another direction that wasn’t part of my racial journey.
Instead, my journey continued at home with my wife, centered around a different book, Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. Working through Saad’s book the way we did couldn’t have happened at school. The title alone says why, because Saad’s language spares no white feelings and calls for utter honesty about who we are as white people. In contrast, my independent school life risks very few white feelings (except maybe mine), and I recognize careful boundaries marking the extent of our institutional honesty. Schools are educational, but they are also political—and the politics of racism has razor sharp edges.
As summer ended and we headed back to campus, I was reading other books, including The Color of Law, which tells the cruel history of racist policies in America, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou’s classic autobiography that I had never read, and Stamped, Jason Reynolds’ young adult retelling of Ibram X. Kendi’s crushing study of race in America. When the November elections rolled around, I knew the common narrative in those books would continue no matter who won. Racist America is as consistent as my racist family, and the reading I have done resigns me to that injustice as surely as it hardens me to privileged pleas for kindness and civility, that polite language that claims to protect our social fabric while it overlooks the raw edges of our torn connections and unraveled worldviews, subverting the straightforward truth that needs to be told.
I was supposed to be part of the generation that moved us past all that, a white boy raised after the gains of the Civil Rights movement, raised on the multiculturalism of Sesame Street, but also raised trying to make sense of the racist, sexist, homophobic worldview of my dinner table and my church. Now, while white men of my parents’ generation still battle over ruling our country, I find myself wondering if the kids I’ve taught over the past 30 years can find the path forward, since my peers and I waited so long to do anything that we seem to have lost our generation’s chance. You can hear our lost opportunity in the language of kindness and civility: wait, be careful, don’t come off as abrasive or aggressive. You can hear it in my language too: I read, I understand, I take care to protect my own security.
Angelou, Cullors, Saad, and other authors in my pantheon of necessary voices—Butler, Cannon, LeGuin, Robinson, Walker—convict me in my hypocrisy. They sentence me to keep reading, keep listening, keep seeing the world for what it is, rather than what my race urges me to pretend it is. So I do, and I keep funneling those voices into the CCDS library. Those books sit, for the most part, unread, unrealized like the promise of my generation, like the promise of me. But not quite all of them, not quite all of the time—sometimes they’re seen, sometimes they’re read, and that’s a little step forward for me, for my school, for my nation.
So, what will I read next? What will I do next? Whatever it is, I know I cannot unread those necessary authors who speak to me about what it is to live in a white world. Their voices are part of who I am now—across generations, across races—telling the truth of the many millions who deserved to be heard but weren’t, who deserved better than bigotry, but didn’t get it. In the end, all we have to hold us together are those stories, the stories of our lives--libraries full of stories, still waiting to be known.
We Owe Black Women
By: Laura S. ('21)
Roses are red
Georgia is blue
For the first time since 1992
-Janet Forklift (@janetforklift)
I wanted to include this poem in this edition of The Hook to honor BIPOC individuals who worked tirelessly in this election cycle. I specifically want to honor Black women whose strength and dedication to the fight towards justice is beyond admirable. If it weren’t for the Black women in Georgia, the state wouldn’t have flipped for the first time in 28 years. Stacey Abrams, Helen Butler, Nsé Ufot, Deborah Scott, Tamieka Atkins, and countless other Black women worked to overcome voter suppression and register over 800,000 Georgia voters. We wouldn’t be here without you. Black Lives Matter ALWAYS. Matter is the minimum.