A Privilege, Not a Problem

Last Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when racial issues bubbled up to the surface of Andover politics and when the act of asserting one’s opinions before truly thinking about those opinions was more common than the inverse, the phrase “self-segregation” was invoked ad nauseam. Indeed, we continue to use the phrase when discussing everything from the virtues of CAMD to the purpose of Mix It Up Day. The term defines an interesting concept, but as a member of a minority that supposedly self-segregates, I think that it truly fails to explain the complicated need to be surrounded by those who are similar in ethnic/racial background. Self-segregation usually is not used to describe white kids sitting at a cafeteria table or grouping together during a school dance. Rather, the assumption is that there are many factors that explain the reasons behind the associations among a group of white people: they all participate in a specific sport; claim the same political views; share the same kind of humor; or perhaps they are all different and their friendship thrives on the diversity of opinions and interests. However, when the same phenomenon occurs with those of other races, “self-segregation” seems to be an easy explanation. There is truth to the fact that our campus is dominated by racially homogeneous groups of friends, a pattern visible in every dining hall, at every school dance, and at every All-School Meeting. Yet it is dangerous to assume that these groups are formed merely on the basis of race. A commonality in racial identity can be the reason two people notice one another, and even approach one another, but shared race alone is not enough to sustain a relationship. As friendships solidify, race becomes secondary in relevance. Phillips Academy can be an intimidating environment for its black students, who can feel alone and misunderstood on this majority-white campus. Upon arrival, I flocked to the side of the dining hall filled with people who looked like me because I knew that the students there would at least share the experience of being black in a society demarcated by race. The same kind of assumption is made when I approach a group of girls for the first time; I know that there are at least some shared feelings and experiences associated with gender, and that perhaps more shared interests, philosophies, and preferences to arise from this. Race brought me to the “black table,” but more compelling reasons kept me there. I found a wealth of different nationalities, ideologies, philosophies, political leanings, musical tastes, economic and social backgrounds, histories, and experiences. At a table allegedly uniform in composition, there is tremendous diversity. I stayed because I found people with whom I could laugh, argue, talk, and share. Having a friendship with another black person allows for a degree of uniqueness; with a black friend, there are certain indefinable and unexplainable commonalities. We can talk about black issues, black identity, and black culture at a completely different level than I could with a non-black counterpart. Different, however, does not necessarily mean higher or better. I have many friends of other races with whom I am very close. I have branched out past the “black table” without rejecting it. As a supposed “self-segregator,” I enjoy the comfort of being around people who can relate to my racial identity, but I also have the privilege of learning about others who cannot. Rather than forced mingling or quota-dictated diversity, this freedom is the best path to social integration. The common argument to the contrary, which points to CAMD’s purported endorsement of self-segregation, is absurd. CAMD continues, and ought, to offer a setting for those with shared racial backgrounds to meet and feel comfortable. CAMD has two doors open to all races. The choice to walk in must be our own. We must preserve our ability to be both comfortable and challenged in the same lunch period.