Expand Your Comfort Zone

Last Monday marked the 50th Anniversary of the Supreme Court case Brown v. The Board of Education. This landmark decision was the first victory for advocates of scholastic integration and signaled the beginning of the end of the ironically named concept of “separate but equal” education. Integration took a great deal of time to implement in the South, where racial tension still remains thicker than anywhere else in the nation. Ten years after the Supreme Court struck down the policy of school segregation, Southern “integrated” schools had only one percent black students, and all-black schools were still common. A lot of things have changed in 50 years. In my hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, the all-white New Hanover High School has since been integrated by force. It was at this high school where I spent my freshman year. By the time I entered the school, there was a near-even mix of black and white students, and the school itself straddled the line between the mostly black and mostly white neighborhoods downtown. Racial tensions, however, were still at a fever-pitch. The forced government segregation had been replaced by the self-segregation practiced by students; rather than black and white mixing into a blur of gray, the lunchroom was more like a chessboard, with tables almost always containing students of one race or the other. Other than their similar-sounding names, Andover and New Hanover do not have much in common. Coming to this school introduced me to a level of racial and cultural diversity the likes of which I had never before experienced. Yet like New Hanover, the practice of racial self-segregation persists even at Andover. Granted, we have a relatively miniscule level of racial tension, and self-segregation is not all that common. But it is impossible to deny that it is there. We see it every day: tables of black kids sitting on the left side of Lower Right in Commons, clusters of Asian kids sitting in Lower Left. Being a predominately white school, there are, of course, plenty of all white tables as well. I do not believe that any of these people are consciously segregating themselves from people of other races; students at Andover generally have open minds and, in my experience, rarely act on racial prejudice. Though self-segregation may be subconscious, that is in no way a justification for its continued existence. Racially homogeneous settings can be a breeding ground for bad stereotypes and racist jokes. On our campus, we have an entire department devoted to enhancing cultural and racial awareness: the Office of Community and Multi-Cultural Development (CAMD). The CAMD office is the center of a great deal of controversy among students, and sadly, opinions on whether CAMD is helpful or harmful often correspond with a student’s race. I have heard students say that CAMD only aggravates racial tension on campus, that it acts against the ideas of equality that it was founded to advocate. When I walk into CAMD every day before math class, nearly everyone in the room is black, and I am often the only white person. This does not bother me at all, but for some people, it is not entirely comfortable. The far wall of the CAMD office is lined with magazines like Ebony and KoreAm and other publications targeted at minorities, and again, some white people are not entirely comfortable in an environment that seems like it was not created for them. To those who say that CAMD is unnecessary and causes tension or those who intentionally avoid it: take the initiative and go spend some time in CAMD. I assure all of you that the chairs are comfortable, the snacks are great, and Mr. Edwards is usually in there with a smile and a hello for everyone who enters. Despite what some of you may think, you will not get funny looks, no matter what race you are. It is not the Office of Community and Minority Development, so there is no need to act accordingly. While self-segregation may be subconscious, conscious effort on everyone’s part can bring true integration to our campus. Just take the little time and effort and step outside your comfort zone, and I promise that wherever you go, even CAMD, will be just as comfortable.