The Du-Rag Divide

The ideal of “youth from every quarter” is a brick in the foundation of this school. Today more than ever, this diversity exemplifies what elevates Andover above its peer institutions. In a community as heterogeneous as ours, however, we cannot expect everyone to be totally aware of everyone else’s culture, but rather we must do our best to learn from what we each have to offer. People at Andover are not extreme racial chauvinists. But, there lies in all of us an underlying instinctual habit to make assumptions based on stereotypes. What we as a community must strive to do is eradicate these stereotypes. We will never get rid of them unless we cease to divide ourselves by learning more about one another’s cultures and backgrounds. As the students and faculty of Phillips Academy, we must work to create a culture of understanding. The Strategic Planning Committee, along with the Trustees, is working hard to push “youth from every quarter” as a fundamental ideal. To diversify our school even more would create even easier access for students and faculty to learn about even more different “quarters” of the world. But is this effort worth it? Our school’s racial rift is so subtle as to elude detection by the majority of students. Rest assured, it does exist. We have a school so rich in diversity and yet I still have friends that believe in the most outrageous racial stereotypes. One would think that after an entire year in such a diverse school – with cultural weekends and many cultural clubs – everyone would go back home with these stereotypes completely banished from their minds. Unfortunately, even the best and the brightest are not always the most enlightened, and we as a community have the responsibility to figure out why. Our school’s dilemma of color manifests itself in three distinct ways, one being the oft-discussed phenomenon of self-segregation. Not only does self-segregation promote a divided dining room, but it also promotes a dining room where students struggle to comprehend each other’s race and culture. The black kids will never learn from the white kids and vice versa. So occasionally, we all have to step out of our comfort zones and take advantage of having a school with youth from every quarter. The second problem I see is kids falling prey to stereotypes by both believing them and conforming. But, I think that students should just be themselves and not accommodate their unique personality for such oppressive racial expectations. If you do not submit to stereotypes, we can learn that not all African-Americans wear du-rags and listen to rap music, or that not all white girls like carrying tote bags. When you compromise your true self in order to adhere to a stereotype, you only contribute to a culture of racial ignorance. The efforts the school puts forthto help students to learn about different cultures are relatively insignificant; we cannot merely dip our toes into the pool of diversity. Our “cultural weekends” are cool meals in Commons (pot stickers!) and dances with a different kind of music (Merengue!). Cultural clubs are seen as exclusive: Af-Lat-Am meetings are just for the Af’s and the Lat’s, and Asian Society is just for the Asians. The school has to overhaul the way it plans weekends; it should become more of an educational experience with inspiring speakers and movies. No student should shy away from attending a club meeting because of the color of his skin. We should be open to not just learning about history or math, but also to learning about one another’s culture. As youth from every quarter, we must work to learn from and teach one another about the cultures of every quarter and every color. Andover is a community enriched with diversity, and none of us should take it for granted.