Dear Student Part 2: No Assumptions

Here is a post that has appeared on my blog before. Because I have decided to devote a number of post to one of my favorite students and to those looking for a teaching position –especially one at an independent school, I thought I would repost this one. There are two lessons here: 1) do not assume too much about those that are interested in you, 2) and seek a post at a place in which there is a community willing to embrace you for being you; it can be difficult if you land in an envioronment that centers its focus not on your brillances and gifts, but on making you like them. Not all places are “really” committed to diversity. As the book the Excellence of Color: Hiring in Independent Schools Noted:

People of color, be they African American, Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern or whatever ethnic group, have spent years discovering their roots, developing a keen pride in their heritage, and accepting who they are. So don’t expect the current crop of prospective faculty to fit into your conservative profile. Many of them will not, and, frankly, I don’t think they should even try! Is that shocking? Is that unacceptable to you and your clientele? Then, perhaps, diversity is really not for you. If a turban or a dashiki pants suit offends, then so will diversity! Diversity by definition implies that the status quo will be upset.

Many of you may recall this post from before and this book being on my reading list in an earlier post too; I found the early historical approach of this work to be very good and wanted my current students to start thinking about race and communities; I have driven through a number of sundown towns as noted in Loewen’s book. One challenge many minorities face is choice of residence. Educated and well-credentialed Americans are blessed with a greater range of choice when looking for a job, a place to settle, and a community to raise a family; however, this is not true for minority groups. When I finished graduate school and started looking for a teaching post, or a position in publishing, I had to be mindful of the environment my wife and I would be moving to. Questions like this emerged:  Would my neighbors and the rest of the community be receptive of my presence, regardless of my academic credentials?

Two examples that come to mind when I entered the market were Cabot, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee. My greatest concern when finishing graduate school was the lack of teaching positions available for history instructors. Moreover, this was compounded by the fact that I limited myself to particular courses I wanted to teach and certain types of schools I wanted to join, primarily elite and/ or mid tier level independent/ private schools. At first I limited my search to very prestigious New England boarding schools; however, those types of options only recently (past few years) became an option. Many of those boarding schools are located in very rural white communities. Thus, I naturally wondered if I would be accepted. Well, I was blessed with a number of teaching options. One such option was in Cabot, AR in the public school system. A year before entering the market, I had agreed to at least consider Cabot. Of course this was before more options were available. I clearly backed out when an upper administrator told me that I would be the Jackie Robinson of Cabot. Essentially he was saying that Cabot educational leaders had to select the right African American for this particular community. I was scared; I was scared because of the bad racial reputation Cabot had (it is on the sundown town list here). Rumors of cross burnings and various other tactics were known throughout Arkansas about this community.

In defense of Cabot, much of this is probably historical; however, it is such rumors whether a perception or reality that limits the options for minorities. Here is my Memphis example: I sent my curriculum vitae (or résumé) to a very elite private school that was conducting a national search. Let us call this school elite school X. Well, one of my teachers in college made elite school X aware of me. This teacher also encouraged me to apply. The great thing about a number of private schools is that you do not have to spend hours completing applications nor do you have to be a licensed teacher. They just want your CV. A few weeks later elite school X scheduled for me to interview with the department head and dean of faculty via phone. I was a hit. Later, I drove 2 hours to Memphis for a campus tour, departmental lunch, tons of interviews, and a nightcap with the headmaster.

I did not discover this until later, but the dean of faculty and dept. head at elite school X had no clue I was black. Better yet, they were so surprised that one current member of the faculty would later tell me how often they brought the topic up. I did suspect it was a surprise by their response to my entrance. Elite school X did offer me a position, although I would later reject it for the opportunity to start my teaching career off by teaching advanced courses at a private school in Little Rock. Please keep in mind that most students at elite school X are very advanced, which means I would have been teaching such courses anyway, just without the title. There reaction to me was scary – although not offensive.

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14 thoughts on “Dear Student Part 2: No Assumptions

  1. Sir, maybe some of the hesitancy is that many of these “sundown” towns dont want their way of life to change. They dont want “turbans in khakis” and other cultures and religions squeezing them out of what they built up. They dont want their children to be a minority in their town–would a black man ever advocate minority status? Why is that so hard for those who are so unforgiving about their past to understand. Everywhere but the US it is rude for a visitor to come and expect the native tongue,religion,culture to change for the guests comfort. I thought those were some of the things we hate the White man for. I am suspect of the man who cries about conformity in a particular neighborhood but still goes there. You dont want to be the Jackie Robinson, but if they dont recognise you for your race then they are intolerant, conformists. Which way do you want it. Unless that is what you are looking for. Gives you material to write about etc.. Thats fine, but it doesnt make you a victim.

  2. Denton:

    You missed the point of his post. Are you trying to be cynical? I take it Carson that the to of you know each other. Interesting attacks. I concur in that there are communities that do not welcome change. I would hope that communities that advocate ideas and diversity and experiences would be ok with those that are different offering different views. I wish we had more Muslims, and Hindus, and out gays and lesbians on my campus. My class conversations would be more interesting and not so one sided.

  3. You said ,“I concur in that there are communities that do not welcome change.“ That wasnt my point. Do you believe they should be allowed to exist? Communities that are happy with being one religion or culture? By change do you mean persuade or change by sub-planting with another people? China and Tibet comes to mind. It is often argued we are all the same, the human condition defines us all, but yet you want a “Muslim and Hindu” to represent something that no other human can? Explain if you will. What are these unique experiences that anyone but a white or black Jewish/Christian can tell you about. And you said,“ My class conversations would be more interesting and not so one sided.” So one sided? Again, are you saying that there is not a diversity of thought within a race or religion? What are these unique experiences that “Muslims and Hindus” can alone provide? Do you include in this ideal classroom of yours supporters of the Hutus actions against Tutsi minorities? Pedophiles? Anti semitic Muslim Jihadists? Skin heads? Anti Israeli Palestinians? Unless of course your purpose is to smother out the prevailing belief and culture of those that surround you. I have been told thats called Cultural genocide.
    You bring up the homosexual lifestyle as so rich with experience. Well, homosexuality isnt something any culture should be too happy is present in its folds. For one, those of the homosexual persuasion cant propagate their kind. They must rely on the ability of another kind to procreate , those of the heterosexual persuasion. That alone should be enough to convince you that not prejudice, but common sense frightens people from this behaviour. Again, what is this unique experience that people of a particular sexual persuasion have that no other can relate to? If “diversity” were to be pushed in say Beijing or Nairobi would you be on board with that. What would be the reason for traveling to distant locations if you can find a canned version in your own town. Doesnt “diversity”, as you see it, destroy diversity? I look forward to your comments.

  4. Denton:

    You stated “Sir, maybe some of the hesitancy is that many of these “sundown” towns dont want their way of life to change. They dont want “turbans in khakis” and other cultures and religions squeezing them out of what they built up.”

    Are you really this closed minded? Are you looking to hijack this post to make a political point? Or, as Mark Lewis noted, have you missed the boat? Let me try this: When one is looking to relocate a family, it is important that they move into a community that is willing to embrace what diverse views they have to offer; change is always difficult for a young person looking to start up new in a new career. You use God here and there; I am assuming that you are a religious person? Or, are you dressing up as one to make a point that shapes religious people as being bigots; sundown towns would not be approved by God, nor does scripture teach it.

    What do you do for a career? Why not offer something of use to young people finishing graduate school and looking to teach?

  5. Closed minded? Missed the boat? Hardly things I would expect from a professor. The point was made in the article that bringing people that look different and have different religions is somehow desired for a community to be fulfilled–you used the racist code language “sundown“ to mean white. Reconsider using the insensitive language of casting aside the culture that is around you as “close minded, or racist,“. When I find a place I am not welcomed I do what most do, I don’t complain and hold a rally, I leave and never return. Bring your value to another community that will benefit. When relocating a family I would absolutely agree that if you are different, you would want a community that would welcome that. The problem is you think that this is what every community wants. At the end of a court order, I wouldn’t say is voluntary. It may be hard to swallow, and I know how the bubble on campus insulates, but some people like to live around their own kind. Whatever that may be. People need places where their people live, a place that their culture thrives. Where do you think the diversity people bring to the classroom comes from. Forcing a community to accept me is much different then saying they want me. There is a reason that Japan and Scandinavian countries are always ranked by the UN as the safest, cleanest places to live. They don’t have the daily obstacles that mixed religious/race societies face. Why would you advocate strife and conflict? Sometimes space brings peace.

  6. Carson, you said:
    “I did not discover this until later, but the dean of faculty and dept. head at elite school X had no clue I was black. Better yet, they were so surprised that one current member of the faculty would later tell me how often they brought the topic up.”

    I laughed out loud when I read that. There really are a lot of communities left that are so devoid of anyone but white people that it is truly an experience to have a person of color show up. They aren’t racist proper, but because of their lack of experience, black people are a real novelty.

    In Japan as a kid, I got similar reactions. Every time they see a blond boy with blue eyes they go crazy!

    As for the struggle to find a position that one wants, I imagine that times are even tougher now given the economy. I wish your student luck, as it is a hard time to be looking for teaching jobs for anyone. My girlfriend who will finish her masters in teaching by next summer (wants to teach middle school mathematics) is looking down the barrel of a brutal job market. But, she doesn’t have the added pressure of being a minority.

  7. There are far more asian, african communites “devoid” of minorities. We should include them too in our laughter at natives reaction to novelty. While we are sharing the occasional “racism” of a white community in recognizing that a black man is present on campus, why not include the culture shock that a kid experiences when he teaches in the inner city. Those are kids that need some real survival advice. Id take people expecting less from me any day rather then the violence experienced when one teaches there. Im curious to hear the
    grievance-stage shared by a “white boys experience in Japan”. What pressures were there for you?

  8. Denton:

    You have a great point here! I too would like to hear such perspective. I once spoke to a white teacher that taught in a low SES community in the inner city and he told me that his students embraced him. Actually, he stated that he was easily a favorite. However, he did encounter problems from parents — which is the unfortunate norm regardless of location. Interesting, he did tell me that he suspected things might have been different if he was a woman.

  9. Justagirl- I knew you were reading. Welcome to you too. You have such a gift for gab. Im sorry I havent nodded in agreement with all that you have had to say. I look forward to your next grunt.

  10. Carson,

    My girlfriend will be done by the end of the summer. I however have a while longer. My masters will be done sometime next year, but then I need to decide if I’ll stay here for the PhD, go somewhere else, or just call the masters enough and get to work! As for relocating, we’re definitely open to the idea, certainly will if I go to another school for the PhD. How’s the teaching market in your area?

    Denton,
    I didn’t mean to imply that I had a lot to “deal” with when I was in Japan. Quite the contrary. Being the oddity had its perks. And you’re right, it’s not just white (or Japanese) communities that have trouble with outsiders to varying degrees. It’s human to be more comfortable with what you know, and see those who are different as a novelty. I think in small doses that is fine, even funny. It can just lead to some negative consequences if left unchecked.

  11. “It can just lead to some negative consequences if left unchecked.” What is “It”? Culture? How do you check It? Forced integration? Genocide? The potential for danger is reason enough to check a people? Sounds a bit Andrew Jackson, Bob Mugabe. A culture of everything and nothing is a danger too. I think you should consider. With the European peoples population being about 9% of the worlds population– the only people who have curbed their replacement levels to below replacement– your kind arent long for this world. The future is somewhere between an Asian Indian and China. Does that excite you when you go to bed? I like diversity when I want to visit it. Does anyone want to visit Japan and see the recent culture of Africans. Or visit West Africa and enjoy the recent Chinese culture there? Forced diversity effectively destroys it. Is that the goal?

  12. Denton,

    When I wrote “it”, I meant “xenophobia” not “culture”. In small doses, and when no violence or serious bigotry is involved, xenophobia can be funny. A LOT of jokes in a lot of comedies are based on exactly that. How many movies use the “ugly American” abroad as the butt of their jokes?

    But, xenophobia left unchecked is clearly a problem. It is THAT that leads to genocide and forced integration. Checking xenophobia can only aid in preserving cultural diversity.

    As for the Chinese taking over the world, and the European types (like me) not breeding enough … I don’t care. Whether or not a culture survives is (at least in part) different than whether or not a bloodline survives in it’s purest form.

    I am (like a huge number of white Americans) partly Scottish. But, I’m American … so I’m not at all “pure” Scottish. I’m a mutt.

    My friend Silas is black. Dark black. But, he is also partly Scottish and we’ll go to Highland games contests together to celebrate our “Scottish” roots. Just how much of our genetic code that can be traced back to Scotland is not the point. It’s a feeling of personal connection that matters and a want to keep something of that cultural tradition alive.

    I’m not at all Bulgarian, but my Step Dad and my Step Sister are. So we, as a family, engage in many Bulgarian traditions.

    That’s all it takes – A cultural transmission process.

    It is sad when cultures cease to be. But, some of that cannot be helped. We can’t force a people to remain the same.

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