Where racial issues are concerned, we’re living in a strange time.
Yet, it isn’t altogether unprecedented — the country’s once tried separation by race.
Part of the new twist, so far as I can tell: We’re doing something similar to what we did before, which we previously learned wasn’t good.
It isn’t exactly the same, but there are certainly shared properties.
Nonetheless, away we go.
Hence, in Piedmont, California recently, someone in charge of schools had an idea.
It went something like this: In light of the Derek Chauvin verdict, let’s host “support circles” for students to discuss the outcome. And let’s do it in a segregated way.
Fast-forward to now, and officials are sorry — not for delving into social issues as a public education institution, and not for separating students by race.
They’ve apologized for including a circle for whites.
How did such a gaffe occur?
Cheryl’s the assistant superintendent of educational services for Piedmont Unified School District, and the message covered Millennium and Piedmont high schools.
It went as follows:
“We are offering a restorative community circle to support White students who would like to discuss how the trial, verdict, and experiences related to the George Floyd murder are impacting you.”
Cheryl explained that two counselors would be “holding a space for our White students to process [and] share…to one another.”
There are definitely enough Caucasians to go around: District demographics provided to SFGate reveal a distribution of 74% white, 20% Asian, 3% black, and 3% Hispanic.
Among Piedmont and Millennium Alternative, the breakdown is 62% white, 12% Asian, 2% black, and 8% Hispanic.
Sixteen percent are racially mixed.
Though support circles were also held for nonwhites, some believed white privilege was afoot:
[T]he sessions were met with scrutiny by staff and students alike, who expressed concern over the segregated nature of the sessions and the fact that white students were seemingly supported more than students of color. Screenshots of the video later caught traction online, including on platforms like TikTok.
Not so long ago, schools generally stuck to academics.
Such a system looms near in terms of time; yet as for distance, it seems a million miles away.
Hence — per SFGate — one attendee’s been disappointed:
One student at Piedmont High, who spoke to SFGATE on the condition of anonymity, was baffled at the decision but noted that it likely came with good intentions.
But the student also said that the Piedmont schools’ administration has historically failed to address issues of race and equity properly — or at all.
Just one day following the support circles, Assistant Superintendent Cheryl offered a mea culpa for the white version.
She observed, “The impact on our students of color has left them feeling hurt and disrespected by district administration.”
The sessions were called off.
In the aftermath, Piedmont Unified Superintendent Randall Booker described his responsibility to the district.
It’s one much different than roles of yore:
“My role is to call out systems of structural oppression; inequities that promote them led to where these exist in our district. We need to live up to our board policy on racial equity. It’s still in infancy steps.”
Cory Smegal, school board president, praised the students while decrying that ubiquitous malady as of late — “harm”:
“Our students were the first to call attention to it, and they were right to do so. The leadership response was swift and direct — an apology, an explanation. But we understand that all of these caused harm that needs repair.”
Sometimes, as the saying goes, you can’t win for losin’.
Piedmont Unified tried to take the Chauvin verdict and spin segregated gold in the name of social justice.
But it just didn’t go quite right.
Still, President Cory thinks people shouldn’t be too hard on ’em:
“If we silence those who take risks and make mistakes along the way, we discourage others from stepping forward to enter into this important work at a time when all of our words are so highly charged and under such scrutiny.”
Back to Randall, he lamented a poor choice.
[The superintendent said] it was a “poor choice of words,” which “led to the perception that White students needed the same kind of ‘support’ as our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color) students. Students of all racial backgrounds rightfully pushed back on that idea.
Perhaps they’ll get a second chance: If there’s a retrial, the district can nix the white circles.
As for BIPOC ones, people seem to be enjoying them in several sectors:
This past Friday we wrapped up our 6 week virtual session of The Fourth Trimester Support Circle for BIPOC moms with @thenestingplaceli
We learned so much together and shared our families, woes, tips & tricks. We will forever be bonded by the experience and can’t wait u pic.twitter.com/3CwSLySGVp
— Karma Tudor (@KarmaTudor) March 21, 2021
Right now we are feeding 450 #BIPOC families PER WEEK! Remember: money + people = Power! Let's keep redistributing resources & #practicegiving freely. How can YOU support #EquitableGiving Circle today? #RadicalCommunityGiving #PortlandOregon #BIPOCfarmers #CommunitySupported pic.twitter.com/LeSmIq7e5s
— Equitable Giving Circle (@equitablegiving) October 9, 2020
Join CAPS this Thursday for the bi-weekly BIPOC Support Circle, which is a community space for BIPOC-identified students. Find a supportive and brave space to gather, develop a sense of connection, and experience collective and individual healing. https://t.co/4uH2riYVjk pic.twitter.com/32H9dWhE5L
— NU Student Affairs (@StudentAffNU) April 20, 2021
Brand new Peer Support Circle for Racialized Survivors starting in September! Spaces are limited – it's free!
— SACHA (@SACHAhamont) August 10, 2020
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