First, I’d like to let everyone know that I am only exercising my First Amendment rights here. I am not discussing this subject from a scholarly perspective but as a civic-minded parent with a master’s degree in social work who has tried to help his community and who, I hope, has a decent level of common sense.
I have owned property on the Key Peninsula for over 14 years. It took me 13 years to let my middle child have a chance to learn in the Peninsula School District. I remember a principal telling me, “Rion, if you want diversity, you have to be it.”
In the fall of 2021, I was excited that my daughter would be one of the first students to attend the new Evergreen Elementary. As we waited in line with other families to take our first tour of the school, I could see and hear the microaggressions from folk and the discomfited staff during their interactions with me, whom some might call “an intense Black man.”
Sadly, my daughter is not finishing her last elementary grade at that school.
I moved to the KP to make a positive change, but I am starting to ask myself, why am I here?
Will I put my son in this school district where he may suffer emotionally because other parents fail to teach their children about loving people for the content of their character and not the color of their skin? It’s not fair for him to be made an outsider when both parents have master’s degrees and are law-abiding citizens.
When we talk about Critical Race Theory, what are we talking about? We are talking about an academic framework created in the 1970s primarily by the civil rights lawyer and scholar Derrick Bell to identify, describe and examine social, cultural and legal issues affected by and contributing to racism. CRT is grounded in what is called Critical Theory created by Max Horkheimer, whose goal was to develop an intellectual system to critique and change societies.
To my knowledge, CRT is not studied outside of graduate level courses and certainly not in PSD. But radicals have turned it into an all-purpose punching bag to undermine any heartfelt effort by our public schools to teach our children about their history and their country and their place in both, so that no child will feel ashamed of who they are.
That’s why I was so discouraged when I heard about our school board president describing his participation in the equity, diversity and inclusion committee to ensure “our school district is not just focused on one or two sub-entities but that we are making sure all our students — special ed, homeless, autistic kids, dyslexic kids — that they all have the equal opportunity to be successful, not just one subgroup.” (“Candidates Visit KP Voters in Virtual Forum,” KP News, Nov. 2021)
If that is not culturally incompetent, then what is?
Racism is not just the concern of one or two unnamed sub-entities — it concerns everyone. So-called colorblindness is not the opposite of racism, it’s just blindness.
All of the children our school board president lumped together need different kinds of support, including mental health services, to be successful. Being treated like they belong with all of us instead of as “a subgroup” would be a good start.
The first ships carrying enslaved Black people to America landed in Jamestown, Virginia as early as 1619. The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect Jan. 1, 1863, but did not reach the South until 1865. Blacks were freed after the Civil War, but don’t forget about the vigilante groups that formed, like the slave patrols and the KKK, and the Jim Crow laws that started in 1877, the continuation of structural racism against Black Americans.
We started our own communities, not bothering anyone, even had our own Black Wall Street in Oklahoma, but that was burned down in 1921. There was legal education inequality until 1954, segregation until 1964, voter rights suppression until 1965, and housing discrimination remained legal until the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
With that kind of history, is it a surprise that inequities in health care, in the justice system, in generational wealth, in opportunity, persist?
People are not born racist, it starts in the home from an ecological perspective (see Person in Environment Theory) and is reinforced by stereotyping, fear and defensiveness. It also has to do with privilege, by which I mean the privilege of not having to confront the reality of discrimination every day because of what you look like.
How would a more inclusive approach to history and to equity benefit PSD? It would help all of us understand the complex issues we all face, overcome our anxieties about them, and give us a sense of accountability and, believe it or not, community.
I tried working with this district for many years, but I got tired of excuses. People talk about what they’ve done or what they want, but has anyone talked to the students about what they want?
I disseminated a confidential survey to students at Peninsula High School last month to find out. One student suggested: “Race and ethnicities are important because people should know your backgrounds and should respect your skin color and your racial background.”
What has kept me out here on the Key Peninsula is understanding my place in history so that it doesn’t repeat itself. I am “being the diversity.” But I am beginning to think the KP is not for me and my family.
No stranger looks at me and thinks, “role model.” No one wants to be like me, even though I wear three-piece suits, work hard, volunteer and set good examples for folk. But if I didn’t have to do all that, work four times as hard, I would be what society sees me as.
Rion Tisino lives in Longbranch.
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