We must break cycle of inequity

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 15, 2008

By Yvonne Waiters-Dixon
For the Salisbury Post
What does it mean to be a student in Rowan County in an era of globalization, the Internet, biotechnology, identity politics, ethnic niche advertising and a TV remote with 100 or more different channels? You either have access or you don’t.
That doesn’t mean assimilation has to look or feel like the 1950s stereotype, the melting pot, and it need not be incompatible with ethnic identity. We, as a county, need to consciously find positive ways to discuss opportunity, education and race with our younger generations, to break the decades-long cycle of disadvantages in Rowan County.
The painful acknowledgement is that race does matter, and the secondary realization is that every school in the Rowan-Salisbury School System doesn’t always have the same chance at success. This also happens to be a fact that most people of color have known their whole lives. Historical economic or social disparity is alleged to be a form of discrimination which is caused by past racism and historical reasons, affecting the present generations through deficits in formal education, employment and kinds of life preparation in the parents’ generation, and through primarily unconscious racist attitudes and actions by members of the general population. As Americans, we also must understand and differentiate between racial prejudice and racism, and that could possibly happen when we first embrace color-consciousness: the fact that people are still treated differently based on the color of their skin, and the racism that exists today.
How can we be colorblind when this country has been in existence 400 years, and only 40 years have passed since people of different colors were legally given equal rights? How can we be colorblind when many high schools (and some colleges) still ignore the contributions of people of color, as well as the history of racism in this country and county? How can we be colorblind when the faces of the poorest sections of our county are the darkest, and the faces of those with the highest positions of power are the lightest? The stakes could hardly be higher! In the wake of 9/11, the nation as a whole began thinking harder than ever before about what it means to be American. It couldn’t be more important, because in Rowan County, multitudes of children are still growing up in circumstances that hinder their educational achievement. The job set forth by local officials is about equally supporting all the schools, rather than denying the issues, perpetuating the shame and judging the access.
The economy is definitely a realist, and every year our city and county re-evaluate the usage of our utilities and other services. Unfortunately, rates go up, and we complain; yet we continue to use, and we know this cycle will continue. School redistricting should be re-evaluated based on research and usage as often as utilities and land usage are re-evaluated. When we know this is an ongoing process, and why, it will not be so venomously contested.
Although this debate is too frequently captured by bean-counters and economists, the issue of equity in RSSS is probably the most important one we face. We are either going to be a strong, united, proud and patriotic county, or we will be in trouble and drag the rest of the surrounding counties into bigger trouble by unleashing new generations of defiant, angry and far less educated citizens due to increasingly high dropout rates.
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Yvonne Waiters-Dixon lives in Salisbury.