pulaski academy, marching bands & the new racism

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Friday, November 13th, 2009

pulaski academy, marching bands & the new racism

when i saw, on the arkansas blog, the teaser, “A local blogger has written—unhappily—that Pulaski Academy won’t send its band to a football playoff game in Helena-West Helena”, i thought this was going to be a flashback to 1993 when the conway high school football team lost to pine bluff in the state championship game. after a searing defeat, some conway fans looked for a direction in which their finger could point. of all places, they found the band, saying that their minimal playing caused the team to lose. yes, you read that correctly: the band’s lack of horns and drums and cymbals. so when i saw this headline, i thought i was in for the same disbelief from nearly 16 years ago.

that, though, is not what i discovered.

what i found was a piece written by the parent of a pulaski academy student exploring the reasons behind the decision for pulaski academy’s band to forego the trip to PA’s first-round playoff game at helena-west helena. her conclusion: social elitism.

the crux of the issue is that the band parents of pulaski academy—primarily composed of privileged white kids—don’t want their kids traveling to a town—primarily composed of poor black people (70% black, over 50% under poverty line)—in which “past events in the area” have caused concern. as the blogger points out, i don’t know what the “past events” are, but i think it’s safe to assume that “past events” actually means “there’s a lot of poor black people just waiting to shoot my child.”

in reading the blogger’s thoughts about the PA band issue, i couldn’t help but to think about the broader story line here. whereas i have strong feelings about (not) sending kids to private schools (especially private, christian schools), i don’t want to just pick on pulaski academy. the big issue is that racism is alive and well and in many ways, more subversive than the out-in-the-open version 60 years ago.

my working thesis here is that the new racism is racial avoidance.

people know you cannot get away with saying you don’t like black people (or any minority group). you simply cannot be blatantly racist without swift and severe social consequences. you have to say things like “past events in the area” or that you just want your kids to “feel safe in their school” or, my favorite, that you moved to a different town because “iron sharpens iron” (a.k.a. everyone looks, thinks and acts like me).

so what can you do? you avoid other races. you move out of little rock. or you move only to hillcrest or the heights. you drive your child across town to go to a certain school when another’s just a couple miles away. you visibly convey your confusion and disdain when a coworker tells you that they send their children to a little rock public school. you drive to walmart 10 miles away instead of going to your neighborhood grocery store just minutes away. you go to church where everyone looks the same as you.

you stay away. you arrange your life in such a way that you only come into contact with black people when it’s inexorable. you avoid.

that’s racism. putting a sign above the lesser water fountain signaling that this is the appropriate fountain for a black person to drink out of is atrocious. but uprooting your life and your family and colonizing with only those who look like you is twisted. avoidance takes long-term commitment to a life separated. it’s lifelong. it’s passed down. it breeds itself.

it’s also much more widespread and “accepted” than outright racism. let’s just put it out there: why do you think cabot is the fastest-growing city in arkansas? one of the notoriously whitest communities in arkansas is the fastest growing? coincidence? maybe. but there’s likely something much more veiled and unspoken than shear coincidence.

why has home schooling skyrocketed over the last 20 years (among several reasons)? why has private school enrollment dramatically increased in urban areas? why am i sometimes the only white person in the entire grocery store that sits right at the foot of the quapaw quarter?

the new racism is underground. it’s unspoken. avoidance is veiled in niceties but is just as or more sinister than what we’ve seen in the past.

it’s time for us to seek out others who don’t look like us. who don’t act like us or believe like us or who don’t share the same cultural customs. learn something. share something. just be around something different.


  1. Anonymous says:

    My kid goes to PA, and I think the decision not to send the band is just ridiculous. If there were specific events in which band members had been attacked there in the past, then maybe it might make a little more sense. But to my knowledge, that's not the case.

    That said, I do take offense at the notion that the reason I send my kid to a private school is so we can avoid black people. No, the reason I send my kid to a private school is because the Bush administration, with its misguided No Child Left Behind policies, ruined public education.

    As soon as we get some common sense back into public schools, and de-emphasize standardized testing, and spend funds in the right ways, I'll gladly stop paying expensive tuition and put my kid back in public school.

  2. ryanByrd says:

    @anonymous –i should be very, very clear to say that i don't think the only reason people put their kids in private school is racism. while i'm not a fan of private schools, there are certainly better reasons—as you have pointed out—for making the family choice to go the private school direction.

    so, just wanted to make that clear since i didn't do a good job of it in my post.

  3. Morgon77 says:

    Little Rock has a stimga of gang violence, despite the fact that compared to, say, DC or Baltimore or Detroit, it's actually extremely light.

    But then, Little Rock is a little city…unless you're from here.

    There are places in Little Rock that I'm startled and a little scared to drive through, until I think "wait, this isn't DC" and then I calm right down.

    The fact is, some of those places are dangerous. Or could be dangerous. Or have been in the past.

    But they're also psychic wastelands. All sorts of people are avoiding them. So what is going to live there then? Those that can't get away, and those that need somewhere to go.

    And, sadly enough, the folks left behind are often glad to be identified as a different group. Another blog recently was identifying how the African Baptist groups are glad to not identify with the emergent movement, as white as it is, and to have everything figured out, and to be doing just fine.

    Everybody's got their illusions.

  4. Jesse says:

    So i haven't checked out your blog in a while so I'm a little delayed on responding to this, but oh well…

    I will throw a quick shout out for the Helena/ Phillips County community. The Mississippi Delta is literally one of the poorest parts of the nation and it's right in our backyard. I've recently been involved in connecting with some folks down there through my church an dam pretty passionate about being a presence there.

    I agree that "racial avoidance" is a big deal, but I use the term "social segregation". I might be mistaken in that phrase but whatever… But recently I attended a discussion about how "racial avoidance" works in LR and how it began with the integration of LR schools and the construction of I-630. Essentially I-630 are the "tracks" in LR. White people live north of I-630 and black/ hispanic folks live south of I-630. (This is just a generality.) Also we see more private schools starting up in LR.

    Then there's "white flight" where folks move out of the city limits to Pulaski County Schools and even to Saline (Benton/ Bryant) , Faulkner (Conway, Vilonia, Mayflower), Lonoke (Cabot) Counties.

    But aside from all that, if you look at the case of Central High, there are essentially two schools there. The great AP school for kids bussed in from the Heights and the not so academically focused school that is for the other kids. (Again I'm speaking in generalities.) My understanding is that there is a segregation of the upper and lower floors of the school.

    At Second Baptist (where I attend) the demographic is mostly white folks as of today, which is obviously not reflective of the demographics of our area (downtown). We have definitely talked about how to incorporate a more diverse body that is reflective of our area, but we're obviously not there yet.

    One of the big things that I've heard about how to attain diversity is to hire a diverse staff…

    Ok I'm done typing. 🙂

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