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Tuesday, May 20, 2003
I wonder if the diplomas are color-coded
Remember all that talk last week about the segregated proms in Georgia? Remember how the phenomenon was held up as a prime example of continuing racism in America? How could white students want to hold themselves apart from black students? Why, it's so... archaic. It's reminiscent of separate water fountains for blacks. Come to think of it, it's almost as bad excluding black students from graduation ceremonies. For instance, the policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Oops, sorry, I read that wrong. At the University of Pennsylvania, black students create their own graduation ceremonies exclusively for them. And as you can imagine, since this is the University of Pennsylvania, rather than a high school in rural Georgia, the news coverage is far less critical. And that's the case, even though the ceremonies sound like something a bigot would come up with:
As the master of ceremonies called their names, the black seniors proudly strode to the front of the room to receive colorful pieces of kente cloth marking their impending graduation from the University of Pennsylvania.

The students solemnly called out the names of their elders as poet and social worker Kamau McRae poured water on a plant in an African libation ritual.
What do you think the reaction would be if, say, a white fraternity portrayed them as engaging in African rituals? Stereotyping black Americans as primitive Africans? Furor, I imagine. There would be cries of racial harassment, demands for suspensions, sensitivity training, etc. But when black Americans themselves do it, it's an assertion of identity. And the contortions that defenders of the program go through to deny that this is exactly what it seems like are impressive.
"When black students come together, the assumption is often that they are being separatist," said Karlene Burrell-McRae, director of the Makuu Black Cultural Resource Center, which organized the black graduation celebration at Penn. "But the reality is that they are full members of the university community who take on responsibility for contributing to their community while also contributing to the larger community."
So they're not being racial separatists… they just have a separate "community" defined by their race.

And the purpose of this program? For black people to provide "support" for each other, because they feel so troubled over the “isolating" environment. Now, keep in mind that this is hardly Bob Jones University we're discussing; according to the article, 43% of Penn's freshman class is made up of minorities. So where's the "isolation" coming from? (Sure, you can bet that this group is disproportionately Asian rather than black -- but that's okay, because Asian students get their own ceremony. As do Hispanics.) And dare I suggest that perhaps black students having separate organizations, dorms, student centers, and ceremonies, might be the cause of, rather than the solution to, this feeling of isolation? Shouldn't we question the university's entire approach to "diversity" if these are the results? If the university really believes, as claimed, that its educational mission requires a commitment to diversity, then shouldn't it forbid all formal racial groupings, thus forcing black, white, Hispanic, and Asian students to have more diverse interactions? (Answer: of course not, because diversity in eduspeak just means de facto admissions quotas.)

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