Playing suburban patty cake

Catching up on a blog written by fellow Dorchester resident Candelaria Silva, I came across a post from a year and a half ago, “All White People, All the Time,” which caught my eye for several reasons:

  • first of all, because she mentioned Weston High School, where she used to work and where I work now;
  • second, because she talked about the issue of being the only person of color in the room — a concern that I have had many times (even though I’m in the majority in those settings, not the minority);
  • third, because of her discussion of knowing “how to play suburban patty cake.”

Weston High School is no longer quite as white as it was when Silva worked there, but it’s still pretty white: 78.1% white according to the official statistics. People of color can thrive there, whether they’re students or adults, but they still need to play the game, the game that the principal of that time called “suburban patty cake.”

A couple of other ideas spin off from this observation:

  • Some (many? most?) white people think that they can replicate the feeling of being the only person of color in the room by placing themselves in the reverse situation. For example, it can easily happen that a small gathering of a dozen or so people at the Crimson Summer Academy might contain only one white person — perhaps a student, perhaps a teacher. There are, of course, places in Boston as well where this can happen, but all too often this description rings true:

    How many times have I been at a meeting, served on a committee, or attended an event in Boston to find that I am with myself and by myself with no other brown or beige brethren to be seen, often not even among the service staff?

    Despite the increased numbers of people of color in the Boston census (Boston is now a majority “minority” city), it often feels like this town is all white people, all the time.

    For this reason, and because of the greatly unequal roles assigned to the races in our culture, we simply can’t replicate the feeling of a person of color just because there may be the rare occasion where someone is the only white person in the room.

  • As so often happens in this country, the issue is not only race but also class. I felt quite uncomfortable in my first year at Weston, although that discomfort didn’t last, and now I love it there. There’s a glaring distinction, of course, between race and class: class is usually not immediately obvious when someone walks into a room.

I wonder whether Weston High School feels like a different place now for people of color, simply because we now have a black principal. Or maybe that doesn’t make a difference.

And does it matter that we also have a black governor and a black president? It’s dramatically not “all white people, all the time” anymore. Or maybe that doesn’t make a difference either, since Silva’s initial observation about meetings, committees, and events still rings true.

Categories: Dorchester/Boston, Teaching & Learning, Weston