“On November 23 and 24, seventh and eighth graders at the Lower Manhattan Community Middle School—a public middle school in the borough’s highly coveted District 2—are scheduled to begin their mornings by organizing themselves into racial identity “affinity groups.” This intentional act of segregation is being conducted in the name of undoing “the legacy of racism and oppression in this country.”
The New York Post reports that in an email to parents, Principal Shanna Douglas outlined five possible affinity groups the students could choose to join: Asians (who are 44 percent of the student population), whites (29 percent), a combined caucus of Hispanics and African Americans (15 percent and 8 percent, respectively), those identifying as multiracial, and people who wish to opt out of such classifications altogether.
“This optional program was developed in close coordination with both the School Leadership Team, PTA and families,” New York City Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson Nathaniel Styer told the Post. “[It is] abundantly clear to both students and parents that anyone can opt-out of this two day celebration if they desire.”
“Celebration” seems an odd word choice to describe a racial sorting exercise for pre-pubescents. “How disgusting to divide 11 year old friends & classmates by race in 2021 NYC,” tweeted former District 2 Community Education Council member Maud Maron, a noted critic both of pandemic school closures and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. “Segregating kids is wrong. (Even if some expensive DEI consultant, who has run out of real racism to battle, tells you to do it.)”
New York City’s education system is no stranger to race-based affinity groups. In June 2020, the DOE’s Early Childhood Division held an “Anti-racist Community Meeting” at which 700 employees were given the option to join breakout sessions in one of the following groups: “blacks or African-American, Latinx, Middle Eastern and North African, multiracial or mixed, Native and Indigenous, Asian Pacific Islander American, White Allies.”
That same month, the principal of a public elementary school in Queens instructed teachers that they needed to become “interrupters” of racism, then sorted staff into three groups: “Latino/a/x/Hispanic; White/Asian/Other; and Black.””
“How do advocates handle the cognitive dissonance of segregating in the name of anti-segregation? Like this, care of an email from a friend of mine’s private school principal:
“Affinity groups allow people with a shared identity to meet with one another in an emotionally safe and brave space. Unlike legal racial segregation which was a tool to maintain white power and control, racial affinity groups are anti-racist spaces in which participants can build their skills and capacity to unlearn and dismantle racism.” (Emphases in original.)”
“The initial practical problem, whose obviousness should nevertheless give affinity-promoters pause, is of classification. Why should African American/Hispanic be a single category? Or white/Asian? What do we do with the ever-elusive “white Hispanic” category? Don’t naturalized immigrants have far more in common with one another than they do with fifth-generation natives who may happen to share their skin pigment?
These definitional sorting questions point to a truism routinely treated by progressives and educational bureaucrats as false: Racial/ethnic/national identity is inherently fluid, not fixed. Immigrant Greeks and Italians and Jews in the late 1800s and early 1900s would have been shocked to hear that they were “white,” yet that’s what we call them now. Cubans ain’t Mexicans, literal Caucasians (as in, from the Caucasus Mountains) are routinely categorized as Asian, and Hispanics are seceding from their own identity. In a country founded not on nationality but ideas, this fluidity should be considered a feature, not a bug.
And yet we are sending the exact opposite message, in some cases to 11-year-olds. By making them choose their own group (even if one such group is the opt-outs), we are doing two bad things: making them feel as if their narrowly and often inaccurately defined subcategory is stamped upon them like a scarlet letter, and also that it is an important or even defining aspect of their personality.”
“Eleven-year-olds should not be told in first period to join an ethnic tribe. Their teachers should not be directed to act along those essentialist lines, either.”