An Integrated School, Sort Of

Evaline’s big play was last night, and her sister and I laughed through the whole thing.

But the best part, at least for this parent, was that moment afterward: watching all the actors and production crew buzz around in front of the stage, hugging each other, cracking jokes, and reviewing their mistakes with laughter. Family members and younger siblings filtered into the frenzy to sneak in hugs, deliver roses, and take pictures.

It was lovely — that elusive, yummy cookie of accomplishment in everyone’s tummy. I sat on the arm of an auditorium chair about 3 rows back and watched, a big goofy smile on my face.

I caught myself staring, wondered why I wasn’t running into the crowd like the rest of the proud parents, and why, instead, I perched on my skinny wooden armrest.

Perhaps this.

As gleeful as the crowd was, it was divided.

To my right, the White kids and White families. To my left, a bit louder and more expressive in their joy, the Black kids and their families. Between them, about 6 feet of space.

This is an integrated school in America.

Indeed, it’s one of the most superbly integrated schools in Oakland: 26% Black, 22% White… These stats are what people love about the school. The students are damn proud of these figures. And they should be.

But, truth be told, it looks better on paper than in real life. It’s less of an “integration” and more of an “alongside.” Two worlds right next to each other, learning differently, laughing differently. I suppose it gets the job done, that job being the silent and ongoing production of empathy. On both sides.

It sure was a huge space between them. All Black on one side. All White on the other. No exceptions.

Well, one exception, I guess. (grin)

Me! Propped up in the middle, glued to my armrest like a gargoyle, big goofy smile on my face.

I had to laugh when I noticed this. Of course, Cliff. Of course, you’re sitting in the middle.

A small, near-invisible gesture on my part.

With the mystery solved and the colorful crowd dispersing into the aisles, I got down off my perch and went in for my hug (the White side, if you’re wondering).

At least my kid was the loudest.