Wednesday, May 25


Big flack in Texas over the fact that the Waxahachie High School yearbook was printed with the caption "Black Girl" identifying the only African-American member of the National Honor Society. Waxahachie, about 25 miles south of Dallas with a population of 20,000+, is the scene of the megastar movie (Sally Fields/Danny Glover/John Malkovich/Ed Harris/Amy Madigan et al) "Places in the Heart." Young Shadoyia Jones was graduating 17th in her graduating class of about 400 and was devastated, according to her aunt and the local NAACP president (heard by me on Dallas KLIF talk station show The Greg Knapp Experience this afternoon), to be labeled by her race and not her identity after all her hard work and accomplishments. Seems it was a matter of carelessness, not maliciousness, as the unidentified student in charge of that section of the yearbook "didn't know her name" and used the designation "black girl" as a placeholder. Therefore, say most local residents, all should be forgiven and forgotten, especially since the school has offered to replace the offending page to any student who will submit to having their yearbook's page ripped out and replaced with a correct one (I'm sure that just EVERYONE will be rushing in for that). "It's a matter of hypersensitivity," I heard at least one representative caller to Knapp's show say. How could the student in charge be expected to know everybody's name in a class of about 400? Just an honest mistake.

Except. I was a member of the NHS in a class of 500, and there were only about 50 of us. So I'd expect about the same ratio in the Waxahachie school. How is it possible that the student in charge knew EVERY WHITE MEMBER but didn't know the name of the sole (and therefore standout) African-American? And even if so, it shows a marked lack of sensitivity not to have made every effort to have discovered, and supplied, the missing name. Again, I was a member of my yearbook staff, and we were carefully supervised by adult staff; after all, yearbook is a credited class, a teaching and learning exercise -- students aren't expected to be professionals at such a juncture.

Yes, it's perfectly possible that this was just an embarrassing oversight. But it shows a marked lack of consideration, and delicate understanding, not to see how even if apart from a race issue, this event has resulted in a very real reality check for a young lady who, by all accounts, is an outstanding achiever: her race is her chief identifier. And while others may not see it, I can't help but remember how fragile the egos my own daughters were at the same age, trying so desperately to blend in and be accepted. How would they have felt to be identified, even accidentally, as "fat girl" or "ugly girl"? It's not realistic to dismiss racial sensitivities as "in the past" -- we know from statistical studies that African-Americans are more likely to be viewed suspiciously by police and other authorities, to be "last hired, first fired" even today. Even as we encourage young minorities to aspire to assimilation and to the "ownership class," we continue to regard them, as a group, as people who have to prove themselves individually unlike their Caucasian counterparts who receive an initial societal acceptance based solely on their position as members of the predominant race.

This young woman, who was trying to do exactly that, has been embarrassed and enlightened. She may not be the victim of a crime, but it is not right to belittle the impact on her self-respect, her self-esteem, and her world vision. As the mother of daughters, I am terribly, terribly sympathetic. I hope she will quickly recover from this unfortunate incident.


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