Thursday, March 29, 2012

Walking While Black




Everyone has heard about the Trayvon Martin tragedy in Florida. Hundreds of columnists, TV pundits, and anyone with media access has written about how a black kid walking in his neighborhood was killed by a White or White/Hispanic man named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman thought Martin looked suspicious. Suspicious may very well have meant black.

Do you remember “Driving while Black” a few years back? It meant that if you were black and the police stopped you, your best bet was to adhere to a certain set of unwritten rules. Black parents handed it down to their black children. Some people call it the “Black Male Code.”

I was raised in a mostly white, neighborhood in the suburbs of Detroit. The father of my children—my former husband—was raised in a predominately white area of Ohio, but his family was black. He was also 15 years older than I, so his historic perspective of how a black male conducts himself in a potentially dangerous situation was different from mine. Civil rights strides had been made in those years.

When he went out running or even just working in the yard, he always had his identification with him. At first I questioned it; I was na├»ve. He explained to me that there was always a chance that he would be questioned or confronted by a white “authority figure,” meaning a cop. He felt safer having his identification stuck in a back pocket or a sock.

Being a white female, I had never thought about it, and certainly never worried about it. Then we had children. Then I got it.

When our multiracial son was about to get his driving permit, we had “the talk” with him. If he was stopped by a police officer he was to keep his hands on the steering wheel at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock hour positions. No sudden movements. Do not argue. If the police officer asked for some documentation, explain that you are going to get it out of your back rear wallet or the glove compartment. When you do move, move slowly. Whatever you do, do not be perceived as a threat and of course, always carry your identification with you.

He said, “You’ve always told me I was multiracial—two races—why does “driving while black” mean me?” I explained to him that his self-identification is one thing, but how he appears to someone can be completely different and yes, someone could assume he was black, so he had to act accordingly. Be on the safe side, son.

Parents of multiracial children are not stupid. We understand reality and we know we have to educate our kids about the reality of how people may view them. I know a girl who has a white mother and a black father and people are forever talking to her in Spanish because she “looks” Hispanic to them. They assume something that is not true. In fact, in this girl’s background, Hispanic is about the only thing she is not!

When President Obama came into office, he said he self-identifies as black. That is his right, his choice, and he has that option. What bothers me is the reason he gives for choosing to be black—because that is how people see him. Yes, it makes me feel less comfortable with a world leader who is so easily swayed by what other people think. Think about it.

Then there is the other reality. Obama said publicly that he thought of his children when he thought of Trayvon Martin. He said if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. The reality is that DNA is a funny thing and sometimes genes have a way of skipping generations or making someone’s brown eyes blue. We all know someone who looks absolutely nothing like their parents or siblings. The truth is that our President doesn’t know that his son would look like Trayvon or anybody else.

In a perfect world, the color of someone’s skin would not matter. But consider that in the 1990s, when we were fighting to have the ability to check more than one race on our census forms, one of the possibilities our United States Census Bureau was considering was a “skin gradation chart.” Think about that one. 

After we finished talking to our son about driving while black he assured us that he understood and would take our advice to heart.  “But,” he said, “I call it driving while multiracial.”

Monday, March 26, 2012

The TOP TEN Reasons to be a Multiracial Advocate


10. Just because we have a multiracial president and the census forms now have “check two or more,” discrimination is still blatant toward multiracial people. It’s the hate crime that is ignored. Don’t just complain; make a difference! No one else, no other groups are going to do this for us.
9. The US Department of Education suggests but does not mandate that schools allow students and staff to check more than one race. They do not let schools know that it is OK to add “multiracial” to forms—we know it is and so do they.
8. I heard a community leader refer to his son recently as a “half-breed.” I don’t think there is any excuse to call anyone a term that is less than respectful.
7. I received an email recently about a school district in a major US city that is allowing parents enrolling their children in school as two or more races, but then FORCING them to specify which race is their “PRIMARY CHOICE.”
6. Young children can’t speak for themselves about being forced to choose between their parents’ races. Maybe it’s your child or maybe you have multiracial grandchildren. They depend on us to speak for them.
5. The multiracial community is still not being invited to the table in Washington for talks that include our needs. If we don’t advocate in force, we remain invisible. We will lose any gains we have made.
4. We have been told that multiracial people are not “protected by any laws because they don’t exist legally.” Other minority populations have advocated for protection under local, state, and federal laws and they have won their rights. What’s WRONG with us?!
3. The federal government refuses to use respectful terminology for our population. They call multiracial people “People who check two or more boxes” or “A more than one race person.” It’s an outrage. Get mad. Speak up.
2. Multiracial people are dying and only other multiracial people can save them. For those with diseases of the blood and some cancers, patients must get a bone marrow transplant. Bone marrow crosses racial and ethnic lines. In other words, the BEST chance at a compatible match is someone with the same race or ethnicity. If you only do one proactive, positive, selfless part of this movement, save a life. Register to be a donor.

And the number one reason to be a multiracial advocate…
1.     If the multiracial community stops advocating, the government will go back to the “check only one” rule. They are talking about it. Trust me on this.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Top Medical School and Hospital INCLUDE "Check all that apply"!

Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital's Division of Preventive Medicine are seeking participants for a large-scale medical research study.  The questionnaire very clearly asks:

 "How would you describe your race (check all that apply)?" with the following categories:
-American Indian/Alaska Native
-Black or African American
-Asian
-Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
-White
-Unknown

And a separate question: How would you describe your ethnic group?
-Hispanic or Latino
-Not Hispanic or Latino
-Unknown

THANK YOU to Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital for doing the right thing for the multiracial community and our patients. The form clearly sends the message that self-identification is important, as is also knowing the entire racial and ethnic of multiracial patients in the medical community.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

BIG Trouble with Donor Drives

The blood banks and bone marrow donor programs are now completely TERRITORIAL. You never know where a match will come from geographically, yet they "brand" themselves in an area and they won't promote saving the life of a multiracial person. Everything seems so insignificant in comparison. Shame on them.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Shame on Salon

Shame on Salon for making this racist article by Chauncey DeVega, whoever he is, an "Editor's Pick." Multiracial people are not a "buffer group" and do not expect "special privileges." Salon would be much more respected if it vetted its writers.

Trayvon Martin and Life Lessons for Young Black Boys

Scholars have long maintained that race is merely a social construct, not something fixed into our nature, yet this insight hasn’t made it any less of a factor in our lives. If we no longer participate in a society in which the presence of black blood renders a person black, then racial self-identification becomes a matter of individual will.
And where the will is involved, the question of ethics arises. At a moment when prominent, upwardly mobile African-Americans are experimenting with terms like “post-black,” and outwardly mobile ones peel off at the margins and disappear into the multiracial ether, what happens to that core of black people who cannot or do not want to do either?
Trayvon Martin was killed for the crime of being black, young, and "suspicious." Like many other young black boys and grown men throughout United States history, he was shot dead for the crime of possessing an innocuous object (and likely daring to be insufficiently compliant to someone who imagined that they had the State's permission to kill people of color without consequence or condemnation).

The facts are still playing themselves out. From all appearances,the police have failed to investigate the incident properly. Trayvon Martin's family has been denied the reasonable care, respect, and response due to them by the local authorities. Observers and activists have gravitated towards racism as the prime motive for the shooting and murder of a young black boy by a grown man and self-styled mall cop, Charles Bronson, Dirty Harry wannabe vigilante.

Common sense renders a clear judgement here: if a black man shot and killed a white kid for holding a bag of Skittles he would already be under the jail; in this instance, the police are operating from a position where a young African American is presumed "guilty," and his murderer is assumed innocent.

Yes, race matters in the killing of Trayvon Martin. However, and I will explore this in a later post, it is significant in a manner that is much more pernicious than the simple calculus of whether to shoot a young black boy for some imagined grievance or offense--as opposed to being asked a question, or perhaps sternly talked to. The latter is also problematic: it assumes that black people's citizenship and humanity are forever questionable, and subject to evaluation, by any person who happens to not be African American.

Cornel West famously suggested that all black children are "niggerized" at some point in their upbringing. Moreover, black children learn to live in a state of existential dread because they are always subject to wanton and unjust violence. Trayvon Martin's murder reminds me of a parallel and complementary observation. Black people live a paradox. We are simultaneously both children and adults in the white racial imagination regardless of our age.

Black people are treated as adults even when they are minors. In the courts, black young people are disproportionately subjected to punishments which are typically meted out to adults. As research has repeatedly demonstrated, to be young and black is to be an adult for purposes of arrest, the gas chamber, or imprisonment.

Historically, black people have been treated by whites as though they are children in regards to political matters. Thus, the contemporary rhetoric from conservatives that African Americans are childlike, zombies, on a plantation, or somehow hoodwinked or tricked into supporting the Democratic Party. Despite all of the available evidence, grown folks who were either heirs to, or participants in, a Black Freedom Struggle that salvaged and saved American democracy from its own weaknesses, lies, and hypocrisies, are depicted as naive infants, unable to be full and equal political actors.

The sociological imagination draws many connections. To point, Trayvon Martin's murder is also a surprising (and for many, counter-intuitive) complement to The New York Times' excellent series of essays on race, interracial marriage, and identity.

As someone who has loved across the colorline, and also believes that there are many ways to create a family, I have always held fast to a simple rule.

In this society, in this moment, and given what we know about how race impacts life chances, if a white person is going to have a child with a person of color (especially one who is African American or "black"), a parent is committing malpractice if they do not give their progeny the spiritual, emotional, philosophical, and personal armor to deal with the realities of white supremacy.

By implication, young black and brown children must be made to understand that they are not "special," "biracial," or part of a racial buffer group that is going to be given "special" privileges because one of their parents is white. These "multiracial" children are some of the most vulnerable and tragic when they are finally forced to confront the particular challenges which come with being a young black boy or girl in American society. In post civil rights America, this notion is politically incorrect. Nonetheless, it remains true.

Here, Thomas Chatterton Williams offers a great comment on blackness and the dilemma of "post-black" identity:
Still, as I envision rearing my own kids with my blond-haired, blue-eyed wife, I’m afraid that when my future children — who may very well look white — contemplate themselves in the mirror, this same society, for the first time in its history, will encourage them not to recognize their grandfather’s face. For this fear and many others, science and sociology are powerless to console me — nor can they delineate a clear line in the sand beyond which identifying as black becomes absurd.
Question: what happens for those young people who do not see themselves as "black" or "brown," yet run into the deadly fists of white racism? Do they have the skill sets necessary to survive such encounters whole of life and limb?

Because we are both part of a diaspora, the wisdom of our Jewish brothers and sisters is also instructive here. Continuing from The New York Times piece:
For Judt, it was his debt to the past alone that established his identity.Or as Ralph Ellison explained — and I hope my children will read him carefully because they will have to make up their own minds: “Being a Negro American involves a willed (who wills to be a Negro? I do!) affirmation of self as against all outside pressures.” And even “those white Negroes,” as he called them, “are Negroes too — if they wish to be.”And so I will teach my children that they, too, are black — regardless of what anyone else may say — so long as they remember and wish to be.
Trayvon Martin was likely taught the life lessons necessary to survive an encounter with the police (or their posse cousins) by his parents and other elders. Because black life is cheap, a young person of color can do everything "right" and still end up dead. What does this mean for blackness, when a century or more after the end of slavery, and decades after the end of lynch law, that your guilt is still assumed?

Whiteness and White privilege involve the luxury of being able to decide how, in what ways, and under what conditions, you will be allow yourself to be uncomfortable. White privilege also involves the luxury of not having to have a conversation with your kids about how to avoid being murdered by the cops because of your skin color. In many matters of life and death, white supremacy remains, in many ways, unchallenged. Black and brown folks, if they are responsible parents, cannot avoid such conversations with their children. The foot-dragging by the police in regards to the murder of Trayvon Martin reveals this ugly truth.

Dr. King is gone. A black man is President. Yet, life remains unfair...does it not?

Student Told to Read Poem "Blacker"

A Virginia high school English teacher is under investigation for allegedly asking the only black student in the class to read a poem in a "blacker" manner.Jordan Shumate, a ninth-grader at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Va., says he was reading aloud Langston Hughes' "Ballad of the Landlord" when teacher Marilyn Bart interrupted him.
"She told me, 'Blacker, Jordan -- c'mon, blacker. I thought you were black,'" Shumate told The Washington Post. When the 14-year-old student declined to continue reading the poem, Bart read it herself to demonstrate what she meant.
"She read the poem like a slave, basically," Shumate told the Post. When he asked whether she thought all black people speak that way, he was reportedly told to take his seat and reprimanded for speaking out of turn. The poem was written in 1940 about a black tenant thrown in jail for challenging a landlord. "It's very, very unprofessional," Shumate told WJLA-TV. "It should not happen. She didn't do it to any other kids. Why did she have to do it to me?"
The student brought the issue to his mother's attention after the teacher reportedly singled him out again during a lesson about stereotypes. Shumate said Bart asked him to explain why blacks like grape soda and rap music.
Shumate's mother, Nicole Page, told WAMU that she is "very sad" for her "child's loss of innocence" through the experience. The teacher had also previously asked the student to rap out a poem by black rapper and actor Tupac Shakur, Page said.
"We're in 2012 with the first African American president," Page told WJLA-TV. "In this era how could such a statement be made, particularly by an English teacher?"
Shumate's claims come after two shocking and racist YouTube videos surfaced in Florida last month that feature white teen girls making disparaging statements against black students.
At least one of the incidents forced the video's creators to apologize and leave their Gainesville, Fla., high school.
Source: Huff Post 3-19-2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

As MULTIRACIAL as We Wish to Be

If you read the two blog posts prior to this one, you will see one article and one opinion piece from The New York Times on the same day--today, March 16, 2012.

The staff report on the FACT that interracial marriage is seen gaining in acceptance, is based on a survey. It's a ho hum article written by a reporter for the newspaper. It makes your eyes glaze over with data and you probably yawn at least once.

But wait! Some guy named Williams, who himself has a black father and white mother, has much, much more space than normally given to an opinion piece by the NYT. Prime newsprint real estate. His opinion is that "mixed-race blacks" have an ethical obligation to identify as black--and interracial couples have a "moral imperative" to teach multiracial children to do just that. He self-identifies as black and he recently married a white woman.

Project RACE is all about choice. If Mr. Williams wants to self-identify as black or green or purple, that is his choice and that's fine with us. But to advise the parents of multiracial children how they should identify is to take away their own free choice. What kind of moral imperative is that?

His article goes on to give inaccurate information,states that personal decisions end up having one destructive cumulative effect, but only if it's a decision that he does not agree with. He says, "and so I will teach my children that they, too, are black..." In our society multiracial children get the question "What are you?!" all the time. Mr. Willams' children can always say, "I'm black because my father decided I am." We advocate to always give children the freedom to choose and explain that multiracial is respectful terminology for a person of more than one race and an honest and valid response.
Susan Graham for Project RACE

BLACK OPINION Gets BIGGER Piece in NY Times

As Black as We Wish to Be

Paris
MY first encounter with my own blackness occurred in the checkout line at the grocery store. I was horsing around with my older brother, as bored children sometimes do. My blond-haired, blue-eyed mother, exasperated and trying hard to count out her cash and coupons in peace, wheeled around furiously and commanded us both to be still. When she finished scolding us, an older white woman standing nearby leaned over and whispered sympathetically: “It must be so tough adopting those kids from the ghetto.”
The thought that two tawny-skinned bundles of stress with Afros could have emerged from my mother’s womb never crossed the lady’s mind. That was in the early 1980s, when the sight of interracial families like mine was still an oddity, even in a New Jersey suburb within commuting distance from Manhattan. What strikes me most today is that despite how insulting the woman’s remark was, we could nonetheless all agree on one thing: my brother and I were black.
Now we inhabit a vastly different landscape in which mixing is increasingly on display. In just three decades, as a new Pew Research Center study shows, the percentage of interracial marriages has more than doubled (from 6.7 percent in 1980 to approximately 15 percent in 2010), and some 35 percent of Americans say that a member of their immediate family or a close relative is currently married to someone of a different race. Thanks to these unions and the offspring they’ve produced, we take for granted contradictions that would have raised eyebrows in the past.
As a society, we are re-evaluating what such contradictions mean. The idea that a person can be both black and white — and at the same time neither — is novel in America.
Until the year 2000, the census didn’t even recognize citizens as belonging to more than one racial group. And yet, so rapid has the change been that just 10 years later, when Barack Obama marked the “Black, African Am., or Negro,” box on his 2010 census form, many people wondered why he left it at that.
If today we’ve become freer to concoct our own identities, to check the “white” box or write in “multiracial” on the form, the question then forces itself upon us: are there better or worse choices to be made?
I believe there are. Mixed-race blacks have an ethical obligation to identify as black — and interracial couples share a similar moral imperative to inculcate certain ideas of black heritage and racial identity in their mixed-race children, regardless of how they look.
The reason is simple. Despite the tremendous societal progress these recent changes in attitude reveal in a country that enslaved its black inhabitants until 1865, and kept them formally segregated and denied them basic civil rights until 1964, we do not yet live in an America that fully embodies its founding ideals of social and political justice.
As the example of President Obama demonstrates par excellence, the black community can and does benefit directly from the contributions and continued allegiance of its mixed-race members, and it benefits in ways that far outweigh the private joys of freer self-expression.
We tend to paint the past only in extremes, as having been either categorically better than the present or irredeemably bad. Maybe that’s why we live now in a culture in which many of us would prefer to break clean from what we perceive as the racist logic of previous eras — specifically the idea that the purity and value of whiteness can be tainted by even “one drop” of black blood. And yet, however offensive those one-drop policies may appear today, that offensiveness alone doesn’t strip the reasoning behind them of all descriptive truth.
In fleeing from this familiar way of thinking about race, we sidestep the reality that a new multiracial community could flourish and evolve at black America’s expense. Indeed, the cost of mixed-race blacks deciding to turn away could be huge.
With the number of Americans identifying as both black and white having more than doubled in the first decade of this century — from 785,000 to 1.8 million — such demographic shifts are bound to shape social policy decisions, playing a role in the setting and reassessing of national priorities at a time when Washington is overwhelmed with debt obligations and forced to weigh special interests and entitlement programs against each other.
Consider the impact that a broad redefinition of blackness might have on the nation’s public school system. In the past few years, the federal government has implemented new guidelines for counting race and ethnicity, which for the first time allow students to indicate if they are “two or more races.”
That shift is expected to change the way test scores are categorized, altering racial disparities and affecting funding for education programs. For this reason and others, the N.A.A.C.P. and some black members of Congress have expressed concern that African-Americans are at risk of being undercounted as blacks compete more than ever with other minorities and immigrants for limited resources and influence.
Scholars have long maintained that race is merely a social construct, not something fixed into our nature, yet this insight hasn’t made it any less of a factor in our lives. If we no longer participate in a society in which the presence of black blood renders a person black, then racial self-identification becomes a matter of individual will.
And where the will is involved, the question of ethics arises. At a moment when prominent, upwardly mobile African-Americans are experimenting with terms like “post-black,” and outwardly mobile ones peel off at the margins and disappear into the multiracial ether, what happens to that core of black people who cannot or do not want to do either?
Could this new racial gerrymandering result in that historically stigmatized group’s further stigmatization? Do a million innocuous personal decisions end up having one destructive cumulative effect?
LAST year, I married a white woman from France; the only thing that shocked people was that she is French. This stands in stark contrast to my parents’ fraught experience less than 10 years after the landmark 1967 case Loving v. Virginia overturned anti-miscegenation laws. It is no longer radical for people like my wife and me to come together.
According to the Pew report, while 9 percent of white newlyweds in 2010 took nonwhite spouses, some 17 percent of black newlyweds, and nearly one-quarter of black males in particular, married outside the race. Numbers like these have made multiracial Americans the fastest-growing demographic in the country. Exhortations to stick with one’s own, however well intentioned, won’t be able to change that.
When I think about what my parents endured — the stares, the comments, the little things that really do take a toll — I am grateful for a society in which I may marry whomever I please and that decision is treated as mundane. Still, as I envision rearing my own kids with my blond-haired, blue-eyed wife, I’m afraid that when my future children — who may very well look white — contemplate themselves in the mirror, this same society, for the first time in its history, will encourage them not to recognize their grandfather’s face.
For this fear and many others, science and sociology are powerless to console me — nor can they delineate a clear line in the sand beyond which identifying as black becomes absurd.
Whenever I ask myself what blackness means to me, I am struck by the parallels that exist between my predicament and that of many Western Jews, who struggle with questions of assimilation at a time when marrying outside the faith is common. In an essay on being Jewish, Tony Judt observed that “We acknowledge readily enough our duties to our contemporaries; but what of our obligations to those who came before us?” For Judt, it was his debt to the past alone that established his identity.
Or as Ralph Ellison explained — and I hope my children will read him carefully because they will have to make up their own minds: “Being a Negro American involves a willed (who wills to be a Negro? I do!) affirmation of self as against all outside pressures.” And even “those white Negroes,” as he called them, “are Negroes too — if they wish to be.”
And so I will teach my children that they, too, are black — regardless of what anyone else may say — so long as they remember and wish to be. 
Source: The New York Times, March 16, 2012

Big news, but small article from NY Times

Interracial Marriage Seen Gaining Wide Acceptance

Of the major demographic trends that have transformed American society in recent decades, the public is more accepting of the rise in interracial marriage than of other cultural shifts, like same-sex marriage or the increase in single motherhood, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.
The more positive attitude toward intermarriage represents a sharp break from the recent past and parallels behavioral change: about 15 percent of new marriages across the country in 2010 were between spouses of different races or ethnicities, more than double the share in 1980. The researchers presented the acceptance of interracial marriage as “the fading of a taboo.”
Only about a third of Americans viewed intermarriage as acceptable in 1986.
Now, more than a third of the population says that an immediate family member or close relative is married to someone of a different race, researchers found.
“If you think about the last half-century, interracial marriage has evolved from being illegal in many states, to merely a taboo, to merely unusual, and with each passing year, it becomes less unusual,” said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center.
Viewed in aggregate, interracially married newlyweds seem similar to all newlyweds. But when the pairings are broken down by sex and race, distinct patterns emerge.
White-Asian couples have the highest earning power, surpassing white-white couples and Asian-Asian couples in median income. And among Hispanics and blacks, those who marry outside their race are more likely to have college degrees. There are gender disparities as well: black men marry outside the race at a far higher rate than black women. But the opposite is true of Asians: women marry outside the race at a higher rate than men.
Regionally, intermarried couples are more likely to live in the West, a result of the concentration of immigrant minority groups there. 
Source: The New York Times 3-16-2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What about civil rights history for the multiracial population?

New Guidelines Aim to Improve Teaching of Civil Rights History

The Southern Poverty Law Center—which last year concluded that a majority of states deserve a failing grade for how they handle the teaching of civil rights history—has just issued a set of guidelines to help states improve the situation.
The civil rights organization is providing model learning standards designed to help states either improve existing standards or develop expectations where none exists, according to a press release. The document draws on the standards in Alabama, Florida, and New York as a starting point, all of which received high marks in last year's study. It also includes a set of best practices that provide additional guidance on crafting high-quality standards.
"We were dismayed last year to learn that for many students, civil rights education boils down to two people and four words: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and 'I have a dream,' " Maureen Costello, who directs the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance project, said in the press release.
The 35 states that received an F in last year's report spanned the country, from California and New Mexico to Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Maine. The grades were based on a rubric that placed the most emphasis on the content students should know about civil rights history, divided into six categories: events, leaders, groups, causes, obstacles, and tactics. Beyond that, 15 percent was based on how each state's standards contextualized the movement.
Among the best practices identified in the new guidelines are calls to identify essential knowledge, engage deeply with primary-source documents, and make explicit connections between the civil rights movement and current events.
(Speaking of the second point, on primary source documents, I'll make a quick plug for a story I wrote last year about the use of primary sources in teaching the Civil War.)
"We didn't want to criticize these states without providing solutions," Costello said in the press release. "Our goal is to provide an example of teaching standards that would have received a perfect score."
Source: Education Week Magazine

Are you making a difference?


"Whatever you do, make a difference. Earn the right to look back at something and say, 'I did that.'" -Michael Josephson, Law Professor

Monday, March 12, 2012

New School Seeks to Embrace Multiracial Children

Only 15 students per grade, no tuition fees and classes taught in multiple languages -- it sounds like a school parents can only dream of. That dream has become reality in Seoul with the opening of an extraordinary school for students and parents whose life stories differ from Korea's homogenous norm.

The School of Global SARANG in Seoul, sarang meaning "love" in Korean," opened March 2 as Korea's first private school for multi-ethnic elementary school children. Students typically have a Korean father and a foreign-born mother, hailing from such countries as Ghana, China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

According to government statics, more than 1.2 million foreign workers and immigrants live in Korea, with some 30,000 elementary, middle and high school students here the children of immigrants. In Seoul alone, 5,222 multicultural students were enrolled in elementary, middle, and high schools in 2010, with that number increasing 31 percent to 6,837 last year.

The School of Global SARANG emphasizes specialized programs that give validation to diverse cultures. In addition to a basic Korean school curriculum, it offers after-school classes in Korean, English, Chinese and the students' mother languages. The makeup of the student body is expected to be 80 percent multicultural and 20 percent Korean. By opening day, 70 children had enrolled.

Resources at the six-floor school facility include eight teachers and a library holding more than 20,000 books. The students have Internet capabilities in Korean, English and their native languages. Classes will be taught by Korean-speakers, English-speakers and instructors of other languages.

"In order to obtain foreign language skills effectively, early childhood education is crucial," said principal Kim Young-seok. "We wish that the school will assist Koreans to understand the value and the importance of a multicultural and multiracial society."

The acknowledgement of and sensitivity toward multi-ethnicity arose after a steady inflow of migrant workers to Korea to take up jobs shunned by locals, and recently as more Korean men from rural farming towns have wed foreign wives. Dr. Kim Hae-sung, the founder and chairman of SARANG, counseled and assisted migrant workers for more than 20 years, earning him the nickname "the godfather of foreign laborers," and felt their children were growing up neglected.

Various surveys indicate about 60 percent of children from multi-ethnic families attend elementary school, but that rate drops to 40 percent and 30 percent for middle and high school, respectively. Many of these parents, who are often poor with irregular employment or even expired legal status here, cannot send their children to school, according to Kim.

In 2007, he embarked on a project to build a school specifically for such children. His early efforts went to finding the land on which to build the school and finding the financial resources to run it. He started with a preschool, then an after-school program. In March of last year, he opened SARANG, which was eventually accredited by the Seoul Board of Education to start the 2012 academic year.

"It's a great project,” said Sid Kim, the director of private after-school institute Wise Education in Seoul. Also a member of the Seoul Rotary Club, Kim said the club raises money to support multinational and mixed race children and is planning a large fund-raiser.

SARANG does not ask whether the foreign parent is a legal immigrant in Korea. The point is that these children, who are often ostracized for looking different and sidelined because of poverty, should not be denied their right to education, Kim Hae-sung believes.

Kim himself is raising three orphaned children who attend the school. "I know a lot of children come from troubled backgrounds -- divorce or handicaps --- but they need an education, too," he said, adding he wants to give them "every opportunity to succeed."
"It is an anachronism to insist on the idea of a racially homogenous nation," he said.

Not everyone agrees with Kim's way of helping, however. Robert Ouwehand, a Canadian married to a Korean, sees SARANG as a sign of segregation. Speaking on a radio program, he described how children from intermarriages between Korean and non-Korean parents can become further ostracized or bullied because they cannot speak Korean well.

"This is a wrong-minded approach," said Ouwehand, who is the father of a multiracial infant. "We're not interacting."

From: The Korea Times, March 12, 2012