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Talking About Race
December 3, 2017 7:01 pm / Leave a comment
—Cindy Geary, Co-Author of Going to School in Black and White
LaHoma and I found ourselves talking about race during our writing group a few years ago. Specifically, we were talking about school re-segregation and white flight in the district where we had both gone to school. This conversation happened after we discovered that we had both been participants in the 1970 court-ordered desegregation plan in Durham, NC. Before 1970, a few black children attended previously white schools, but no white children attended black schools. The new court order required substantive redistricting to create a racial balance that the “freedom of choice” policy had not. My sophomore year, I was among the first white students to go to the previous all-black Hillside High School.
During an earlier group meeting, I read an excerpt from a writing prompt: “the place where you lived when you were in junior high.” I mentioned in my piece that I was a Hillside graduate. LaHoma said, “You went to Hillside? I went to Hillside!” As it turned out, I was a senior her sophomore year. LaHoma is black; she always expected to go to Hillside. Neither of us had known until then that we had walked the same high school corridors. We were excited to know, after years of acquaintance, that we were both Hillside “Hornets.”
That day, after reminiscing about former teachers and classmates, we started to talk about how we felt about court-ordered desegregation, controversial at the time. We were both surprised at each other’s responses. She was surprised that I had thought it was a good experience—years after graduation, she had heard otherwise from former classmates. I was stunned to hear LaHoma had not been at all happy about desegregation. She was utterly content at her junior high school and unhappy to be reassigned to a different one just to be with white kids. It was not the story I had assumed.
Thus began an extended conversation about our experiences as white and black people in and out of our usual white and black spaces. Our stories unveiled different worlds, defined by race, that we inhabited before, during and after our school desegregation experiences. These stories became a dual memoir, Going to School in Black and White. Writing this book gave us the opportunity to speak openly with each other about our own previously unexamined biases in a way that we might not have been able to without these real school experiences to ground us.
Having these sometimes tricky conversations created a strong bond of trust between us. To honor this and to make the book worthy of our readers’ trust, our goal was complete honesty, even when what surfaced in our writing process was not as pretty as we wanted it to be. Peeling back layers of memory was sometimes painful, but also liberating. Our wish is that readers will find something of themselves in our stories, start to talk to others about the formation of their racial attitudes and beliefs, and that eventually, this will create enough comfort with each other to have further conversations about the present realities of school segregation and racial injustice.
For more information about our book and resource materials, see: