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The Guilford County Schools Diversity Sham

the guilford county schools diversity sham

It seems that Monica Walker, Diversity Officer for Guilford County Schools [Greensboro, North Carolina] doesn’t quite espouse values in the tradition of Levi Coffin.

Education blogger and GCS board of education candidate E.C. Huey recently examined the role of the Diversity Officer for the 71,000+ student school district. He found that Walker, a relatively new hire compensated at ~$80,000/year, is sending curious messages about race, ethnicity and diversity to the Guilford County community.

In GCS Diversity Officer… Uncensored, Huey analyzed a recent Carolina Peacemaker article about Walker’s diversity programs:

“Creating a World Without Racism: What It Would Mean for Peace, Justice and our Planet,” was the topic of the guest speaker, Monica Walker, at the ninth annual Peace and Justice Network Potluck, Sunday, Nov. 11, at the Central Library in Greensboro.

Walker, originally from Alabama and recently moving to Greensboro from New York, is an anti-racism trainer and the Guilford County Schools’ diversity officer. Before taking her current position with the Guilford County Schools, she taught in the justice and policy studies program at Guilford College. Walker has also worked as a trainer with Guilford County-based Partnership Project, which conducts anti-racism workshops.

Using her training skills Walker asked the audience to write down five words: remember, reconcile, reconnect, rebuild and redefine. She then connected each word to her main theme. Walker said, “Your ethnicity connects you to your community. It is so important to connect with our ethnicity.”

So far, Walker sounds like the garden variety, milquetoast diversity-monger that is increasingly common in public education. It could be worse, though such actors can certainly be employed for less than $80k. The article continues:

“She moved about the room and asked people, “What is your ethnicity.” The answers, of course, varied. She explained to those who said, American, that the country of one’s birth is their nationality, not ethnicity. She noted that race is a political description. She said that ethnicity is the traditions that have been passed on to one from their ancestors. She said to remember these traditions is important.”

And so it begins. I commented on E.C.’s post and will reproduce portions of that comment here:

What Walker is peddling here is an absolute load of tripe.

That Walker doesn’t seem to think that there are uniquely-American traditions is not only troubling, but shows a serious misunderstanding of the populations she’s supposedly trying to bring together. I’d be happy to spend 5 minutes with Walker in front of the magazine rack at any bookstore and bring her up to speed on American culture, which parts were unique and why.

Then I’d explain to her how her positions as an anti-racism and public school district diversity officer are uniquely American.

Yesterday I was reminded by Roger Kimball of a brief exchange between Ward Connerly and a New York Times reporter:

Reporter: What are you?
Connerly: I am an American.
Reporter: No, no, no! What are you?
Connerly: Yes, yes, yes! I am an American.
Reporter: That is not what I mean. I was told that you are African American. Are you ashamed to be African American?
Connerly: No, I am just proud to be an American.

Connerly went on to explain that his ancestry included Africans, French, Irish, and American Indians. It was too much for the poor reporter from our Paper of Record: “What does that make you?” he asked in uncomprehending exasperation. I suspect he was not edified by Connerly’s cheerful response: “That makes me all-American.”

As a descendant of Francis Cooke, my answer would’ve been similar. Nearly 400 years in the same spot is usually enough to forge the basic traditions and values that make up one’s identity.

But Walker wouldn’t have accepted that.

She also reminded us that:

“…race is a political description.”

It would come as a surprise to those descendants of peoples from Asia through Africa who carry sickle-cell alleles – or the Ashkenazi who carry Tay-Sachs – that their afflictions are simply a result of synthetic political constructs.

“Always directing her talk toward racism [emphasis mine], Walker said that one’s external constructions are what someone else had created. “Some of us need to redefine ourselves.””

To which I responded with:

Hopefully – though it is unlikely – Ms. Walker will realize that not everything in society is grounded in racism. That, along with a hefty dose of real understanding of race/culture/ethnicity, might help her “begin to connect” to others.

Until then, Walker will continue to have all the authority of a third-rate freshman in a Sociology 101 class.

And that’s a charge I stand by.

Mr. Huey wrote a follow-up post about Walker’s role at GCS:

The Rhino Times reported back on March 29 of this year that Walker’s position as a diversity officer is a first for Guilford County Schools. See this excerpt:

Walker is not only new to the school system, but her position was just created in the 2006-2007 budget. Walker has never presented the board data at meetings. Walker has attended at least one of the board’s Shared Communications Committee meetings and she has attended a handful of community forums. Other than that, what exactly she does in that position has not been brought forth to the board and she is earning more than $80,000.

I looked at the job description for Walker’s position [PDF, opens in new window]. It’s a masterful 4-page display of mealy-mouthed eduspeak that offers little in the way of helping us understand the GCS Diversity Officer’s responsibilities [though it does mandate that a successful candidate must display a reasonable amount of "Manual Dexterity" and "Must have minimal levels of eye/hand/foot coordination"].

Huey’s research uncovered a resume full of unfortunate associations:

Walker is also listed on a site titled “Anti-Racist Alliance“. I brought up this site because this portion of this particular homepage is troubling:

This website is designed for individuals, educators, activists and trainers who are interested in participating a national movement for racial justice. . This is a curriculum designed to create change! By entering the curriculum on whiteness you will begin a journey into what it means to be white in America, the consequences of whiteness for people of color and reparations in the form of federal government initiatives to end disproportionality and poverty, the ultimate impact for racial equity

She’s listed on this site as one of many folks peddling a $15 DVD on Internalizing Racial Oppression on behalf of PISAB.

It’s not far from what popped up recently in Delaware, that charming residence life program which reminded us that all whites are, by definition, racist oppressors.

————————

Guilford County is a diverse place and GCS is a large system; that there’s a director of social/cultural programs is not unreasonable. But paying $80k to a race-baiter so she might advance her ideology – including convincing children that race is just a social construct while centuries of bred-in guilt [and all related reparations] is a necessary burden for every white – is outrageous. Walker should be ashamed of herself and the GCS board/administration should be doubly ashamed for promoting her service.

The District would know her harmful ruse [or at least have the opportunity to recognize and ignore it] if they had any clue what Walker does. Simply put, they don’t. From The Rhino Times:

Attending her first Guilford County Board of Education meeting since she was hired in August 2006, Chief Diversity Officer Monica Walker had no clear explanation as to why she had not been at any previous meetings, but she told board members at the Tuesday, Oct. 9 meeting that she has been very busy…

… Walker said much of her time has been spent providing “Undoing Racism” training at Mission Possible schools.

Board members didn’t have many questions for Walker, just a lot of thank yous for the work she is doing. Chairman Alan Duncan said he would like to “see you more often from here on out.”

To which, Walker said, “That’s OK. You don’t have to.”

Superintendent Terry Grier said Walker has one person helping her in her department and that he thought Walker was “carrying a big load.” The support staff that Grier wanted to go along with Walker’s department was cut in the 2007-2008 budget.

“She is doing a marvelous job,” Grier said, about Walker working with various departments.

A quick recap:

  • She doesn’t go to meetings for the organization she’s charged with bringing together and stated clearly that she won’t in the future;
  • Her job description is vague and open-ended;
  • Board members don’t have a clear picture of what she does;
  • She gets a thumbs-up anyway.

The Guilford community – and especially GCS – needs to recognize Walker for what she is: a paid advocate for a particular ideology, and a fairly unpalatable one at that. Any hiring manager examining Walker’s history and who is familiar with the culture of social work education [or view the latest comprehensive report on the National Association of Scholars website] would have raised an eyebrow long ago. Unfortunately, the GCS board and administration did not and the recent media coverage suggests that they will not.

So, in short, Guilford County will continue to lay claim to yet another ineffective, harmful and expensive diversity sham.

It’s the stuff of black comedy. We can only hope that GCS and its Superintendent Terry Grier will bring in The Bobs, Porter and Slydell, to ask that most necessary question:

And when Guilford County finally gets the answer, let’s hope they take the appropriate action.

12 Responses to “The Guilford County Schools Diversity Sham”

  1. E.C. Huey says:

    Stellar follow-up, Matthew. Nice work.

    To put it in perspective, it’s unfortunate that most things in this part of central North Carolina (smack-dab in the middle of the state, an hour from the banking/NASCAR capital of Charlotte and an hour from the technology belt and state capital of Raleigh)is about race (or racism).

    And as a result, many in this area continue to live in the past and it is holding this area back tremendously.

    But what we do have is a powerful blogging community down here and we have an electorate that for the most part, can see through the silliness and sift through the drivel from the drive-by media. This is an example of such silliness.

    My investigation may (or may not) cost me the election, but more is at stake…the notion of speaking out and doing what’s right. It’s about principle. I have a 7 y.o. daughter in a Guilford Co. public school; that puts me on the playing field, election or no election.

    Thanks for the continued support!

  2. Goader says:

    Chairman Alan Duncan: I would like to “see you more often from here on out.”

    Walker: “That’s OK. You don’t have to.”

    Goader: Perhaps the job description should have included another requirement: “Must be cooperative and open-minded.” (Maybe that would have pushed the salary over the $100,000 mark, however, which was too steep for the district to afford.)

  3. Adena says:

    Interesting article. We moved from Guilford County a few years ago. Can’t help but wonder if part of that outrageous salary couldn’t be better spent elsewhere in the education system? Sounds like the position was created with someone in mind. And I thought the education system would improve if it received money from NC getting the lottery! btw, I remember promoting a Tabor while I lived in NC…Nathan I think was his first name?? Good to find your site.

  4. Sheria says:

    Matthew, as you give your credentials, I think it is only fair to give mine. I actually live in North Carolina; I’ve lived here my entire life. I taught high school English at Chapel Hill High School for nearly ten years. I’m black; I was the only black teacher in the English Department at Chapel Hill High for time that I taught there. My department was the largest in the school, with 16 English teachers. I once had a colleague explain that she didn’t think that she could teach African-American authors in her American literature class because she couldn’t culturally identify with the authors or their subject matter. I was a bit surprised as in my American Lit class in addition to Richard Wright and Alice Walker, I was also teaching F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. I eventually left teaching and graduated from law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’ve been an attorney for ten years and involved in education law and policy for the last six, including being part of an amicus group intervening on behalf of at-risk students in Leandro, the state school finance lawsuit. Our state supreme court has twice found that there is a constitutional right to education in our state constitution; the case has been in the remedies phase for the past three years. I’m 52 years old; I was born the year of the second Brown decision. I grew up in a segregated society and attended segregated schools Like many areas of the South, my home town wasn’t anxious to follow the dictates of the court system and it was 1971 before the school system of Wilson County fully integrated. I don’t know whether or not Guilford County is making the best use of its funding in hiring Ms. Walker or whether or not she’s doing anything worthwhile. However, I’ve grown weary of the trend of dismissing the festering racism that still permeates this country as being the wild imaginings of black people. How many black people do you know–invite to your home, hang out with– with whom you discuss the issues of race and culture? I move in a culturally diverse circle of friends that includes whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. One of my dearest and oldest friends is a white fellow southerner whom I’ve been friends with since we met as college freshmen in 1973. We don’t always see eye to eye on all matters, including issues of race, but she never trivializes my perceptions or dismisses them as paranoia. Sometimes, she persuades me to see things in a different light and sometimes I do the same for her. I certainly think that race relations have drastically improved since my childhood and the legalized discrimination of my childhood has disappeared. But just who are you or any white person for that matter to tell black people, or Hispanics, or Native Americans, or any other groups in this country that have traditionally been marginalized by the mainstream society that racism and the accompanying white privilege are figments of our collective imaginations? I find your attitude arrogant and condescending. You don’t have to agree with my perceptions of racism but you should at the very least, respect that as a white male, perhaps racism and diversity pale in importance because there has never been a period in the history of this country when your skin color made you less than human, socially, culturally, and legally. Guilford county may well be wasting its money, but your commentary doesn’t just question the wisdom of Guilford’s diversity office but the entire notion that diversity and racism are real issues deserving of attention. By the way, race is a social construct. Biologically there is no such thing as race. Check out the human genome project.

  5. E.C. Huey says:

    Matt…from the above comment, do you see what we’re dealing with down here? If I don’t win the election next year, we’re considering moving from this area because I really don’t want to expose my daughter to any more insensitivity she’s exposed to already.

  6. Sheria says:

    E.C., I actually live in NC, was born and raised here and maybe you can explain what it is you’re “dealing with down here.” I honestly would like to understand where you are coming from and discover if there is any common ground between us.

  7. E.C. Huey says:

    See, I’m not so sure, I guess I’m not cut from the same cloth since I am not from NC originally (from Chicago, came to NC by way of Wash. D.C.)…and I’m okay with that.

    It concerns me, Sheria, that every minute thing, in central NC especially (Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem/Piedmont Triad region), seems to evolve around race and/or color. I’m not dismissing the fact that racism and discrimination doesn’t exist because as a person of color whose parents marched with Dr. King in Chicago, I know full-well it’s out there.

    But when we have supposed in-service programs that teachers are required to take where white teachers are told they are racist by default whereas blacks cannot be racists, I have a difference of opinion with that. When we have sitting school board members using references to “slaves and slavemasters mingling” as occurred last year in reference to perceived discrimination in an advanced learning program, that type of dialogue concerns me. When we have sitting school board members decrying school curricula as racist all the way around, I have a problem with that. I’m sorry, but when people like this are responsible for taxpayer money and make decisions involving the lives of children (my own included), pardon me if I seem a little concerned. I have the right to be, as a taxpayer, father, and citizen of this county.

    Those attitudes will continue to hold this area of NC back and will stifle economic development unless attitudes change (or certain local elected officials are voted out of office–and it’s unfortunately not just the school board here).

    It’s almost 2008, and pardon me if I’m not a victim, because I’m not, and I’m not raising my daughter to be one either.

    BTW, Matt’s not questioning the diversity office of GCS, it’s the person in the office. In my opinion, that office-holder should be nonjudgmental and non biased. That’s not what we’re getting here.

  8. Matthew says:

    Sheria,

    Thanks for your comments – I’ll respond to everything in this thread shortly. But first, can you explain what you mean when you say:

    “Biologically there is no such thing as race. Check out the human genome project.”

    Can you explain how that concept – including the human genome project – applies to your argument?

  9. Brian Nelson says:

    @Sheria

    “By the way, race is a social construct. Biologically there is no such thing as race. Check out the human genome project.”

    How can you possibly say this, citing an amazingly incomplete scientific initiative as your source? While it is true that very little genetic variability has been found between the races (the HGP suggests we are all on the order of 99.9X% homologous), in no way has the Project concluded that race is a social construct. In fact, it suggests that there exists an array of differences, especially in races susceptibility to certain diseases and other such environmental adaptations. There’s no need to get into the specifics, but I HIGHLY suggest knowing what you are citing before actually citing it.

    “…respect that as a white male, perhaps racism and diversity pale in importance because there has never been a period in the history of this country when your skin color made you less than human, socially, culturally, and legally.”

    Really? Being a white male will render a person unable to sympathize and fully understand the importance of diversity and issues concerning racial inequality? It has always occurred to me that putting such a premium on race seems to exacerbate things…

    My point is that maybe we should be as skeptical of Einstein. After all, did he hop in a rocket ship and experience any of the things he claimed to be an “authority” of? It isn’t so far-fetched that a white male can be fully aware and understanding of race/diversity as an issue despite not being the target of racism at a point in his life. Eliminating an entire demographic from the conversation due to their inability to fully grasp the topic at hand seems so – oh, how did you put it? – “arrogant and condescending”.

    /rant

  10. Sheria says:

    Matthew,
    In your blog entry you write the following comment in reference to Ms.Walker’s statement that “…race is a political description.”

    It would come as a surprise to those descendants of peoples from Asia through Africa who carry sickle-cell alleles – or the Ashkenazi who carry Tay-Sachs – that their afflictions are simply a result of synthetic political constructs.”

    Please keep in mind that my purpose isn’t to defend Ms. Walker’s position in the Guilford County School System. I don’t know anything about her qualifications or work. I just picked up on your comment on her comment that race is a political description.

    There is consensus among the scientific community that there is no genetic basis for race. The Human Genome project is just one of many studies of human diversity that could not find any consistent genetic markers for race. It appears that there is one race, the human one, with many diversifications. Over the centuries, the concept of race has developed as a politicized and social construct not based in science. While there are some diseases that have stronger genetic markers in people whose origins are from certain parts of the world, this does not provide any scientific support for the notion that there is such a thing as race, which by the way, we primarily base on external characteristics–skin color, hair texture, etc. With regards to Mr. Nelson’s comment regarding an array of differences, of course there are differences but differences do not constitute race in any scientific application of the term. The simplest example I can think of in the animal kingdom (yes, we are animals) is the dog. There are basset hounds, poodles, wolves, etc. and they are all members of the canine family with distinguishable characteristics but they are not separate races of dogs.

    Historians, on the other hand, have been able to delineate the development of societal concepts of race. These concepts didn’t evolve out of the application of science but out of social and political norms, hence the concept of “race as a social construct.” As much as I’d like to take credit for the concept, it’s not mine. The concept and the term grew out of gene mapping projects of which the human genome project is one of several, that determined that the genetic diversity within a supposedly singular racial grouping was likely to be more diverse than that between two allegedly different racial groups. You cite sickle cell disease as an example to support that race has some scientific basis, but it may surprise you that sickle cell is doesn’t appear to be based on race, as it is geography. There is scientific evidence that the sickle cell trait developed among peoples living in areas where malaria is common. The trait provided some protection against malaria. Unfortunately, when two people who have the trait marry, there is a possibility of producing a child who has full blown sickle cell anemia. “Sickle cell anemia affects millions of people worldwide. It’s most common in people whose families come from Africa, South or Central America (especially Panama), Caribbean islands, Mediterranean countries (such as Turkey, Greece, and Italy), India, and Saudi Arabia.”
    http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Sca/SCA_WhoIsAtRisk.html

    The other disease that you offer to support that classification by race is based in science is Tay Sachs. A curious choice as the major classifications by race doesn’t set aside Ashkenazi or people of Jewish heritage as a race. In addition, this genetic mutation isn’t limited to any so-called race. “The genetic mutations that cause this disease are more common in people of Ashkenazi (eastern and central European) Jewish heritage than in those with other backgrounds… The genetic mutations that cause Tay-Sachs disease are also more common in certain French-Canadian communities of Quebec, the Old Order Amish community in Pennsylvania, and the Cajun population of Louisiana.” http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition=taysachsdisease

    I am a researcher by profession and by nature, and I’ve been intrigued by this topic of race for sometime. If you want to understand more clearly race as a social construct, conduct a Google search of the question, “what is race?” You will find that the modern concept of race classifications is relatively new, occurring in the last 400 years. A good site to start with is one hosted by PBS; it’s been around for a few years: http://www.pbs.org/race/001_WhatIsRace/001_00-home.htm

    I’ve also written about this issue in my own blog and in my articles I include links to online sites that provide details about the evolution of the concept of race.
    If you’re interested, here are the links:

    http://journals.aol.com/aimer/on-my-mind/entries/2007/01/16/the-obsessiveness-of-race/792

    http://journals.aol.com/aimer/on-my-mind/entries/2007/01/17/that-race-thing/794

    Now as for how all of this applies to my argument, I had no issue with your questioning of Ms. Walker’s qualifications for her position or the way she is doing her job. I don’t live in Guilford County and don’t pretend to know the issues in that school system or community. However, I read your article as not only a critique of Ms. Walker, but as attacking the whole idea that addressing issues of race and diversity has any validity at all. Your statement wasn’t just that perhaps Ms. Walker is poorly suited to her job but you also observe that she initially appeared to be “…the garden variety, milquetoast diversity-monger that is increasingly common in public education.” Perhaps I misread you, and you only meant that some people are diversity mongers and didn’t mean to dismiss the entire notion that issues of race and diversity are intertwined in the fabric of this American cultural. I don’t think that diversity is about name-calling or making people feel guilty or blame, but I do think it is about honest dialogue and about listening by all sides.

    And about that listening thing, Brian Nelson, please re-read my initial comment here; I think that you missed the point. I didn’t say that white males are unable to sympathize and fully understand the importance of diversity and issues concerning racial inequality. My exact words were: You don’t have to agree with my perceptions of racism but you should at the very least, respect that as a white male, perhaps racism and diversity pale in importance because there has never been a period in the history of this country when your skin color made you less than human, socially, culturally, and legally.

    In other words, I’m not requiring that we be in accord, only that you respect the differences in our experiences. My comment certainly doesn’t shut anyone out of the conversation. However, in the conversation you don’t get to tell me how I should feel. In addition, I certainly don’t know what it is like to be a white person in this culture and you don’t know what it is like to be black. We can learn from each other. However, the belief that you are fully aware and understanding of race/diversity as an issue is far fetched in my mind, but then I also don’t believe that as a male, you can be fully aware of issues of sexism. It doesn’t mean that you can’t contribute to the conversation or that I think that you are incapable of understanding and empathy, or that you can’t engage in honest dialogue.

    As for the Einstein analogy, it doesn’t fly with me. Einstein based his conclusions on application of scientific theory. We’re not talking science here, we’re talking human experience and when it comes to human experience, none of us can fully understand what we’ve never experienced. We can empathize with the pain of a parent who has lost a child but as a non-parent, I would never be so arrogant as to tell a grieving parent that I fully understand their pain; however, I believe that I may learn from them to better understand the loss that they feel. The key to it all is listening with open mind and heart; the humility to recognize that we have something to learn from one another; and the respect to understand that unless you’ve walked in another’s shoes, you don’t really know their road.

  11. Matthew says:

    Sheria,

    Apologies for not yet being able to get to your comments – I wanted to let you know that your latest comment was trapped by the Akismet spam plugin. That happens automatically when a post has a certain number of links. I released it from the Akismet hold and it is now published in full.

    M

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