Philadelphia can boast being one of the most culturally diverse cities in America. The ethereal artwork, historical discipline, political prowess, and diverse diaspora of people, characterizes brotherly love and sisterly affection.
But, Philly is not exempt from playing a role in systemic oppression because of its diversity.
It is not too surprising to read about another individual who has in some form demonstrated that many Americans still lack cultural competence. This is not to state that Tom McGrath, Philadelphia magazine editor who published an all White cast of students for an article about diversity, has an ill will towards minority groups. It is an opportunity to highlight that he is not the only one who has been charged with extending an apology for displacing sensitivity towards minority groups in educational settings — you may recall the story of teacher Paul Dawson, who used the n-word in his English class.
In our varied processes of change, many of us are desensitized to the politics of difference, having not arrived at a full empathy towards others’ cultural variances, including but not limited to age, gender, creed, religion, and in most cases, race. McGrath has in fact erupted another layer of dialogue that many of us have not adapted our thinking to.
He is just another individual who is having to confront the duality of his choice. This does not make him inhumane or racist. Actually, McGrath issued his apology for the cover after the backlash made him realize what happened.
“I’ll offer no excuses here about process, etc.; at the end of the day, I chose this photo for the cover, and it was without question the wrong choice. I apologize for my failings in judgment and for our insensitivity,” McGrath wrote on the magazine’s website.
But overall, it shows that we have more strides to make in America. I would assert that it was actually McGrath’s exertion of a mentality that the ongoing discourse on diversity is currently uncovering within a society dominated by Whites. The mentality of privilege is so embedded in America’s education system, that those who subconsciously operate from it aren’t aware of it until another speaks of the form of oppression it has caused. Privilege does not exist without oppression in all cases. In turn, the level of their cultural competence is questioned.
We cannot ignore that 52% of Philadelphia’s school culture is comprised of African American students. We cannot also perceive that because 60% of Greenfield Elementary School’s student body is White that the entire staff, whatever their racial differences, is devoid of cultural competence or oppose establishing a positive racial identity.
It is however worth examination considering the article’s loaded title mentions “how to get a great education for your kid without moving to the burbs”. The picture, in alignment with the title, communicates that a substantial educational opportunity only exists for minority children when they are enrolled at a school that serves a predominant White population.
Unfortunately, this is a stigma that shadows many of America’s suburban schools with a majority White culture. My parents wanted to ensure that I was afforded the robust academic opportunity, not offered in inner city schools in New York’s Bronx, so they transitioned their livelihood to a predominantly White suburb to grant me what many other parents of minority children desire: a chance to have a valuable educational experience, not consistently offered by many inner city schools, in order to fulfill purpose in a society that often ostracizes minorities.
Tom McGrath will not be the last individual to reveal where many of us are in America. There will be others who will inadvertently unlock the ignorances deeply rooted in the foundation of America’s education system, per this country’s negligence on promoting cultural competence.
In some respect, we all have an apology to write because America is still in the business of impacting the lives of children who will soon be taking care of it; and the mentality of these children should reflect that we are a maturing community not governed by cultural incompetence.
Jovan A. Brown is an elementary educator and cultural competence facilitator based in Philadelphia. She is the mother of one and aspires to publish children’s literature that encourages self-acceptance. (www.dear-beautiful.com)