Asian = Fortune Cookies, and other American Blindspots

It’s ridiculous how many people have put their respective foots in their mouths with thoughtless stereotypical comments related to the NY Knicks’ Jeremy Lin over the past couple of weeks he’s been in the spotlight. You expect this kind of thing from a Rush Limbaugh, but from Northeast Liberal Elite (TM) establishments like ESPN and Ben & Jerry’s? Not so much.

Having moved as a kid from the Bronx to Mt. Vernon to Yorktown Heights, I’m a firm believer that growing up in a culturally diverse environment is the ideal, because ending up one of 26 minorities in a high school of nearly 1,000 kids was anything but ideal—my third day there, with no record of organized sports, I was invited to join the track team—and that has a lot to do with my feeling more connected to the salad bowl of NYC than my own family’s cultural background.

Having our own kids growing up around a relatively diverse group of kids was an important factor for us when we left the Bronx nearly four years ago, and while we technically found what we were looking for, what we didn’t account for was the overwhelmingly white staff that would be teaching them. (Seriously; my wife is the only minority teacher in their school, and one of three or four across all eight elementary schools in the district, in a town that’s 46% non-white.)

Perhaps one of the most galling examples of why this can be a problem is my son’s 6th grade Black History Month project, for which he has to research a famous African-American and be prepared to be interviewed in character by his teacher who will be portraying, wait for it… WENDY WILLIAMS!

Are you fucking kidding me?!?!

He initially chose Morgan Freeman from the embarrassingly ignorant list of people he was given that was heavy on modern celebrities and athletes, but after we expanded his options he chose James Baldwin instead, whom I suspect his 20-something teacher probably knows little about. Like the myriad Jeremy Lin incidents, it reminded us that living in a diverse environment isn’t a cure-all for ignorance when so much of the dominant culture remains extremely white-washed, and that we need to be more proactive (vigilant, perhaps?) about expanding our kids’ cultural horizons at every possible opportunity.

But seriously, Wendy Williams? That’s the best this teacher could come up with to build this project around? Not even Oprah; or hell, keep it local and go with Roz Abrams! FML.

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