By Ray Charlston
Diversity And Progress Academy, a charter school in San Francisco, has been under fire for awarding Diversity Tokens. The tokens are awarded to students for having non-white or LGBT friends, or sitting with a non-white or LGBT student in the lunch room. Students can also get Diversity Tokens for dating interracially, or taking someone of the same gender, or of a different race, to a school dance. Minority and LGBT students can receive the tokens for spending time with other minority or LGBT students.
The school principal, Francine Lewis, explained her intentions. “Eric Holder spoke some time ago about how all too often, in our school lunch rooms and in cafeterias, voluntary racial segregation continues. I realized that for the most part, black students were eating together, Hispanic students were eating together, and gay students were eating together. I knew that something had to be done. This was wrong and it upset me very much. It even kept me awake at night, I will tell you. How are these children going to grow up and get along in the world if they don’t celebrate diversity? Maybe twenty-five percent of students or a little more did mix voluntarily, but that just wasn’t very many. It certainly wasn’t happening fast enough for me.”
When asked how she came up with the idea of awarding the Diversity Tokens, Ms. Lewis explained that, “At first I proposed forcing students to sit together, and even banning same race dating. We talked about assigning seating so that black, Hispanic, white, and LGBT students would all be mixed up. However, some teachers objected, and expressed the view that children should be allowed to eat with their friends at school or hang out with them. So I said, maybe we can offer positive incentives in order to promote greater diversity, and the idea was born.”
Originally, Diversity Tokens were redeemable only for “Diversity Prizes.” These included novels celebrating diversity, pencils with “I love Diversity” printed on them, and T-shirts celebrating diversity. After a short time, it become clear that the items held no real interest for most students. Principal Lewis noted, “No one wanted our stuff, so the tokens were worthless. I hated doing it, but we were forced to stock items that the kids actually liked, in order to make the tokens desirable.” The school decided to offer other gifts that are popular with students, but do not necessary carry any pro-diversity message of any kind.
The most popular item that Diversity Tokens may be redeemed for is a “Free time” voucher. The voucher may be presented to a teacher at any time during a lesson, and entitles the student to essentially opt out of school for fifteen minutes, to text on their phone, or do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t disturb other students. According to Principal Lewis, “Many teachers hate the free time vouchers, but most of these kids can get anything else they want from their parents. We had to think of something they would actually want that their parents couldn’t give them. Something that only we could give them.”
What Ms. Lewis didn’t anticipate is that racist and homophobic white students, who didn’t really want to hang out with black, Hispanic, or LGBT students, would find a way to get the tokens. In order to be eligible for the tokens, a student would have to fill out a fairly long and detailed form, signed by a minority student. The form stated that they spent time together, and described the activity. Almost as soon as the Diversity Tokens were introduced, wealthier white students began paying poor black, Hispanic, and Gay students to sign the forms. These racist, sexist, and homophobic students didn’t really want to experience diversity, but only to obtain the Diversity Tokens, in order to redeem them for the items they wanted. Usually, this meant the “free time” vouchers.
The practice of awarding tokens to students, in order to encourage diverse friendships, has enraged many progressives. According to Dr. Norman Frederickson, “There is nothing more rewarding than having diverse friendships. Almost all of my friends are people of other races and sexual orientations. The school is acting like diverse friendships are some kind of unpleasant medicine, that children have to be given a spoon full of sugar with, in order to swallow. Students should be taught to seek out such friendships, and to recognize them as superior to non-diverse ones. They should be made to feel guilty for hanging out with people like themselves all the time!”
Shockingly some minority students, are seemingly ok with having privileged whites pay them for a fake friendship on paper. One student, an African-American, stated that, “I make a good profit selling my signature to whites, so they can get Diversity Tokens. We don’t have to hang out. I like them tokens.” When asked if he felt insulted, or cheapened by the experience, he responded “Fuck no. I mean, we always would hang out with people like us before, now we still do. But we can bullshit and make some money too!”
I also spoke to a transgendered student, we’ll call her Maria, about her experience with the Diversity Tokens. She stated, “I’m happy to sell my fake friendship on paper. Why would I want to hang out with people who don’t understand me? I use the money I make to buy handbags and new shoes. I still sit with the other LGBT students, this is just about money. It’s not like I’m selling my body. It’s just some harmless for-profit deception. What could be more American? The whole experience is a great lesson in capitalism.”
When we presented Ms. Lewis with our findings and anonymous interviews, she expressed shock and dismay. She assured us that a full investigation would take place, and asked us to call her the following week. We followed up with Ms. Lewis and she had this to say “After careful reflection, we decided to discontinue the use of the Diversity Tokens. We have had to revise our policies. We are now instituting mandatory rotated assigned seating in school classrooms, and in the lunch room. Our black, Hispanic, and LGBT students are now equally distributed among the white ones. Students who take someone of the same gender, or a transgendered fellow student to a school dance, will receive a free corsage. That applies to interracial couples as well. God damn it, we are going to celebrate diversity, even if some students have to be dragged along, kicking and screaming the whole time!”
I have no doubt that the Diversity Tokens were a well intentioned idea. Tragically, we still have a great deal of racism, homophobia, and intolerance to overcome in this country. The tokens were naive. They failed to take into account the true level of hostility that white male heterosexuals feel for all other groups, even as children and teens. Every white person is born a racist. We can only hope to overcome our racism through hard work, over their course of our entire lifetime. Fortunately, the Diversity and Progress Academy has learned its lesson, and has adopted more progressive measures. It is my hope that the school lives up to its name.
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