Choreographed Racism: Did a high school dance coach, choreographer, educators and eventually other parents knowingly discriminate against a member of the Blue Valley Northwest dance team?
Kudos to the 435 magazine for launching up an investigative journalism, holy shit. I thought their biggest story was some plaza restaurant running out of cabernet, but they really broke this one, as well they should, this is messed up!
Camille Sturdivant was the one black girl on the dance team at a school that's got to be 99% white. The dance team coach kept her out of competitions, said her skin color clashed with the costumes, made her audition and re-audition, left her out of team dinners... finally she got a screenshot of the coach's phone, a text conversation complaining Camille made a competitive collegiate team and saying she only made it because she was black.
I graduated from Blue Valley High School in Overland Park Kansas in 1998 - same school district, just down the street from Northwest. There were 250 kids in my graduating class, I pulled out our yearbook again today, there were two black kids. I learned that other schools joked about us, when our school band would go visit other schools they had a game called "count the black kid" where they'd try to find ANY minority wearing one of the clean new band uniforms.
I thought about Ray from my junior english class. she left our school because she was sick of being the only black kid. I didn't get it, I kept asking her all these questions when she said she was leaving. She said something about her hair, we ran track together so I knew she got kicked out of a race because an official didn't like her hairstyle but that was just one time and she was furious but our coach calmed the situation and did she get to run after all? I can't remember. She was like it's not just that, it's shit every day. you can't understand. I was like sure I can! what are the other problems, I don't get it, be specific, you're running away! You're giving up! I remember talking at her, but not listening, then she was gone.
Fuck, now in my corporate world and diversity talking points, when you're struggling with diversity and one of your minority members leaves you circle up and have a HUGE discussion about what we could be doing differently, but we never talked about race at my high school. We read history books in english lit class sure but we never talked about what was happening in 1998. Nikki Giovanni came to talk to our school. I got to go to a special closed small group with her because of the poetry and creative writing clubs I was in. She was SO upset about Tupac Shakur, we'd barely heard of him. We were so isolated. And when I graduated I thought I knew all the answers, until I got out of Johnson County. Then I realized I had shit to unlearn. I learned about things you can't control, about people stuck in poverty, about cycles of abuse and no-win situations and how you have to LISTEN TO PEOPLE DIFFERENT FROM YOU if you ever want a halfway decent chance at being a good person. Am I a good person now?
Back to 2018, back to Blue Valley Northwest... after this piece of crap coach got fired for blatant racism, the dance team moms made ribbons with the coaches initials for the girls to wear in their group photos, at least every white girl.
Would I have been one of those white girls who wore the ribbon for the coach, taking the wrong side of history, accusing the black girl of being "dramatic"? Please say no, I'm telling myself?
I called my sister. Thank god for her, she said look... it was fucked up. You probably wouldn't have been that racist. But you know what? You sure as fuck aren't one of those dance moms who MADE THE RIBBON because you are not that parent! And you know that now!
If you think your dance team looks out of balance with one black girl looking different, take it as a sign you need more black girls. Recruit a little. Call it affirmative action, call it whatever you want, but give those girls a chance. Do everything you can to make sure they know they are part of the family, and not isolated and set up for failure, because they didn't choose the color of their skin and they're just like us and I thought we learned this in preschool, is it so hard?
I can't believe this is breaking on the long weekend for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I had flashbacks to 20 years ago, because nothing has changed.
I hope Camille all the success in the world and I hope she goes on to tell her story to everyone, and I hope everyone listens.