Incomplete integration is better than none at all
Although Abramson does not think West Charlotte offered students a particularly integrated experience, she does believe that attending a school with a diverse racial makeup adds value to education, or at least alienates white students from their stereotypes. She found once she left West Charlotte, and met people who had never spent time with members of other races, that her experience there was unique. At West Charlotte in particular, African American students were an integral part of shaping school identity because of their contribution to the football team and school pride.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Carrie Abramson, February 21, 1999. Interview K-0275. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
PG: Well, does that, how am I going to ask it? Was it value—what did it, what do you think did it mean then to have a high school where there were all those groups of people even if they didn’t interact?
CA: I think it, I mean, I think it’s incredibly valuable, because I think it is just so much more representative of the world. I mean, especially as someone now who has now, you know, moved to New York City which is, you know, the polyglot culture of the U.S. It was so critical to me. It’s so funny, because at this point in my life I often feel that I don’t know enough about African Americans and how they feel about their experience, especially based on this experience in graduate school. But, it blows my mind when I meet people who didn’t grow up with African Americans at all in their lives. And, so, in a sense, they don’t even have any idea that they don’t know anything. Like that it’s even different. And I meet people like that all the time, who just don’t have any sense that there’s a different experience out there. I, at least, know enough that there’s a different experience, but I still don’t feel like I understand what it is and how to alleviate that. And so I think that that’s, I mean I think having, at least having been exposed to knowing people from different races is critical. And was critical in my high school experience in terms of getting used to being around each other. I mean, I meet people who went to school in the North East, to private schools, that had absolutely no one of any other race except white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. And that blows my mind. That they just don’t really have a context for, you know, what the rest of the world deals with on a day-to-day basis. And I have moved into an environment that is pretty not integrated. I mean, I went to a graduate school where there were probably twenty percent minorities, thirty percent women, you know, so that leaves a lot of people who are not a minority or a woman. [Laugher.] But, so, you know, it’s a very different, a very different world, and sort of the professional world out there. And so I think people can still survive without having understood what it was like to be, to interact with other races. But I think that’s becoming less and less true over time, and professional organizations and schools are recognizing that there is more to it than being white and being male. And that it is important for, it’s important to have diversity for the sake of diversity. Because, in order to, I mean, the company I work for really firmly believes that you need to hire people, that we need to hire the smartest people in the world. And that the smartest people in the world are not all the same. And don’t all come from the same background. And so at times you have to actually go look in new places to find the other smart people who haven’t come through the normal channels of Harvard or the Ivy League schools, because you’re not getting a full picture of what it looks like. And that’s been really interesting for me.
PG: Even if in high school you didn’t necessarily have good friends who were—.
CA: Yeah, I mean, I did have a few. There were a lot more who I wasn’t good friends with. I had a few, you know, I had a few, I probably had three out of my ten closest friends in high school were probably black. But it was definitely, yeah, I think it was important. It’s funny, because if I didn’t interact with the majority, why was it still important? And I think, in a way, it was important, because even if I didn’t interact with the guys who were on the football team, they did really amazing things. And won huge games and impacted my life, even though I didn’t know them personally very well. And they contributed to the sense of pride in the school as much, or more than, probably most of the whites did, on the soccer team. Don’t quote me on that. The soccer team will kill me. But I just think that, I think that even though we weren’t interacting on a day-to-day basis, we were seeing each other’s accomplishments. And we were seeing what each other could do.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A
START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B
PG: You were saying—.
CA: It was important because we were able to see each other’s accomplishments. And even though we weren’t really close, and maybe we didn’t interact in a class environment, and so maybe it wasn’t academic accomplishments as much, we were absolutely able to see, you know, other accomplishments in other areas, whether it was in the theater, or whether it was in sports. Or maybe it was in debate. But being able to see other people succeed, from different races, was really important. And even if we aren’t as good at all being integrated as we would like, having that experience was pretty critical, I think, in shaping not only my sort of long-term view, but probably those of my classmates as well. We were proud, I mean we were proud of the fact. When I got to college I was proud of the fact that I had gone to a high school where there were a lot of African Americans. I was proud of the fact that I had been in that environment. Because I’d met so many people who’d not been. I mean, who’d come from the eastern part of North Carolina and had not gone to school with people who were black, at all. And that, you know, to them it was completely alien, the concept of racial difference, was completely alien. Because they just didn’t know anybody of a different race. They didn’t understand that there was a difference. And there was a lot of racism. I mean, like overt—mainly language. But around racism. Not in high school, but when I got to college. And so having come from an environment that was integrated really helped me. It didn’t help me necessarily deal with it as well when someone else would say something that was a racial slur, but it made me feel confident in that I disagreed with them and I knew why. And I had support for that, that “No, I didn’t believe that all people of a different color were dumb.” Because I knew people of a different color who were really, really smart, and were probably smarter than I had been, you know, and had accomplished things I wasn’t able to accomplish. And that was important, at least for my own inner sense of knowing that I was right, essentially. So.