The future of race
History Department Chair David Fisher is optimistic about race issues today.
In a time when some people need a reminder that black lives do matter, he’s optimistic.
In a time when shots ring through downtown because a shooter wants to kill white people, he’s optimistic.
In a time when Dallas — the first place Fisher and his kids have ever hoped to call “home” — still bears the shame of hosting a tragedy on July 7, a tragedy born from long-brewing racial tensions, he’s optimistic.
Fisher doesn’t live under a rock.
In fact, he’s pretty much on top of the news.
He’s one of those guys that still reads a print newspaper every morning.
But somehow… he is still optimistic.
He’s optimistic because he’s seen what the future looks like.
And ironically, the future of these race issues lie in his past — international schools.
“International schools and the kids who are there kind of represent the future,” he said. “It’s what we are going to be like. "
From the moment he was born, Fisher has lived what he calls “a rootless life.”
Philippines. Bangladesh. Malaysia. Argentina. Rhode Island. California. Massachusetts. His wife is French. His friends live in Turkey and Pakistan.
“Oh yeah — and somewhere along the line I did political science in France,” he laughs.
His life is “a very long story.” But what’s consistent throughout this nomadic lifestyle is a genuine love — a love for international schools. You can see it when he talks about them.
He’ll tell you that they are “better than the world,” and a fat, nostalgic smile stretches across his face when he talks about his childhood school growing up in Manila.
But why exactly does Fisher love international schools? And why does he say they are “better than the world”?
“I like the fact that you had to negotiate these different cultures,” Fisher said.
From this — the forced collaboration with the races and cultures of the world — Fisher found his optimism towards race issues.
“Not to say that there’s no tension internationally, but it’s just that race isn’t that big a deal,” Fisher said. “Even religion is not that big a deal. International schools are strange institutions in that respect. We are better than the world in some ways.”
But when he came to Dallas to sink some roots into a city and abandon his life on the move, he quickly noticed something.
“We are a very racially segregated city,” Fisher said. “That’s painfully obvious as a visitor to this town. Northern Dallas is lily white, whereas southern Dallas — I haven’t even visited. Because it’s just not what you do. And there, the racial composition is completely different… African Americans have not been dealt a good deck of cards in this city. And you can see it in the way it’s organized.”
In a time when race and diversity issues plague the city, what will it take for Fisher’s vision of the future to become a reality?
And what role does the school have in making a community where race simply isn’t that big a deal?
Fisher would like to think we don’t shy away from these discussions. And especially in his department, students need to investigate race issues as a social reality.
“Certainly an institution like this cannot ignore race and race history and race issues,” Fisher said. “And where it comes up naturally in a curriculum or in a sequence of studies, it should be addressed. I can’t imagine anybody would be opposed to that statement.”
But according to Fisher, people can start being opposed when you talk about how active the school should address these issues.
“I think some people might argue that as an educational institution we have a commitment to actively promote racial understanding — there’s an agenda that we need to follow here,” he said. “And others might say that that’s forcing the issue, and that you are also bringing race into areas where it just doesn’t need to be.”
Fisher says that because we are an independent school, it’s up to teachers to decide when, where, and how much diversity is taught in the classroom.
“But the result of that is — yeah — we don’t really know what the St. Mark’s attitude is towards race,” he said. “But at the same time it would seem to be inconsistent with what the school stands for that we would all be told: ‘this is the St. Mark’s view on race.’”
But other measures are being taken to educate students on these issues and to achieve Fisher’s vision.
The Dallas Area Diversity Youth Organization (DADYO) focuses the education of race and diversity right onto the school community.
According to DADYO sponsor Marjorie Curry, there are facets of diversity that society overlooks. And her job is to expose people to new perspectives.
“I think DADYO’s role is to make people realize that diversity also has to do with equity and inclusion, and making people feel like they have a seat at the table,” Curry said. “I don’t want them to think that if they’re not a minority, it’s not for them. Everybody means everybody.”
DADYO senior officer Andrew Whigham believes the organization’s goal is to give students a cultural refinement by providing safe and informative dialogue at meetings.
But Whigham thinks that sometimes the school community is a bubble, a bubble where social issues like race aren’t discussed enough.
“[The school] caters to pretty much everything we could possibly need, but there are problems in the outside world that haven’t been discussed properly,” he said. “I think we can do a better job on discussing these ideas and bringing awareness to them.”
However, education on diversity isn’t limited to the classroom or after school meetings, the instructor says.
Basketball head coach Greg Guiler invited the varsity team to participate in an off-season tournament where players are coached in exhibition games by police officers, elected officials and military personnel.
Through this, the basketball team has been a part of a movement that fosters stronger bonds between civic leaders and Dallas-area teens in the wake of July’s shootings.
“The overall initiative has been, ‘Hey, we want for there to be racial reconciliation in this city, and we want for there to be good relationships between our law officers and students,’” Guiler said. “I have really been grateful for the privilege to participate.”
After hearing about this new hands-on diversity education, former varsity player Luke Williams ’14 wrote a letter to the team expressing his hope that they will take these games seriously.
He knew this could be an opportunity for the team to understand its privilege in comparison to other schools at the tournament and hoped the team would recognize the opportunity.
“St. Mark’s is a great place, and I learned many useful and complex lessons there, but I have struggled with far more difficult lessons following graduation,” Williams said in his letter to the team. “Following St. Mark’s, privilege is never as easy to wield as it is in a white and gray uniform, but it is arguably all the more necessary to do so.”
Williams thinks that at the school, there can be a lot of racism — implicit or explicit.
To start looking like Fisher’s description of an international school — a community where race isn’t a big deal — Williams believes students need to embrace diversity.
And embrace the challenges it brings.
“Our differences are all important,” Williams said. “That means you have to figure out how to make everything work no matter what. Your differences need to be embraced, you need to be celebrated. And the problems that arise from those differences need to be reconciled in healthy ways. That’s just part of interacting with the outside world.”