The Common Core State Standards, intended to provide a set of uniform standards for reading, writing and math in schools across the U.S., tend to stir up fierce debate around the country. However, the argument about Michigan’s adoption of Common Core got even fiercer than usual after Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn used the term “dark ones” in reference to minority students.
Arnn, who is adamantly opposed to the adoption of Common Core in Michigan, was making an opening statement before a legislative subcommittee in Lansing. He was discussing a letter he received from Michigan Department of Education officials shortly after becoming head of the college in 2000.
The letter apparently indicated the department had concerns about racial diversity at the institution.
“They said we violated the standards for diversity because we didn’t have enough dark ones, I guess is what they meant,” Arnn said.
“The state of Michigan sent a group of people down to my campus, with clipboards … to look at the colors of people’s faces and write down what they saw,” Arnn explained. “We don’t keep records of that information. What were they looking for besides dark ones?”
Dark ones? I was immediately thrown back to England in the 60′s and 70′s, where I grew up, when anyone who was not pure Anglo was referred to as a “darky.” Mercifully, the term has since disappeared from common usage in the U.K., unless you count Michael Coleman, a member of the British Nationalist Party, who was recently given a suspended jail sentence for using the term.
Some Democrats told Arnn during the subcommittee meeting that they were offended by his comments.
“You’re the president of a college. I would expect better out of you,” said Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights.
Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills, leader of the House’s Democratic minority, said he was “extremely disappointed” by what he called “Arnn’s racist remarks.”
“It’s shocking that a supposedly educated individual from an institute of higher learning would repeatedly use inflammatory and bigoted rhetoric,” Greimel said in a statement.
Later the same afternoon, Hillsdale College issued an apology: “No offense was intended by the use of that term except to the offending bureaucrats, and Dr. Arnn is sorry if such offense was honestly taken,” the college said in the statement.
Presumably, everyone is supposed to hug each other and move on now, but that’s not how it works.
In Arnn’s mind, and in the mind of many like him, he belongs to one superior group, and anyone who doesn’t look like him belongs to another inferior group: us and them, the light and the dark.
I write as a white woman who has suffered from sexism, but never from racism. I don’t know what that feels like, but I am grateful to President Obama for his very personal speech on July 19, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case.
Obama spoke in very personal terms, for the first time ever, as he explained how he, like many African American young men, had been followed in department stores, seen people lock their cars when he crossed the streets and watched as women clutched their handbags during an elevator ride with him.
“Those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida,” Obama added. “And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.”
Later in his speech he said, “I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching.”
We can’t legislate racism out of existence, but we can and must talk openly about our feelings around race, if we are to move on. However uncomfortable, we must be ready to dig into our hearts and share what we feel about our diverse society.
Arnn’s comments remind us again that racism is alive and well in the U.S.
He will continue in his efforts to slow down the adoption of Common Core State Standards in Michigan, but I hope he will take this opportunity to understand what a pompous and egregious remark he made, and to do his own soul-searching by examining his own views on race. As we all should.
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