Last year, someone from my high school who graduated four years after me wrote on Facebook, “Tell me if I’m wrong. Everyone for the most part got along pretty well at Classical there was no racial division as far as I seen.”
I was happy to see that post, because it summed up my experience as well. In the late 1970s, Classical High School, located on the fringe of downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, boasted a student body of nearly two thousand kids. While whites still made up the majority, that percentage declined every year. By the time I graduated, I believe the percentage of black students had approached 30%. We also had a significant and growing Hispanic student body.
By the late 1970s, Springfield had entered its final stages of white flight, and ten years later with a new high school opening its doors, I believe minorities had become the majority, at least in the Springfield Public Schools.
This is to say that to the best of my knowledge, during my years at Classical, kids got along. I would never claim Classical was any kind of racial utopia, but in my three years there, I cannot recall any strife or any racially charged fights or demonstrations. In fact, during my sophomore year, our class president was a black kid, Luke Williams.
I cannot, of course, speak for all my classmates, but the only tension I ever felt at Classical came from a few bullies, all of whom were white. I have fond memories of our drama club activities with its racially mixed membership.
In retrospect, I now consider my experience of mixing with students of different races and backgrounds as a privilege. We either consciously or otherwise tried to live up to the promise of Martin Luther King, whose words describing a future in which we judge by the content of character, not the color of skin still echoed in our heads. It made perfect sense to our developing minds.
I expected that we’d carry that ethos out into the world as we embarked on our new lives, and I largely think we did. I see it at our reunions and I see it in the comments under that original post.
What has infected the minds of the white protestors out today is anyone’s guess. Then I remember they came of age after the completion of the white flight, I have to assume that they graduated from a high school located in a mostly white middle class suburb, enjoying only fleeting experiences with minority cultures.
Because of my experiences, telling me that “black lives matter” is about the same as telling me the sky is blue. Shouting this obvious sentiment to me indicates a greater agenda, one beyond the reasonable hopes enumerated by Dr. King.