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Commentary By Roger Wood: Striving For Diversity, Living In Separate Societies

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Roger Wood attends high school in Washington, D.C., and is part of WAMU’s Youth Voices program in partnership with Youth Radio and D.C's Latin American Youth Center.
Roger Wood
Roger Wood attends high school in Washington, D.C., and is part of WAMU’s Youth Voices program in partnership with Youth Radio and D.C's Latin American Youth Center.

I attend a majority black and Hispanic public high school in D.C. It’s a pretty diverse place with kids from the Philippines, China, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. The one group not represented in our student population of almost 800 is white students.

That’s surprising because it’s been more than 50 years since D.C. Public Schools were integrated, and because today about one in every three District residents is white. Still, many of my classmates have no experience going to school with white kids. Well, almost no experience.

One white student did enroll at my school last year. She played softball and seemed friendly and open. She really stood out. When she walked the hallways between classes, everyone would stare, and people who didn’t really know her would say “Hi,” which is really unusual at my school.

But after a few weeks, some of the students who at first appeared welcoming – or at least curious -- became downright mean. They started to spread rumors behind her back and tease her to her face. They’d tell her that she was "acting black" when she dressed and talked the same as everyone else. They’d say, “She’s not like us and she’s not supposed to act like us.”

Since they weren’t used to white classmates, I think it was hard for some students to see past her skin color – and past their idea that white students are supposed to be different. Despite all the attention, she was alone most of the time. And she left school before the year ended.

If you look at the numbers, D.C. is a racially and culturally diverse city. But if you look at the way people live, it sometimes seems just as segregated as my school.

I am a black and Hispanic 18-year-old. Nearly all my friends are also black or Hispanic. Not because I prefer to hang out with people of certain races, it’s just that those are the kids I meet at school and in the neighborhood, which is where I spend most of my time.

The truth is, I don’t have many opportunities to interact with other races, at least not in a meaningful way -- real conversations and friendships.

D.C. may be more diverse than it’s ever been, but sometimes it feels as though we’re living in many separate societies that just happen to be in the same place.

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