A couple years ago, I wrote about diversity and segregation in my high school. I wrote about what I think drives us apart. I don’t think the segregation at my school came from a place of racism or hate. I think it came from a place of insecurity and fear. Fear of not fitting in.
A bunch of students filtered into my high school from a bunch of different middle schools. My middle school class had been predominantly white. When we got to high school, most students clung to the students they already knew. The ones they already fit in with. Maybe when people find security within their in-group, they might feel less inclined to seek acceptance from an out-group, where there’s more risk they won’t fit in, because they’re different.
Fortunately for me, I was always the outcast, picked-last-for-gym-class, middle school reject. I never fit in with my prescribed “in-group,” so my fear of not fitting in had already been confirmed by “my own kind,” so I was less confined to my color. My social insecurity doesn’t discriminate, you could say. All people, of all colors, are equally likely to dislike me. But I guess I was a special case.
Ultimately, our campus was visibly divided into ethnic territories. Ironically, the walls of our hallways were inscribed with words, like ‘Empathy,’ ‘Compassion’ and ‘Acceptance,’ which were artfully juxtaposed against the students passing through them, as if to shame us, and to show us what we’re failing to do, mocking us for passing up this opportunity thousands of people risked their lives to give us. Us, the students. We, the people, walking together but separate, misunderstood and hidden underneath our hoods.
The truth is, I can’t claim to know what force divides us. Maybe it’s fear of not fitting in. Maybe it is racism, after all. Maybe it’s institutionalized, implicit discrimination. But if MLK were here today, walking the halls of my high school, as proud as he might be to see us all united on one campus, under one roof, how ashamed would he be to see us all divided, self-segregated, on one campus, under one roof? After everything he fought for. After everything he gave his life to give us, don’t let insecurity be the thing standing between you and King’s dream coming true. Bigger, bloodier battles have been fought than you not fitting in.