When I posted about the Beverly Hills Unified School District expelling non-district (or “permit”) students I made assumptions. I assumed wealthy residents were seeking to expel middle and low income families from their community. My knowledge of Beverly Hills – a composite of scenes from the Slums of Beverly Hills and pictures of Rodeo Drive.
A commenter on my simultaneous post to K2Twelve told me I was wrong. My commenter from Horace Mann told me the situation was very much the opposite. My commenter told me the wealthy families were actually from outside the Beverly Hills school district. My commenter goes on to say that the Beverly Hills permit policy was being used to “dilute the number of Persian kids in Beverly Hills schools, which the then-Board majority felt drove away white, non-Persian Beverly Hills families to private schools.”
I had never thought of Beverly Hills residents as being anything but wealthy and White - Assumption #2.
Fatemeh writes on Racialicious about a W article she read titled, “The Persian Conquest.” The title hints at the W author’s (Kevin West) feelings about the influx of Persians in Beverly Hills.
From the myriad of titles he could have chosen, he chose the aggressive one – the negative one – the descriptor of an invader – the one set in the game of Risk. As a 2nd Generation Chinese American, I am particularly sensitive to war inspired immigration descriptors like “conquer” and “invasion.” In social studies, you learn the Chinese built the railroads and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. If you are lucky you may have a teacher who whispers about the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Internment Camps.
Despite the title, Fatemeh wants to believe Kevin’s intentions were well meaning:
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? In attempting to dispel stereotypes, W simply backed them up: showy images of wealth and references to media and real estate empires are uncomfortably close to the stereotypes of “rich Jews” and “Jews running the media and the banks.”
What are the intentions behind this 2007 article from the LA Times: “Diversity program at Beverly Hills High enrolls mostly Asians?” The author says the Beverly Hills diversity permits were begun in 1969 as an effort by school officials to diversify Beverly Hills school campuses –
For decades, the permit program aimed to bring in a deliberate mix of black, Latino and Asian students from outside the city limits… Today, however, the vast majority of the students enrolled with diversity permits at Beverly Hills High are high-performing Asian students… Critics say the program has shifted by default from a program aimed at increasing racial and ethnic diversity to one that simply brings smart, well-rounded students into the district.
Are the critics of a strong Asian presence in the Beverly Hill permit program (which now no longer exists) undermining the significance of “Asian” as an ethnic group embracing a multitude of cultural histories and traditions? Are they saying all Asians are the same – all East Asian and light skinned? Are they saying that Asians are somehow “less ethnic” (and thus less deserving of public services) than Blacks and Latinos?
Are they making assumptions about Asians? As Kevin West did about Persian immigrants? As I did about Beverly Hills?
Like a baby putting every accessible object in its mouth, we taste the world around us to know what we like and what we don’t care for. We draw conclusions – make assumptions – about new experiences based on the outcomes and sensations of old experiences. We then compile our feelings about these experiences into personal systems of belief that we use to help rationalize the world around us.
Assumptions try to create a “truth” but are not the truth. Our understanding of our world should be mutable – changeable – with growth and personal development. Assumptions are a necessary evil – An evil that can only be repented by thinking more deeply about the roots of what is being assumed.
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