In 2012, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra trumpeted a firm belief that people’s inherent differences should be celebrated and embraced. They’ve shown through their actions that diversity is, in fact, so important that a group of kids may be dismissed solely because the majority of them are of one race.
As 11 Alive News and the Marietta Daily Journal reported late last week, Walton and Lassiter High Schools’ respective choruses have worked in tandem with the ASO for several years to produce a special show at Christmas.
However, Cobb School spokesman Jay Dillon confirmed that “the schools were informed by Symphony officials that their choruses are not diverse enough, and that the Symphony would be inviting a third, more diverse chorus.” This third chorus hails from Grady High School in Atlanta.
While efforts to engage more children in the fine arts should be lauded — and it is understandable that a company would want to afford the opportunity to play in a beautiful venue to multiple groups — the way that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has pointed to diversity for diversity’s sake is not laudable in the slightest.
Rather, the ASO is highlighting the most superficial of distinctions — a thing over which no one has any control — and setting this as the requirement for audition.
Whether it was the intent or not, Symphony officials have sent the message to those students who attend Walton and Lassiter that how they comported themselves in years past — how hard they worked, how talented they are, or even what type of character they might have displayed — means nothing because they don’t look a certain way.
Equally as insulting, the ASO has also sent a message to Grady High School’s chorus that the invitation to perform was given to them because of what the ASO defines as a need for “diversity” rather than recognition of merit.
Regardless, looking at the demographics for these high schools, Lassiter is 84 percent white; Walton is 77 percent white, and Grady is 69 percent black. All of these student bodies have a strong ethnic majority.
Is Grady really more diverse than Walton or Lassiter? Or is it simply a different majority set?
To make a full disclosure, while I have never had a kid in chorus, and I have had no dealings whatsoever with either Lassiter or Grady, my son graduated from Walton High School. Over the years I have occasionally engaged in discussions with other teachers and parents from elsewhere who seem to feel as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra does: the student body at the schools in east Cobb are too homogenous.
Mouths purse and brows wrinkle as complete strangers tell me they know what my community values.
In fact, in these contexts, “lack of diversity” is used as the worst sort of pejorative. It is intended to undermine the accomplishments of all those “kept in a bubble” children who live in “privileged enclaves.” It engages in the worst type of stereotyping, class warfare, and … yes … racism.
Besides, to say that Walton High School is not “diverse” is not even true.
Children from minority ethnicities not only attend Walton, they are a vibrant and important part of the student body. And that’s only the diversity that one can see on the surface. My son also knew children who had immigrated from France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Russia, South Africa, Israel, Italy, Austria, Denmark, and more.
Do people who have been raised partly on other continents — who speak another language — look at the world in the same way my son does simply because they are white?
Further, if diversity is a virtue, it’s more intellectual in nature. You cannot see real diversity in a snapshot. Religion, culture, politics, values are all held within a heart. Ironically, it is even hard to truly determine another person’s ethnicity from just looking!
Now, to be fair to the ASO, Walton and Lassiter were both still asked to send some kids to participate in the Christmas program. Choosing solidarity over a false test for diversity, however, both schools declined that invitation.
Of course, we should all wish much success to the students who will perform from Grady High School. This controversy was not of their making, and I am sure they’ll put on a fabulous show.
Still I wonder if it would have demonstrated more real virtue if the ASO had tried to unite students through their shared passion for music rather than to divide them over what they look like?
Barbara Donnelly Lane lives in east Cobb and blogs on the MDJonline.com web site.