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HOLMBERG: How did that racially ‘divisive’ video get shown, and was it that bad?

Posted at 12:53 AM, Feb 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-11 06:33:05-05

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Once again, a mild local controversy has become a small national outrage, showing how sensitive we've become to racial issues.

So just how did the "Unequal Opportunity Race" video come to be shown at mandatory assemblies last week at Glen Allen High in Henrico County?

And was it really that bad?

The cartoon-like video was conceived and written some five years ago by Kimberle Crenshaw, founder of the African American Policy Forum, a non-profit think tank battling inequality, "structural discrimination" and promoting racial justice.

It shows the black runners in a long-distance track race being held right at the start - the start of the nation - for hundreds of years, up to 1964, while generations of white runners circled them, handing off their giant lead to their offspring.

Then, once the blacks were finally off and running, a host of obstacles slowed or stopped them: discrimination, poor schooling, underemployment, standardized testing, "schools to prison pipeline," housing segregation, racial profiling, early death.

Meanwhile, privileged, connected, good-old boy whites don't even have to run. They get to ride a moving track, having a refreshing drink and beating out (barely) even the white girl who ran freely without the obstacles.

What started with a few complaints from students and parents last last week has swelled into a bit of a national social media outrage, picking up on one student's grandparent who said the "white guilt video" promoted division.

A schools' source tells me the video was just part of a presentation shown during two assemblies last week in conjunction with Black History Month.

The idea apparently came up after an African-American student played - mistakenly, he said - a racist song filled with the n-word over the school's public address system before their homecoming football game in October.

I'm told the school wanted to open a broader discussion on race and diversity, and the assembly was planned by a few teachers, administrators, a parent representative and Virginia Commonwealth University political science professor (and self-described scholar-activist), Ravi Perry, who has had extensive experience teaching and discussing this type of issue.

He presented the discussion, which included the first 3:40 of the video (it later briefly concludes with a section showcasing affirmative action), and a power-point presentation, among other elements of the discussion addressing racism, equality and honoring diversity.

I'm told the principal opened the assemblies.

Perry could not be reached this evening for comment. Nor could Kimberle Crenshaw, the creator of the video. I'm curious how many other schools have used it and, if so, were there any other issues.

Wednesday afternoon, Henrico County Public Schools addressed the controversy, with Board Chair Micky Ogburn saying the video would not be used again and stressing that "steps are being taken to prevent the use of racially divisive materials in the future."

Schools Superintendent Pat Kinlaw wrote:

"While we as educators do not object to difficult and constructive conversations about American history and racial discourse past and present, we understand why many people feel this video in particular was not the best way to deliver such an important lesson."

I've watched the video several times.

Most of it is a straight-up representation of our history.

But it seems to run off course a bit with cartoon-like over-generalizing: that blacks, in general can't win the race and all whites in general are involved in this unequal opportunity and many are benefitting from it.

There are so many blacks who have won the race - our president among them - and so many whites who have tirelessly worked to remove obstacles and smooth the way.

That said, it's hardly worth national heavy breathing. The school system decided it needs to keep the discussion going with a little less division.

I know there are those who will be infuriated with Henrico's decision, saying not to reuse this particular video signals close-mindedness and an unwillingness to confront our history or reality.

But the decision not to re-run that particular race seems like a fairly reasonable response to me.