The Futility of “Colorblindness”: High School’s Black Student Union Selects a White Male as President; Issue Is Not Color but Worldview

[Addendum (4-3-12): According to tjToday, in Mr. Wattendorf’s winning essay for the Princeton Prize in Race Relations had a description of his experiences with the Black Student Union (BSU) at Thomas Jefferson High as well as a description of the start of TJinspire with the BSU.

In addition to being the president of the BSU, Mr. Wattendorf, according to Fairfax News, is the president of the Russian Honor Society, and is the captain of the cross country and winter and spring track teams. He was also an intern with D.C. Public Schools, and the Federation of American Scientists.]

The Washington Post published a story that stated that the Black Student Union at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology selected a White male, Michael Wattendorf, as the club’s president. The comments to the story on seem to focus on the optics of the situation–that it is right for a White male to be able to have the opportunity to lead the club.

United States (population: 308,745,538) (2010 Census)

Race Percentage of population Number
White 72.4% 223,553,265
Black 12.6 38,929,319
Native American 0.7 540,013
Asian 4.8 14,674,252

The real issue is not appearance but rather worldview. Mr. Wattendorf as a member of the United States dominant social group may not be cognizant of issues that involve the injustices of the accepted status quo order (which usually reflects the worldview and thoughts of the majority population).

Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology (enrollment: 1,800 (source: The Washington Post))

Race Percentage of enrollment Number
Asian 50% 906
White 44 787
Hispanic* 2 42
Black 2 34

*Hispanic is a national origin and not a race.

The test of fire will be whether Mr. Wattendorf will be able to effectively advocate for issues that challenge the dominant mindset at the school in the case where that exact mindset produces an injustice for those not in the majority. Given the exchange of views expressed at the end of the article concerning the Trayvon Martin case, my suspicion is no.

[Sidenote: A good book to read which researches issues involved in the article is Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists–Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States.]