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Editorial: Quilt was missed opportunity

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A difference in interpretation led to racial accusations in the community and beyond last week. In the process, a chance to come together through understanding was missed.

A quilt was made by students in Nina Huff’s junior research class at the Piedmont Governor’s School to illustrate what they had learned during their research and citizens survey on the quality of services provided by the city, opportunities to get involved in the community and the overall quality of life.

The subject moved from a civics lesson to a controversy when City Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge told the students that she was offended that a small black figure in one square of the quilt represented students’ lack of knowledge before they toured Philpott Dam. A gold-colored figure in the same square represented the knowledge students received during the visit, a student told Hodge.

The student who created the square told Hodge he simply used a dark color and a bright color to show contrast, but that did not appease her. “As a person who is of dark color, I would suggest ... that in the future you consult with somebody who is of dark color,” she told the students, some of whom were in tears over the exchange.

This quilt is a piece of art, and as such, it is open to many interpretations. Some people, such as these students, see the dark figure as representative of “being in the dark” or lacking knowledge; others, such as Hodge, see it as representing black people as uneducated. That can, and probably will, be debated at length, but like most matters of interpretation, it is unlikely there will be a consensus on the right or wrong way to view this piece.

The problem arose in Hodge’s handling of her concern. Had she heard the students’ explanation of their work, explained why it was offensive to her and then moved on, everyone present could have learned from her concerns. It was a perfect time for the sensitivity and diversity training she has advocated, with the cameras rolling. Instead, her confrontational tone put the students — and subsequently many in the public — on the defensive.

Championing civil rights and social justice is a worthy cause. But we believe it can be done with tact, understanding and a desire to move the community forward, not confrontation, especially with a city council member elected to serve the whole community.

If there was a bright spot in this episode, it was Huff’s advice to her students after the council meeting. She told them that they will hear a lot of viewpoints in life and they should handle themselves with grace and class — we would add understanding — and move forward. We hope Hodge gets that message, too.


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