Every year, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra invites local high school choirs to perform at one of the orchestra’s concerts.  The rules changed this year.  Two high school choirs were “uninvited” because…”they lack racial diversity.”

Both schools, Lassiter and Walton, have a student body that is over 75% white. They are also both public schools, which means that the student body is determined by who lives where.  Districting rules at the county level are another discussion for another day — no one at the school has any authority at all to choose the racial make-up of the student body.

In addition, “membership in both choral groups is based upon merit alone.” Wait…merit alone?  That reminds me of a guy I learned about when I was in high school.  I went to Walton — one of the schools that got “uninvited.”  And this guy I learned about – well, he was a major figure in Atlanta.  He wanted people to be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  Guys, the King Center is a ten-minute drive from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Whoever at the ASO is responsible for the “uninviting” really ought to go tour the museum…because this whole “pick and choose who gets privileges based on race” thing is exactly what Dr. King was fighting against.  

Both schools were allowed to send small groups of singers to perform with the ASO.  Each school has a total enrollment of over 2,000 students.  Each choir includes several hundred.   Both Lassiter and Walton have chosen not to participate in the concert at all, rather than pick among their “not diverse enough” membership.

Now, the ASO didn’t just “uninvite” two schools.  It blatantly and unapologetically invited another school to take their place at the concert.   This school — Grady — isn’t much more diverse than Walton or Lassiter’s 75%, with over 66% of its students being of one race.  (If I recall 9th grade algebra properly, I believe that the difference between 66% and 75% isn’t all that huge.)  Grady High School just so happens to be 66% black.  The ASO has said “it was simply time to let another set of kids participate.”  Really?  Then why did you invite Lassiter and Walton in the first place?  Why couldn’t you have invited students from all three schools, or established a pattern of taking turns before the invitations were issued?  One student’s experience does not have to come at the expense of another’s.

If the ASO was aiming to get more diversity on stage – they didn’t really accomplish that.  The schools can’t decide to become more diverse.  Students can’t decide who they go to school with.  This is an arbitrary action that helps no one.  All this did accomplish was favoritism of one race group over another.  What a sad and unfair lesson to teach high school students.

Angela Morabito | Georgetown University | @_AngelaMorabito