The New Racism

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Runyon said the school's committed to diversity.

When the basketball season began two months later, three black students started varsity for Millennium.

Tiffeny Denman is Michael Mack's girlfriend and just as active in questioning school policy as he is. In early December, she wrote a letter to the school asking why it didn't have a black student union.

Denman didn't hear back, so in mid-December, she and Mack circulated a petition at Millennium asking all students to sign who were interested in forming a black student union.

Many kids tell New Times they signed because they felt they learned nothing about black history or culture in school.

Which doesn't surprise Denman, who grew up in the Valley. In school, "the only thing we learned about black people was slavery," she says.

At the start of the new year, there were 26 names on the BSU sign-up sheet.

Administrators at Millennium say if there's interest in a BSU, all the kids need is a sponsor. There is no need for a petition.

Yet Mack says he was told by assistant principal Bill McMillian that no teacher or administrator was willing to sponsor the group. McMillian denies that, saying he doesn't know about students having difficulty finding a sponsor.

For principal Haiflich, the flap over a black student union is a microcosm of the racism allegations as a whole: a group of people blowing something out of proportion until a controversy surrounds it. "I wonder," she says, pinching together her forefinger and thumb, "if some parents aren't taking a grain of salt and running with it."

Perhaps Haiflich shouldn't dismiss Michael Mack so easily. After all, he won that lawsuit from Direct Marketing Services for $700,000.

But while it's difficult to question what a federal court found to be racism, this case is much grayer. Two minority kids cut from the jayvee basketball team who spoke to New Times anonymously say Mack is seeking revenge at Millennium because his son was also cut from the team.

Mack acknowledges that his son was cut from the team, but denies the allegation. He says, "I'm fighting the good fight."

And he points to the fact that Millennium has no black student union as evidence of his broader concerns about the school.

C.H.A.K.A., in effect, was Millennium's black student union, but the club fell apart because no one wanted to sponsor it. One of Impact's biggest problems was a lack of faculty leadership, Mack and Denman say.

Too bad Michael Mack and Tiffeny Denman aren't qualified to sponsor school clubs at Millennium High.

Derald Wing Sue is a professor at Teacher's College at Columbia University. In his new book, Overcoming Our Racism: The Journey to Liberation, Wing Sue discusses the New Racism: a subtle, even unconscious form where the racist doesn't realize his or her actions. The new racist is unaware of the experiences of minorities and the stereotypes they face. Though this form of racism first appeared last century, Wing Sue calls it the racism of the new millennium. "There's a lot of unintentional racism that occurs," Wing Sue says. "These micro-assaults occur constantly to people of color."

But are they occurring at Millennium? Wing Sue says he wouldn't be surprised, but won't comment since he has not visited the school.

"You want to know the truth?" asks Ira Miles, the former sub at Millennium and co-founder of C.H.A.K.A. "Black kids see little representation [of their race] at the school." He says what the school is doing isn't blatant, but, to the black kids or their parents, it feels like it.

Oscar Tillman, president of the Maricopa County chapter of the NAACP, vows to keep a "very close eye" on Millennium. An investigator from the Arizona region of the Anti-Defamation League says the group might offer Millennium staff some sensitivity training.

Eleanor Eisenberg, director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union, has been in contact with some parents and students at Millennium. "We have told them that we would step in now," she says. "We are certainly willing to support them in their efforts."

E-mail [email protected], or call 602-238-4807.

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Paul Kix