Race row over club for whites

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
A student's application to start a Caucasian club to celebrate her heritage has stirred up a national debate

A Californian student has caused a race row after announcing plans to launch a Caucasian club at her highschool.

Lisa McClelland, 15, rejects claims that the club's title could be inflammatory, saying she simply wants the opportunity to celebrate her heritage.

Since the school already has a Black Students' Union, an Asian Club and an association for Latinos, she asserts that a group focused on Caucasians will contribute to ethnic diversity.

Regardless of race, all students would be welcome to join her club's activities, such as museum visits and history discussions.

"It's not racist because we're not excluding anyone and we're just trying to solve the issues of racial disparity," said Lisa, who will consider legal action if she is barred from setting up the club at Freedom high in Oakley, California.

Her campaign has stirred a national debate and divided the school, 63 per cent of whose students are white, 26 per cent Latino, 4 per cent African-American and the rest Filipino, American-Indian or Pacific islanders.

"She should be allowed to be proud of her heritage and want to know more about it just like anyone else," said one message posted on the school's email forum, summing up supporters' sentiments that if one club is allowed, they should all be allowed.

"What a bunch of hypocrites when people start using the word 'racist'. Why isn't the Latino club racist? Or the Asian or African-American club?"

But opponents warn that it risks creating new tensions at a school already trying to heal racial scars.

Two years ago, a black teacher found a shoelace tied into a noose - symbolic of lynchings - on his classroom door and, last year, swastika graffiti and racist leaflets were found in the boys' lavatories.

Darnell Turner, vice-president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, fears that the student's club could become a breeding ground for white supremacists.

"If her motivation is to bring harmony, as she alleges, this is not the way to go," he said.

He claimed use of the word "Caucasian" is racially insensitive. "Using that term opens up old wounds and we don't need to go there. The club, in name, seems like a back-door approach to separation," Mr Turner said.

Lisa's application to start a club must be reviewed and approved by the school's club council members, the associated student body, the school's activities director and the principal.

Louis Calabro, president of the European-American Issues Forum, a California-based group that celebrates Caucasian culture, but opposes racism, complained: "I don't think they're enthusiastic in wanting to support the wishes of a student who wants to be racially identified and to celebrate and honour her own identity."

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