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An open letter to my son, Miles

Dear Miles,

A few months ago, I had coffee with Mebane Rash. She was launching a new nonprofit, EducationNC, and she asked me how we could change the trajectory of black men in North Carolina. Son, I have been waiting my whole life for someone to ask me that question.

According to data from the Office of State Budget and Management, in July 2012, North Carolina had a population of 9.7 million people. 1,004,083 were black men. About 10 percent of the population. At that same point in time, the total prison population included 38,385 inmates. 54 percent of them were black men. More than 20,000 black men locked up. It cost the state $75 a day to incarcerate them. Nobody thinks this is good policy.

Over the next year, I’ll be sharing my thoughts with you and our new state. Moving here from Florida, North Carolina is as new to me as the whole world is new to you. We’ll take this journey together.

Self-identifying journeys

The current events of this time, my time, define some of my dreams for you: the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. I don’t want the world to see you only as a black boy.

I want your lived experience to be defined by the self-identifying journey you are about to embark on. I don’t want your journey limited by forced, negative connotations of race – even though you are black, even though we are American.

I believe information technology and social media will self-correct our society when it comes to race relations.

The Internet is knocking down geo-political boundaries. As it does, the history of a place no longer has to define your lived experience. This, I hope, will lead to racially-simmered, as opposed to racially-charged, communities.

In pre-modern societies, space was defined largely by physical place. Now, space is increasingly distant from place. Relationships with those who are far away are more and more common. I believe information technology and social media will self-correct our society when it comes to race relations.

Fifty years ago, we couldn’t imagine the cultural dominance of hip-hop. Fifteen years ago, we couldn’t imagine the election of the first African-American president. So I don’t expect anyone to imagine an American culture where the lens and influence of race is reduced to a single thread in the complex web of human distinctions.

The fabric of our society is increasingly defined by a diverse array of international influences globalizing our world view. People groupings are shifting from race to cultural similarities defined across geographical boundaries. As a result, self-identity is defined by a complex, comprehensive world view where people are constantly exposed to distant relationships, trends, and cultures.

With the increasing use of technology in American classrooms, the world-focused educational experience of students will ensure that race no longer dominates cultural discussion. But, we aren’t there yet.

Teaching history


I work at an alternative school, and I recently sat in on a high school history class. The teacher, a black female, was talking about segregation and the struggle for equality in America. All the students were black. As the teacher walked the students through the history of blacks in America, the students began to impatiently interrupt the lecture. To our surprise, the students refused to see the relevance of the history of segregation to their current lives. Each of these students was in this class at an alternative school because they had been suspended. Each of these kids could look around and see that all of the kids in the class were black. And yet they were intent on denying an attachment to the history of segregation. I was shocked. I chalked it up to immaturity and ignorance, and I worried that our rich Black history was at stake in the hands of this next generation. But, on reflection, I was refreshed, even excited, to see black male students hesitate to look backwards. They were right. Race should be viewed comprehensively with the past, present, and future all taken into account equally. The teacher and I both are programed to look predominately backwards on discussions of race without being mindful of evolutionary trends in race dynamics. This was an example of a healthy, honest dialogue with students who didn’t want to look back without the opportunity to look forward.

Looking forward

There will be a time when educational outcomes are not filtered through pigmentation.

There will be a time where every statistical category is not interpreted through pigmentation. There will be a time when educational outcomes are not filtered through pigmentation. There will be a time when political ideology is not predetermined by pigmentation. There will be a time when American citizens can share cultural commonalities across nations leaving geographical boundaries unclear and therefore local prejudices trivial. Because of information technology, this time is sooner than we think. My students are ready. This is the world I want for you.

Your Dad


Terrance Ruth

Dr. Terrance Ruth is an education policy communications specialist at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University. His research focus is poverty and globalization. He is also the principal of an alternative school, AMIkids, in Raleigh.