Worried by racial tensions churned up by the U.S. presidential election, teachers at one U.S. high school braced for the worst in their majority white community the morning after Barack Obama was elected the country’s first black president.
To counter what she called “unsettling bigotry” in Maryland’s Carroll County, Westminster High English teacher Laura Doolan wrote a 30-minute lesson for all students to give them a chance to discuss the election and correct misconceptions, such as the widespread rumor that Obama is Muslim.
“Several teachers came to me astounded by what they were hearing. They just didn’t realize that students would be so openly racist, that students would . . . say, ‘I don’t want a black president. I don’t trust black people,’” Doolan said.
Carroll County is one of hundreds of majority white communities facing changing demographics that will turn the United States into a “majority minority” country—where former minorities such as blacks and Hispanics are in the majority—by 2042. Maryland is due to reach that point by 2025 or earlier, according to U.S. Census projections.
But some areas like Westminster are still coming to terms with a past that included open Ku Klux Klan rallies 20 years ago, and a rash of racist graffiti at the high school just last spring.
Located 50 miles north of Washington, which is about 70 percent black, this former farming community has seen its share of rapid growth and growing diversity.
Suburban developments now nestle between farms, and the county has ethnic restaurants, a growing Muslim community, Jewish synagogues and even a Hindu temple. But its demographics have not changed much over the years.
About 94 percent of Carroll’s 170,000 residents are white, 2.2 percent are black, and even smaller numbers are Latino or Asian, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
The county is largely Christian and conservative, backing McCain by 64 percent to Obama’s 32.6 percent.
Last spring, a school board member, Jeffrey Morse, resigned amid a storm of public controversy after he used a racial slur to describe some black rocks at a school construction site.
Larry Brumfield, a retired black chemical engineer, moved to the area 24 years ago with his first wife, who was white.
Early on, someone pasted a bumper sticker on his car that read, “We’re watching you.” Later, neighbors invited his wife along on an outing, but asked her not to mention that she was married to a black man. His daughters were called “zebras.”
Mokhtar Nasir, the chief of staff at Carroll Hospital Center, said he hasn’t faced much overt discrimination during his 13 years in the county over his Lebanese-Muslim heritage. Still, he says, many co-workers don’t recognize his holidays, and some ask year after year if he had a nice Christmas.