Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

I Sit Where I Want: The Legacy of Brown V. Board of Education

I Sit Where I Want: The Legacy of Brown V. Board of Education

Spring 2005 Television
Ages: 10 - 18 yrs.
Network: The N
Setting out to explore integration in a Buffalo high school, the filmmakers of this documentary followed a group of student leaders who try to shake up the sameness of the school cafeteria. Noticing that the white kids usually sit with the white kids and the black kids usually sit with the black kids and the Latinos sit with their friends, 12 students got together and talked about how to tackle the problem. “What does it mean to be black?” “What are the benefits of being white?” Then they surveyed students and the responses were interesting and honest: “People don’t care to change – it takes too much work.” “People sit where they’re comfortable.” Throughout the experiment, the student leaders videotaped themselves talking to the camera, giving their own thoughts about the project as it unfolded. After the survey, the students in the group traded home visits, which also prompted more thought-provoking comments and insight into the kids at the school and their differences, not just with regard to race, but class.

Next, the students stood up in the cafeteria and asked everyone to move to a different seat. They were surprised when that didn’t go over very well. But as the project continued, more real attitudes and opinions emerged, all reflecting how people really felt about other people. An increased awareness of the issues of racism and diversity became obvious.

Finally, in the cafeteria, the students personally invited other students to get up and go sit next to someone of a different ethnicity. It worked! The lunchroom became lively, noisy, happy and mixed. The students felt victorious and there were hugs and smiles everywhere. The project was a success, they decided. “It was cool,” says one. “It was awesome,” says another. “It opened my mind,” said a third.

Two months later, the filmmakers returned to the student leader group and found that everyone was right back where they were before the experiment. White with white. Black with black. Nothing had changed. Said one student: “It’s not bad. It’s not good. It’s just the way it is.”

“I Sit Where I Want” will resonate and educate on many different levels. Well-organized and well edited, it will inspire and it will disappoint, something any good documentary ultimately does. Viewers will still be thinking about it long after it’s over.

Ann Oldenburg   ©2005 Parents' Choice
Ann Oldenburg, lecturer and interim director of the journalism program at Georgetown University, writes about television, food, workplace issues and other pop culture topics. A University of Florida Gator with a degree in journalism, she began her career at The Washington Post and spent more than two decades with USA TODAY. She and her husband have three sons and live in McLean, Virginia.

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