FAIR New York: Seeking a Positive, Unifying Narrative
Nancy McDermott, the leader of FAIR’s New York chapter, is no stranger to the debate over educating students about race and racism in America’s past and present. She is the author of The Problem with Parenting, which reveals stark changes in the way we are bringing up children since the 1970s, and is associated with online parent communities as well as the Center for Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury.
Growing up an American in Seoul, South Korea during her early teens had a profound effect on how Nancy saw the world. “It changed the way I thought about race,” Nancy says. Living abroad exposed her to many different people, cultures, and ideas that she may not have otherwise had the chance to learn about. “It opened my eyes to the universal nature of the struggle to live a better life, and about how our differences become less important than what we have in common.” Nancy was also inspired by her parents, who instilled the importance of acting against injustice and standing up for what you believe in. While living in the United Kingdom during her twenties and thirties, Nancy joined others in campaigning against racist attacks on immigrants from Pakistan and Bengal, as well as police harassment of the West Indian community in East London.
“The issue of race is the single most important political problem in the United States,” Nancy says. She doesn’t believe that Americans have become more racist after the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, but is disturbed at the ways “framing everything as an issue of race, and calling oneself an ‘anti-racist’ has become a source for moral authority.” Nancy feels this takes away the complexity of understanding the role that race has played in America’s past, and forces people into a situation where they must choose between two equally distorted positions: that everything in America is racist, or that racism doesn’t exist at all.
“I believe we should be absolutely honest about America's past, and we should take seriously the unkept promises of our Founding ideals,” she says. “Our country belongs to every American, whether they were born here or whether they came here to be part of it.”
It is this desire for what she calls a “unifying, positive alternative” that ultimately led Nancy to FAIR. She feels that her community in New York is being divided based on race, and hopes that implementing FAIR’s pro-human values could help unite people again. In her local school district, state-mandated Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives have created a call for racial affinity groups which divide students into racial categories, emphasizing division and stoking polarization. Nancy explains that parents in her area are very concerned about the influences of this curriculum, and are struggling to find ways to combat the ways their children are being taught to see the world through the lens of racialism.
“FAIR can offer positive, pro-human alternatives to the divisive diversity training and school programs that seem to be everywhere,” she says. Nancy hopes that programs like FAIRstory and FAIR Diversity, which offer pro-human ways to learn about race and racism, can inspire people to continue moving forward rather than backwards. “FAIR can become a positive counterpoint to partisan politics and give people in the middle a home.”
With FAIR’s New York chapter, Nancy has already made a huge impact in the lives of students in her local community. When a high school erupted into violence after students returned to school after the pandemic, a few students blamed these problems on “racism and homophobia,” which only exacerbated tensions. “The school was repeatedly placed on lockdown,” she says. “The situation was out of control.”
Nancy and other parents decided to put their energy into supporting students and teachers who were struggling to return to normalcy after two years of remote schooling. “We wanted to do what Dads on Duty in Shreveport, Louisiana had done,” she says. Nancy and a group of other community members welcomed the students at the entrance of the school every morning, made jokes, and did their best to “reassure them that our community has their back and that we all want them to succeed.” The students felt like they had parents at school with them, and it helped them feel safe in what they previously considered an unsafe environment. “By focusing on restoring a sense of normalcy, students lost interest in activism and blaming the system, and were able to get on with their studies and the normal ups and downs of high school.”
This is just one example of the way that a pro-human approach has made a real-world impact on the lives of children and educators in Nancy’s community. She points out that this was made possible by just a few volunteers who weren’t motivated by political leanings or personal gain. “Sometimes things have to happen because they’re necessary and not because they’re part of some political agenda,” she says. “That’s as pro-human as pro-human gets.”
In the future, Nancy hopes to collaborate more with other parents and educational organizations in order to help firmly establish FAIR as a pro-human force in the state of New York. “The cynical outlook that assumes the worst about people based on the group they belong to has gripped our institutions,” she says. “It is sowing discord between communities and generations, and sending so many of our young people down the path of grievance identities. Standing up to it is the challenge of our generation. Right now, the odds are stacked against us, but I believe FAIR has the potential to help turn that around.”
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism or its employees.
In keeping with our mission to promote a common culture of fairness, understanding, and humanity, we are committed to including a diversity of voices and encouraging compassionate and good-faith discourse.
We are actively seeking other perspectives on this topic and others. If you’d like to join the conversation, please send drafts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join the FAIR Community
Take the Pro-Human Pledge to help promote a common culture based on fairness, understanding, and humanity.
Join the FAIR Community to connect and share information with other members.
Share your reviews and incident reports on our FAIR Transparency website.
Read Substack newsletters by members of FAIR’s Board of Advisors
Common Sense – Bari Weiss
The Truth Fairy – Abigail Shrier
Skeptic – Michael Shermer
Habits of a Free Mind – Pamela Paresky
Journal of Free Black Thought – Erec Smith et al.
INQUIRE – Zaid Jilani
Beyond Woke – Peter Boghossian
The Glenn Show – Glenn Loury
It Bears Mentioning – John McWhorter
The Weekly Dish – Andrew Sullivan
Notes of an Omni-American – Thomas Chatterton-Williams
Culture War Musings - Lisa Bildy
The Wisdom of Crowds Newsletter - Shadi Hamid
Let's Get BOARD! - Jonathan Kay