Kami Tomberlain worked in Union City California Richmond California before arriving at Cupertino High, where she has worked for the past nine years. She grew up in Texas and attended Texas Tech University.
Q: What is your ethnicity?
A: I am white, originally from Texas.
Q: How did your ethnicity influence your childhood?
A: I grew up in a small town in the south. The first year I started school was the first year in my hometown that the schools were fully integrated. Even though Brown vs. Board of education happened in the 1950s, my town didn’t have full integration until 1970. Before that, there had only been a few volunteer schools that were integrated. In my town my classmates were about fifty percent white and fifty percent black. The wasn’t much additional variety.
Q: When did you first begin to notice race?
A: All the kids in my school grew up together. We went to school together and played together on the playground. It did not really matter what race they were. As I got older I started to realize that we never really saw each other outside of school. For example, we had separate churches, and the black kids weren’t allowed to swim in the pool or play on our little league teams. When you’re a little kid you don’t really notice that, but as I got into junior high and high school that became very obvious. My parents were both teachers, and they had teaching friends that were both black and white, so I had grown up with this integrated experience. I remember when I was in middle school I was out on the playground with some of the girls on the sports team. One of the African-American girls said something about being baptized over the weekend at the Omaha First Baptist. I said, “Oh, that’s where I was baptized too.” She asked, “You were baptized at the black church?” I said, “No, I was baptized at First Baptist Omaha.” She said, “No, there’s a difference.” See, Omaha First Baptist was largely African-American, and First Baptist Omaha was mostly white. Before that it had never really occurred to me that [the churches were separated].
Q: How have you noticed racism at our school?
A: At our school what I notice most is that there are stereotypes people hold about other races or even of their own race that can get in the way of really knowing people. It can stop us from seeing each other as individuals. Unfortunately, this can lead to some unthinking comments that may not be meant to hurt someone but still do. These include things like people being surprised to see someone in an AP class. I see that at our school quite a bit. I don’t see a lot of what I consider meanness of spirit or ugliness about race. I’ve been in schools where two different ethnic groups would square off against each other in terms of violence. I’ve been in those environments and I don’t feel like we have that level of animosity. However, I do think that we sometimes let stereotypes get in the way of really seeing each other and appreciating each other.
Q: What do you think we can do to fix this problem?
A: One of the things we can do is call each other on it when we hear it. We should be able to say, “Wow, that’s a big statement!” It doesn’t even have to be, “you’re being racist,” but saying something like, “that’s hurtful,” could help. If that is done casually among the students I think that could be really beneficial. I think finding ways to get to know one another and cross group is great. I see a lot of that. I see friendship groups that cross many different races which I think is really awesome. Getting involved in different clubs and school programs or even with the class can force you to put yourself out there in ways that take people out of their [racial] box. I think coming together in those ways helps us learn and grow. I also think that we can keep our grades to ourselves. That would help us to not feed stereotypes. We can also not let fear of other people’s judgment close off opportunities. If you’re really interested in taking a particular class, then you should do that and not worry about what other people are going to think or say. Just put yourself in a position where you can reach your own goals.