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Choose your Battle: Gender or Race?

Posted on Posted in Blog, Parenting's Not Easy, Raising Children of Color, School Me on Research

Choose your Battle: Gender or Race?

How many quick, seemingly  inconsequential decisions do you get to make every day? I used to think I chose my battles pretty wisely. Now, not so much.  Similar to the way one sniffs meat and knows then and there whether to proceed to the stove or the trash, I can usually decide just as quick “will this matter five, ten, twenty years from now?” If my answer is a definite no I concede defeat, quickly. For example:
  •  Battle: 7:05 am. My four year old wants to wear her boots. I want her to wear her sneakers. It’s gym day.
    •  Decision – Boots it is..
    • Battle: In the middle of watching a football game and my son says, “Boys are stronger than girls.”
      • Decision: Drop everything and correct him!
As quickly as one would react to the pop of hot grease on the arm, I returned with:
  • Girls are just as strong as boys.
  • Strength is not always equated with muscle.
  • Big muscles are nothing without a strong mind!
I interpreted his blank stare to mean he didn’t agree.  I’d seen that blank stare before. It appeared across the face of my oldest, a.k.a. ‘the middle schooler’ in the house.  One week when she proclaimed she wanted to be a lawyer. We were tossing around possible colleges and law schools.  When I informed her that the same Michelle Obama, who she sees advocating for a fresh garden and exercise, attended Princeton AND Harvard Law , the same blank stare looked back at me.  But, I interpreted hers to mean: “Say what?”
I know they both live in a world that displays and equates physical strength and those seen in charge with the notion of ‘greater than’.  However, I never realized how much I may really enforce this thinking until last week when my oldest decided that she would bless me with the details from her day.  As I carefully pulled out of the carpool lane she said:
We were talking about the Enlightenment era and I asked my social studies teacher (a man) , what were the women doing?” To which she told me he replied with just a hint of laughter: “Nothing.
Gasp. Side eye. Slow eye roll.
I should’ve  called a meeting with him immediately.  Better yet, I should’ve turned the car around and requested a meeting then and there, right? If he had made a comment like that regarding race, there would be no question that he’d have heard from me. But, he didn’t.
I couldn’t help but think as a teacher and a parent  in my quick decision not to turn the car around.  As a former teacher of seventh grade social studies I’ve had the pleasure of trying to make it interesting AND culturally inclusive.  Have you ever tried to find a female philosopher, especially one of color, that rivals the publishing distribution likes of Jean Jacques Rousseau or John Locke? During a planning period…impossible.
As a  parent my children are taught at home to be proud of their African American heritage.  We talk about what’s missing from the textbooks.  But, truth be told the conversations are pretty much always centered around how a Black man , i.e. Nat Turner, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, George Washington Carver, W.E.B. Dubois and the list goes on, led the way. I have never mentioned Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Daisy Bates, Mamie Clark, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer.
As a  parent I know that my rationalizing gender discrimination or stereotypes taking a back seat to race isn’t new.  The Civil Rights movement is a prime example. Black women chose to fight the battle of race, rather than fight the battle over being able to give speeches at rallies. Who can blame them  it’s exhausting to have to fight two types of oppression – AT -THE -SAME -TIME!
But at the cost of deciding to not fight two battles at once now, ten, twenty years later,  my daughters and son are still getting more of ‘nothing’ when it comes to women, especially women of color, in history.  When I think about it [or rationalize it], long and hard, there may be hope in the fact that my daughter did ask the teacher where were the women.  She did tell me the story, to which I replied “Typical”, “What did you say?” and , “What did anybody else say?
I know. Not good enough. This battle will require way more time than it takes to detect stinky meat.

How do you balance teaching awareness of race and gender equally?

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