My daughter came home from school Friday yelling as soon as she opened the door. “Ma! Where are you?!”
I was in my bedroom. But, before I could even tell her where I was she found me and at waterfall speed started spilling forth the details of her day – book bag still attached to her back and her Chromebook in hand.
At first, all I heard was, ‘I got called to the principal’s office.”
“The principal’s office…?! For what!?”
“Because, I sent her this email right? About how I thought that there is racism going on at the school.”
I stood there just looking at her for a second. I stifled a groan brought on by the flipping of my insides. But my face, my face…I couldn’t hide the ‘I just bit into a lemon cringe’ look. Then I took a seat on my bed and finally said, ‘You did what?’
Truth be told, racism was the last thing I wanted to think about, let alone talk about. I had just finished the work week which included talking to preservice teachers about social issues like racism – a topic I am passionate about but a topic that no doubt can make me feel drained. Like standing out in the hot blazing sun for hours, with no water…and no food on your stomach, my head now feels like it’s about to burst kind of drained. I was looking forward to thinking about simpler things, like the weekend soccer game and whether we would make it to church on Sunday. But apparently, before I laid down my social justice warrior sword and shield for the weekend I had one more battle to fight. And this time it was personal. Just. Freakin’. Wonderful.
Really and truly I should have seen this coming. But I was hoping deep down in my soul it wouldn’t come to this. Earlier in the week my daughter complained that she and many other Black students at school were frustrated with the events planned for Spirit week. One of the days called for students to dress like they were in the 1950’s. My daughter and many other Black students felt that nothing much good was happening for black folks in the 1950’s so why should they participate? I get that. And I am sure it didn’t help matters much that the past was reliving itself right down the street from us. We are only an hour away from Charlotte, N.C. There is no question in my mind that my daughter and many of her Black classmates were feeling some kind of way about all of the racial tension and frustration from the past and now the present.
My daughter and the rest of the Black students at school decided that they would lead a silent protest in response to the 1950’s day by wearing all black, a blackout. Some of the white students at school decided to respond too. The very next day after the blackout some white students displayed a Confederate flag in the atrium. It was only for a second, or two or three…. until that is an administrator addressed the students and told them to take it down. (I only know this much because one of the students posted this event on social media.) Immediately after my daughter saw this she fired up an email, during the school day, to the principal, with the subject line: Racism at [her school].
My daughter said that not too long after she sent the email her principal invited her to her office to discuss the email she sent.
“I told her about the flag.”
“And what else did you say?”
“I told her about why we decided to do the blackout.”
“What did she say?” I asked like I was waiting for the winning lottery numbers.
My daughter’s side of the story was that the principal responded something to the effect that she should consider how the other students would have felt about the Black students wearing black in response to 1950’s day.
At this point I was really trying to hold in my irritation. Admittedly, I wasn’t doing too well. My body was flashing with heat. As involuntary as breathing my hand reached for my laptop, the email I was thinking about sending to the principal started drafting in my head.
“She say anything else?”
“That’s about all and that she would look into it.” My daughter finally finished with, “I was mad ma when I saw that flag.”
I get that too. And her dad and I told her why. In the past few weeks I’ve read some parents comments about having to grapple with their children taking a knee during the singing of the national anthem at high school football games. Some have even said that their children have decided to sit during the pledge of allegiance in the morning at school. Fortunately, students can’t be disciplined for silent protests as long as they don’t disrupt the school day. Whether it’s one of these events or students deciding to participate in blackout day I believe it all speaks to a bigger issue. Our African American kids are processing all this hate, racial discrimination, ignorance etc. They are processing what does it mean for them to be Black in America? What does it say about their chances of success in America as a Black person? Most importantly, what can they do about it?
I don’t know about you but I don’t ever remember me and my friends having to think about such things in high school. In freshmen year there was the Rodney King brutal beating by police. But, it was the capture of one attack on a Black male and the acquittal of the jury was almost expected. What would we have done back in the day seeing the repeated shootings and/or beatings of black men month after month after month? I don’t know. Perhaps our high school, comprised of mostly white students, would have been about to boil over with silent protests and racist events as well. Perhaps my friends and I would have tried to find a way to express out frustration as well with some type of silent protest of our own.
I was finally able to speak with my daughter’s principal, a week after my daughter met with her and after I’d sent my own email. I had no desire to argue with her principal and to be honest no real desire to speak with her either. Not just because I was pissed but also because I know that talking about race to white people can be un-com-for-ta-ble. To say the least right?
First, I explained to her principal that she never contacted my husband and me about the email or the impromptu meeting she had with my child. If my daughter had not told me or her dad what happened she may have walked away from that meeting feeling wrong about seeing and saying something about the Confederate flag at her school. And she was not wrong for that.
An issue as touchy as race and racism we believe should always be discussed with parents. Just as we wouldn’t want someone explaining or clarifying things about sex to our children, we feel the same way about racism (family members and close friends for the most part get a pass).
Secondly, I wanted her to understand that when my daughter (or any child of color for that matter) comes to you with a concern about race you need to do the following:
Don’t discount her feelings.
Don’t discount or belittle her experiences because they are foreign to you.
Do listen to her.
Do ask others if they have had similar experiences at the school.
Do look into the racial climate at the school and see what you can do to help all students understand other’s racial perspectives.
And just basically, don’t do my child (or any) like that!
Both of these things her principal did apologize for.
She told me my daughter may have misinterpreted her comment about thinking about how other students may have felt and apologized if my daughter interpreted her words in such a way. So be it. I cannot look into somebody’s thoughts and see their intentions.
In the end everything worked out I suppose. Or at least I can say we shall see. The principal informed me that within the last week she did put together and sent out a student survey. She said that the survey opened her eyes up to the racial climate of the school and also to other issues that students are having.
I was worried about how my daughter may feel voicing her concerns about racism at her school. I can’t lie, visions of Ruby Bridges and the National Guard filled my head (as a worrier I can go there in zero to fifty). But, guess what I learned? My daughter, she didn’t see the worry. Visions of the Little Rock Nine didn’t even cross her mind. Instead, she saw confidence in herself. Not just to go and address a problem, but also the confidence in understanding that something can be done about it. If this is what the fight against racism is becoming I’ll take a few flips in the stomach and stifled groans for that kind of outcome any day.