children of color racism in schools parenting concerns

Mentioning Race Doesn’t Mean I am Being Racist

Posted on Posted in Blog, Raising Children of Color

Mentioning Race Doesn’t Mean I am Being Racist

I sat in a parent meeting one day with about four other parents. In a cold classroom we stuffed our awkward adult bodies and legs into miniature seats and desks.  After we listened to the who’s and what’s of how the school works it was time for questions.  One parent wanted to know how they would assist their child who wears a hearing  aid.  Another parent raised her hand and asked if her twins could be placed into separate classes.  Both requests were met with smiles, nodded heads and faces contorted into soft lines of concern.  The person leading the meeting was sure the school would provide a headset to help the student hear in class, and separating twins, no problem.  Then, I raised my hand and asked:
How does the school plan to address diversity?’
After my question it was so quiet in the room I heard a stomach growl and the hands ticking away on someone’s watch.  I’d mentioned race and you know how that is - a definite no-no. Race issues are always uncomfortable, but completely acceptable in certain contexts like:
  • Police officers racially profiling
  • A political candidate’s racial background or poll numbers with different races
  • Housing discriminatory practices
  • Job hiring discriminatory practices
School is the one place where many think that racial issues in society disappear once you cross the school house doors.  The painful truth is that race and racism have to be considered. A recent study by the Casey Foundation, Race for results: Building a Path to Opportunity for all Children and The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reveal why.  African American parents and parents of children of color are concerned when they hear that
  •  Black students represent  42% of preschool suspensions
  •  Eighty-one percent (81%) of Asian-American and 71% of white  high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics)
  • Less than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high school.
  • Black students (57%), Latino students (67%), students with disabilities (63%), and English language learner students (65%) also have less access to the full range of courses.
More alarming for me is that the Civil Rights study found the states scoring the lowest on the index for African Americans are located in the South (e.g., Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina) and the Midwest (e.g., Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois). Did I mention we live in one of the above states? Urgh.
Given the many valid concerns for children of color in schools, it was interesting to see the frantic-like response from the superintendent and board member when Black parents, in the school district our children attend, announced plans to form an organization.  The group, Richland 2 Black Parents’ Association, state they formed out of frustration that their concerns are not being addressed by the school board, the lack of diverse representation by the school board and the number of black males recommended for suspension and expulsion.  The group’s reluctance to mention race or racism as a possible factor is seen in the representative’s comments:
These are very well-educated African-Americans and the last thing they would raise is the issue of race,” (Group representative speaking about why the organization formed)
We shouldn't be afraid to mention race if it is indeed an issue (and what does being well-educated have to do with not mentioning race?).  What  I believe is that the reluctance for many African American parents to say that race and racism is a contributing factor to the academic achievement gap stems not wanting to re-open wounds not addressed after desegregation of schools.   Issues like:
  • Not seeing people of color in the curriculum
  • How should a work force that is over 85% white and female connect with their students (think about this, would an ad company ignore the needs of their target demographic if they wanted to engage their customer – never)
  • Whether or not entrance into gifted and talented class would truly be meritocratic
  • Access to quality preschools
  • Offset the socio-economic privilege of neighborhood advantage and social networks
Oftentimes the focus is on how to help poor children of color in rural areas,  ‘inner city’ or ‘urban’ youth.  Truth be told the challenge  for African American children is not only in ‘urban’ or ‘inner city’ areas.  Black kids who live in middle class neighborhoods are not faring too well either.  What then is a campaign called to help middle class black kids? There is none except when their parents open their mouths and ask,
“Hey, what about my child?”. 
During the parent teacher meeting my concerns weren't hearing accommodations or separating twins, but like the others, my concerns were based on years of research.  Just as there have been changes to accommodate the hearing impaired, children who are dyslexic or children who have ADD, there has been tons of research on the academic achievement gap and racial experience of children in school.  Yet when I as a parent ask the school what do they intend to do about it I seem to get the side eye that screams,
“Is she being racist?” (gasp and hand to the chest)
For the record racism is not pointing out race or that a particular racial group is not faring well.  Racism, whether institutionally or individually, is when discrimination becomes a reality.  When people make assumptions about others based on their appearances and then act on those assumptions.  By this very definition then I was simply asking a question about the academic well-being of my children (and other people’s too).

What do you think? Is calling out race a racist thing to do?



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