First Day of School Blues…

Feeling like the 1950’s up in this house.

My son attends a predominantly White and Asian school here in our city.

No Black teachers or administrators.

He’s often one of the few or only Black students in his class.

As I sit listening to my thoughts, writing the first day of school speech I will deliver on Sunday night; I’m wondering….

Why, in 2010, am I compelled to remind him that he represents his entire race, you know, that whole ‘fictive kinship’?  I mean we DO have a Black president…

Why, in 2010, will I emphasize the importance of him sitting in the front of the class, close to the teacher, to demonstrate that he is there to learn? Why else would he be, right?

Why, in 2010, am I going to explain that he is to walk with his head high, look his peers and teachers directly in their eyes, and let them KNOW: he is a strong Afrikan male, not some boot licking negro. And yes, I will use those EXACT words.

Yes, even in 2010, I will revisit the type of backhanded compliments and examples of racial micro-aggressions that he might hear from his classmates and instructors. I’ll go so far as to role-play and challenge him to think about how to respond.

I know.

It’s a bit much, isn’t it?

Still, here, in 2010, I will drill him on the type of racial stereotypes that cling to his body like masking tape, influencing how everyone sees and responds to him.

You’ve got to work harder.

You’ve got to be the best.

They expect you to fail.

Be the most polite.

But don’t let anybody push you around.

And then there’s my spiel on staying “down” with his folk who aren’t as privileged as he is.  I don’t care if other folk want you to believe you’re “different”, you’re not. “Your loyalty and allegiance”, I will say,  “is with your folk who are marginalized, pushed into the lowest tracked classes, not with those who tell you that you’re special.”

I can already anticipate the anxiety my speech will imbue.

I wonder if maybe this once, I should hold my racially charged diatribe…

Maybe this once, it will be enough to say: HAVE A GREAT DAY! DO YOUR BEST!

But I can’t.

Maybe next year.

19 thoughts on “First Day of School Blues…

  1. This resonates with me as I am about to put my almost 4 y/o in pre-school. I’m hoping he gets placed in a balanced, diverse school, but I won’t know until next week sometime. It’s amazing what we HAVE to think about being mother of Black and Brown children.

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    1. I know. I was spoiled for the first 13 years of his life. He was at all Black schools…then came High School. And it has been MORE than a notion…smh

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  2. You know? I hear you but sometimes I get paranoid and start wondering if I’m over-thinking it all the time. Handing off my own baggage. And then some incident will trigger something and set me off again. I feel lucky that we have a great community of color where we live. My kids are lucky in that way. I didn’t have that growing up and I felt like I was just … out there in the wildnerness.

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  3. It’s definitely a struggle. But, I say that as long as racism and White supremacy is the cultural norm, I’ve got to keep talking about it.

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  4. Salina,
    Could I cross-post this to Love Isn’t Enough? I think our readers would really appreciate these thoughts.

    Let me know!

    Thanks,
    Julia

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  5. Hey Salina,

    I remember this transition well when I enrolled into a predominately White high school. No black teachers or administrators is something worth fighting against and I would encourage your son to do so. This was something I did in high school with fellow students, so I’m not just preaching! I really believe firmly that that level of homogeny is criminal, and reflects white supremacy, as you indicated.

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    1. Thanks Tanji! and I agree wholeheartedly, he says there a number of new teachers this year, I’m HOPING some will be Black and/or Brown!

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  6. I wonder, at what age do these conversations become this explicit? Your son, Salina, is 16, but when my son starts school, he’ll be 6. All of those outside forces are the same – the micro-aggressions, the expectations of teachers, the need to understand “where he comes from” – but his ability to understand these things are obviously not the same. And I did not have these experiences – through 5th grade I was in an all black school. And when I moved schools, it was truly integrated, not just in name, but in deed.

    And then I also wonder at whether this message we give our kids is confusing to them – on one hand we say – do your best, do better than your best, you are a model for your race, you must succeed. But on the other hand, be true to your race, be aligned with those less fortunate than you, don’t be special. As an adult, I know what that means. And when I was a child, that was easy for me – I lived around all black people, my early years, until I was 10 was with all black people, my cultural styles and ways of being were “certifiably black.” But when we have children who don’t grow up in black environments, its hard for them to understand what being “black” means, outside of the very stereotypical portrayals they get from the media.

    I worry about this for my children, who in their formative years, are not in a black enclave like I was. And even though I’m trying as hard as I can to create it, it’s artificial – weekly playdates, once a month gatherings, church on Sunday, sending them to Philadelphia for a few weeks in the summer. This school year will be the first time where they will be totally immersed, all day, in environments where they are the only two, and my only solace is hey, at least they’ll be together, and they are tight with each other.

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    1. Peace Latoya,

      I actually started the conversations pretty early on. I think he’s well adjusted and not at all confused. I just hate having to do it… but he gets it, he’s been hearing it long enough. I mean he REALLY gets it…he has friends of all races, religions, etc. He was selected as one of the students to participate in a leadership retreat to discuss and bring back ideas about how to promote diversity on campus. I feel pretty confident in the job I’ve done teaching him to respect EVERYONE, and to not let others ignorance and stereotypes influence him to be anyone other than who he is…

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  7. Thank you for this post, Latoya. It made me wince, since I’m in the “head in the sand” mode. May I ask, how old is your son? And when did you begin to spell it out for him?

    Also, can you say more about this: “I will revisit the type of backhanded compliments and examples of racial micro-aggressions that he might hear from his classmates and instructors. I’ll go so far as to role-play and challenge him to think about how to respond.” I’d love to have some specific examples, because I know I really do need to begin this conversation. Maybe I need a primer.

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    1. Hey Rita! My son is 16. I’ve been having these conversations about him since we moved here 2 years ago. Prior to that he was at all Black schools, and though we talked about race, it was a different context.

      The type of micro-aggressions: when kids learned that he played chess he was greeted with shock and awe: “woww! You play chess?!”

      People giving him directions back to East P.A even though we asked for directions to P.A .

      Folk making comments about being “so impressed” about any academic ability he’s shown.

      In terms of role playing: I LITERALLY make similar comments like those he’s heard and ask him what he’d say. Also, asking what he’d do in certain situations….

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  8. Thank you for this post. I read it via Love Isn’t Enough and while my situation is different, I believe that there are similar threads. My children are Latino, my son is fair-complexioned and my daughter is olive-complexioned. I have role-played with my son (6 years old) how to handle comments from kids at school as to why he and his sister don’t look alike, why she doesn’t look like me, etc. As my daughter gets a little older, I plan to do the same with her. Even as young as my daughter is (3 years old) I have had people surprised that she is smart and that she speaks English so well. Yet no one is surprised that my son is smart nor at his language abilities, except perhaps that he speaks fluent Spanish, since he doesn’t “look Latino”, whatever that is supposed to mean. I think that is incumbent on all families to discuss race, not to be color-blind, but rather to be up front and honest so our children know what sort of comments and stereotypes they are going to encounter.

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  9. Powerful and real. (Sorry if this is repeat..not sure if my other post posted) Other versions of training we have to give Black males is how to handle themselves so they don’t receive bodily harm stopped by the police. This is taking place in some places. (Not bad mouthing all cops but we have had our challenges with some of them.) These realities are painful and still exist. So we have to continue to support our brothers, let them know they can transform pain into strength, transcend and rise above. They can because they are noble spiritual beings and we have to tell them this, treat them that way and then support, support support because it is still not easy to live with the realities of race

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    1. Thank you Tod! Yes, and I have had that conversation with my son as well. I’m glad I did, because since we’ve lived here, he has been stopped by the police. He responded well and told me about it…he was well-prepared. Tragic that may be I suppose.

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