All Black Everything

Uh, and I know it’s just a fantasy
I cordially invite you to ask why can’t it be

Now we can do nothing bout the past
But we can do something about the future that we have
We can make it fast or we can make it last
Every woman queen and every man a king and
When those color lines come we can’t see between

We just close our eyes till its all black everything

Last weekend, I found out that I can’t move to Oakland when I finish my degrees. This was huge news for me; I’ve been at Stanford, in Palo Alto, for the last seven years. I’ve brought two children into the world here, and placed my firstborn in schools here. I have a love-hate relationship with Palo Alto. For for all its suburban beauty and safety, I feel like I am missing something. A piece of who I am. I hate the looks I get. I feel like an alien in this community. The peninsula doesn’t have a lot of us. 

See, I grew up in Philly. I lived around all black folks. I went to school with all black folks in elementary and went to an integrated high school where everyone was “gifted.” I have always knew I was black without anyone having to tell me. I’ve never felt any shame about being black. LaToya was smart, and funny, and cute, and black. None of those things felt like a contradiction in terms.

My kids don’t have that. “Mommy, why am I the only black boy in my class?” I hate to tell him he’s the only black boy in his GRADE. “Mommy, I think my white dolls are cuter than my black dolls.” “But you’re beautiful. You look like me!”

So, for them, I desperately wanted to get out. But, I soon found out, race is not the only thing that matters. So does money.

I applied to two private schools that came heavily recommended by people I trust. I visited the schools, my kids visited the schools. Both were wonderfully progressive, wonderfully diverse. And my children felt like they fit. And so did I.

But money makes the world go ’round. And although the children were admitted, they couldn’t meet our financial need (who doesn’t need aid for a $20K per year per child school?). So we can’t go. I could take a chance on another public school that I don’t know, take my kids to a neighborhood they don’t know, entrust them to new people I don’t know. I could move them to another community. But my hubby works here. And I am more comfortable with the problems I do know than with the problems I don’t know. Even though those problems are soooo deep. But I’ll keep them here.

I was so angry when I got the news. And I was sad. I cried and cried. I worry about keeping my kids here, in Palo Alto. I worry about their self-concept. I worry that they will feel lack in who they are. I worry about their racial isolation in their classrooms. I worry about all the issues I’ve encountered over the last three years. I worry that, in addition to me fighting the teachers to treat them fairly, I also have to fight the stigma and stereotypes of being black in this predominately white, affluent community.

So I’ve decided, that when we move off campus into another place in Palo Alto (as long as we can stay here, we can keep them in their school), our home will be all black. Every book. Every poster. I will surround them with blackness. Talk about blackness. Have them understand the beauty that is blackness.

I can’t wait to have pictures of scientists and sports heroes and heads of state on my walls. I can’t wait to decorate with campus maps of all the places their parents attended school – Penn, Stanford, and Morehouse. I can’t wait to attempt, even artificially, to bring the wonderfulness I experienced as a black girl in a black working class community. Everyone black. Everything black. Black good. Black bad. Black Everything.

Of course I can’t guarantee that this will work. I can’t guarantee that they will develop as strong a sense of a racialized self as I have. They’ll still be the “only ones.” But I will try. I won’t stop trying. If you don’t know, now you know.

13 thoughts on “All Black Everything

  1. I feel your pain. The stats about graduating students is an ongoing problem that has persisted for decades. (although the requirements were changed to push kids out at graduation time) School wise, I would suggest staying put or moving to San Jose / Santa Clara area. San Jose / Santa Clara receive a lot of funding from the tech companies in the region. (Computer labs, training, internships etc.)


  2. Thank you for sharing. I can’t begin to say I understand. I just want things to be different. I want everyone treated equally and history to be told including all people, not just white.


  3. Thank you for this post! So many thoughts! I’m most curious, however, about your own decision to even apply. I know (unless I’m wrong) that you have a scholarly and ideological commitment to public schools–so why did it give way to an application to private school?

    I share the same commitment, but also applied to private schools in the area. We’ve ultimately settled on our neighborhood public school. I think it’s the right decision for us, based on the demographics of the school (black people; not a lot, but enough!), its proximity, our finances, and, ultimately, my scholarly/ideological commitments. But I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t prepared to have other factors like curriculum trump the last factor. And I’m still working through what that means for me as a black mother of a black child.

    We, too, are incredibly weary of being “the only one.” K is one of only 2 black children in her entire school (5 pre-school classes, PK2-PK4), and the only one in her class. She notices and comments on that reality, not just in her classroom, but in her immediate neighborhood. I have done a whole lot to insulate her from the isolation of this, from monthly playdates with a group of parents of color in the area, to making sure our home is filled with images and text that celebrate black people, to making sure she sees people of color on TV (she watched Lupita’s acceptances speech twice; and we’ve been on a Polly binge–a DVD worth every bit of the $30 I spent for it on Amazon), to providing anti-bias training to the faculty at her school (I’m again conducting a 2-part training this year at her school). But I know it is not the same as what I had–living in a black community, and attending an all-black private school until the 4th grade when we moved to a white town. By then, however, between my cultural identity (Caribbean and West African) and my social identity in the US being reaffirmed by my schooling and neighborhood experience, my racial identity was already positively established. I worry that hers may not be, even though I also see an opportunity here for hers to be formed just as strongly–maybe even stronger–because she will have had to affirmatively reach out and claim it. Maybe that’s not a bad thing…


    1. Yes to everything you said. Every year we’ve had a problem in our public school, and I was tired of every year being in tears because I don’t think my children are being treated fairly. And it’s not just our shook, but the link I posted showed the kind of bias that infects the district.

      I think I realized I have an ideological commitment to public schools, but not to racist schools. The schools in Palo Alto are public, but the parents and the school,board treat them like they are private. The amount of money that goes even into school board elections, the amount fundraising every year (over $5 million this year alone), and the sense of entitlement makes these schools run like private schools. And private school parents here don’t care much about kids that are not their own.

      I also struggle with sacrificing my kids to the cause. I’m about to start a new career, and my time won’t be flexible the way it is now. I was afraid to keep them in public schools in Oakland because I wouldn’t be able to devote the kind of time and effort that I do now. I wasn’t going to put them in not-very-good public schools in Oakland. I wouldn’t do it in Philly either. Not-good meaning unsafe. To live in an area of good public schools in Oakland, the rents are outrageous. I chose not to attend — taking out loans — for the private schools more because I thought it was silly to mortgage our whole family’s well being for what was going to be a mystery, no matter how great the curriculum and community is/was. I’m finally realizing that being black in any school In this country is more than a notion. I now understand the homeschooling thing, I really do.

      All in all, I don’t know what the right decision is. I hope I’m doing the right thing, for my kids, for my family, for my community and for my values. The school we have now can make changes, and I’ve already started the work there. So I’ll push on. So many moving parts. And m only one person. I sometimes feel like I’m carrying the weight of everything on my shoulders by myself. I’m starting to believe more and more that I just have to do the best I can with what I have and encourage others to do the same.


  4. I am a SAHM and our son is 4. In our 4 years, we have faced many of your issues so we have decided to homeschool. We are fortunate enough to live in an area that has a HUGE homeschooling community (We have connected with many already.) Because of that, many companies (children’s theater, zoo, science center, sports centers, etc) have special programs for them and there are many co-ops. (I have a meeting next week with a predominately black Montessori school that works with homeschool families.) So much support. I know this isn’t an option for some but this is the decision we made and we so excited.
    Best of luck to you and your family.


  5. “I have an ideological commitment to public schools, but not to racist schools:” nicely said, Toya1 You and Patra might be interested in “Morning By Morning: How We Homeschooled Our African American Boys to the Ivy League,” by Paula Penn-Nabrit. In the book, Nabrit writes that she would love to say that she picked homeschooling because it was “right” for their family, but that the truth is that they picked homeschooling because of “something white folks did to them.” (There was a racialized issued at the private school her boys attended, and of which she was an alum).

    Like you, Patra and Nabrit, I also get the homeschooling thing more than I ever did before. At the same time, I have such deep concerns about homeschooling as a trend–in some ways, I’m more worried about it than I am about racist public schools! I don’t think democracies work well when everybody opts out–when people homeschool because of their “religious” values, that so often end up being sexist, racist, and xenophobic values. I also believe public schools (and, to a lesser but still significant extent, private schools) appropriately expose children to values other than their parents’ values, which is important; having a child doesn’t necessarily mean you have the “right” to raise your child with exposure to only your point of view, although I certainly don’t oppose an understanding that parents at least get a “priority” in value indoctrination. Finally, for children who are abused (emotionally, physically, etc.), schooling outside of the home is often the only way that somebody other than their abusers will learn of the abuse; in such cases, homeschooling becomes an easy way to isolate children and further abuse.

    I realize that in practice decisions to homeschool are complex; and I am not suggesting that any commenters here–or anywhere else, for that matter–who homeschool are unpatriotic child abusers. But ultimately, although I can understand it, I can’t get down with it just yet. I prefer to stay and fight in the public schools, although I also acknowledge that fighting has costs that not everybody can afford to pay.


  6. If parents decide public school is best for their children-great for them.I don’t knock anyone for doing what is best for their family. But we do get criticism from our “own community” about our decision to homeschool. People have said the most ignorant things to us.
    I don’t necessarily see homeschooling as opting out. I see it as another option. Your commitment to public is wonderful but I have not faith in the public schools in our zoned area. The private school we really liked is $20k a year for Pre-K and the tuition increases at middle school. I would have to return to work in order for my family to afford it. Our family choice is that I remain a stay at home wife and mom. It works for us. I don’t judge anyone who works outside the home (a completely different topic) as I said earlier everyone makes decisions that are right for their family.
    Our son is encouraged and will always be encouraged to think for himself. Yes, he will primarily be exposed to our values, however, we do not live in a bubble. Every time he steps out of the door, he is exposed to thoughts, attitudes, actions, etc of many people. If he is viewing a magazine, book, internet, watching tv, etc, he is exposed to the values of others. When he goes to Mothers Day Out, go on play dates-whether publicly or at someone’s home, he is exposed to the values of others. We don’t sit at home! Often, I want to because it can be a challenge dealing with people at times.:) But I can’t imagine what he would come home saying, doing and thinking with his peer group being his primary influence. In any school, no matter how brilliant the staff is, they are far outnumbered by the student body. At school, their peers will be their primary influence. In most cases, they are with their peers more waking hours than they are with their parents. (God forbid if a child is in a single parent household and that parent has a second job.) It takes a very engaged parent to help kids maneuver through all the contradictory information they hear.
    Abuse-don’t really know where to go with that. Children are abused in every environment. I know people who were abused as children and they attended public school and never told anyone. I think using abuse as a negative towards homeschooling is unjust.
    Homeschooling is not for all. Although, it has been a family decision, let’s keep it real, it will primarily be my responsibility. I look forward to so many aspects of it but I also know there are going to be some bad/challenging days ahead. But in my mind, the good outweighs the bad.:) I have a copy of Morning by Morning (thanks for recommending) and few other similar books. Mrs. Nabritt and her family are an inspiration as well as all the wonderful families in our homeschooling circle.
    I encourage you in your fight to improve public schools. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing for our children-the best education they can receive. I wish that for “all our children”.


    1. But that is just the point–we don’t get the best for “all children” unless we are “all in.” Unless we think not just about our children, but about our neighbors’ children as well.

      Yes, it’s another option…An option that involves opting-out of public schools. We can phrase it however we like, but that’s what it is. Now, don’t get me wrong–I considered opting out, too; and I admit that it may be a possibility down the line. But I am also clear that I think that decision would be problematic. And that we would all be better off if we foreclose the ability of more privileged parents like myself to “opt-out.”

      Finally, I understand the desire to want to insulate your children from “bad” influences. But I also put that word in quotation marks. Who is it that we’re so afraid of? Unfortunately, “bad influences” people are often a euphemism for “poor people” or “black people.” I am not saying that it was you, Patra, mean. But I do see this a lot–this hand-wringing over awful peers. And when I start to do it, I check myself–what am I afraid of? Yes, kids are influenced by their peers. Which would mean what–that I’d actually have to talk to my kids about what their peers are doing to counteract that effect? I can work with that. Especially because I know that I am very privileged–I don’t live in an area where children in the public schools are exposed to crime, violence, or drugs in the school building or surrounding area. I would further note that my husband took the wealthy kids from his private high school out for a school trip a few weeks ago, and had to deal with several of them doing drugs on the trip. It is such a common event at their school that when he returned, drugs tests were quickly administered as soon as they got into the school lot. Administrators have to deal with it so often, it’s routine. The kids from the local public schools don’t have the money for those designer drugs. But people constantly tell me that they are worried about “bad influences” at the public schools. Yeah, okay.

      Last week at a kid’s birthday party, my husband was discussing local public schools with other parents. The name of a majority-minority school in the area (for which we’re not zoned) came up, and a white mother said “Oh, I went there when I was in middle school. It was scary.” My husband challenged her–“well, what do you mean? Violent?” Her response, “I don’t know; just scary.” This majority-minority school is safe, and has an excellent reputation in the area, particularly if you can get into the IB program (which is another story unto itself.) So, I am left to conclude that what she means is it was “too black.” That’s the sort of mental leap to which I refer. Again, Patra, I don’t know whether you do that or not. But I’ll admit that I constantly monitor myself to make sure I don’t do it, because I’m not immune to the rat-race that has become public schooling decisions these days. And I admit that should I choose to homeschool or attend private schools, I will have abandoned the public schools. Now, that might be the right thing to do–especially if my child’s mental, emotional, or physical health is truly in danger. But I’m not gonna dress it up and try and present it as something it’s not.


    2. I also want to add that I do not mean to come off as strident, dismissive, or unfairly judgmental. I do mean, however, to push back on the rule which says that what one person does with their child is “entirely private,” because it’s not–it has impact on other children, and other families and parents. It is uncomfortable to take the position I am taking, mostly because privacy allows us to insulate ourselves from the impacts of our decisions. If schooling decisions are “private,” then nobody can hold me accountable for its impact on the broader system. It’s a convenient way for us to frame our parenting “rights,” but I don’t think it’s the right way, or even the fair way. When we start to suggest that there is something public about our schooling decisions–that it is both public and private in nature, as it must be if were are to live together in a society–the discomfort sometimes gets us to think about our decisions differently. Or to at least be more honest with ourselves about what is going on.


      1. I think you both make good points. I have no problem at all abandoning Palo Alto schools for my children if I had the ability to do so. I don’t think schooling decisions are private. But I do think making sure my kids are safe is a private decision and a huge parental responsibility. Who am I first responsible for? My kids or my schools? If I allowed them to have to endure racism when they didn’t have to – especially as young children – then I wouldn’t be doing my job as a parent. I would not leave schools because I thought they were not teaching well, but I would if my child was being bullied and nothing was being done about it. In our schools, I feel that my kids have bullied to an extent – been unfairly targeted, and their “only one” situation is psychologically taxing on them. My son doesn’t want to go to school. I do feel its my responsibility to do something about that.


  7. Thank you so much for your post. Its great to know I am not alone in this struggle. Here in Santa Cruz, I have attempted to create a sanctuary of Blackness – art, books, music, food, movies, everything! I know my four little brown babies won’t get any extra doses once they step out of our door each day, on their way to the neighborhood schools which everyone tells us are the best in town. If the schools here are so great, why did I have to remind my son’s third grade teacher that February is Black History Month, or my other son’s first grade teacher that Africa is a continent and not a country? I make occasional pilgrimages to Oakland too, so I feel your pain. But having spent time in DC and having been raised in all Black schools and communities as well, it is hard to ever feel completely safe and comfortable here. The beach is lovely, though 🙂


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