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.