On the Legacy of Brown

“…Brown, seen solely as a school case, must be considered a failure.”

– Robert L. Carter, federal district court judge for the Southern District of New York, former general counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, presented part of the oral argument in Brown v. Board of Education in front of the Supreme Court.

Brown v. Board of Education is known for overturning the legal doctrine of separate but equal, which was settled into national law by Plessy v. Ferguson. Plessy was a case that said that a Louisiana statute that MANDATED blacks and whites sit in separate cars was legal. That court essentially held that separate could be equal, and any connotations of inferiority felt by black people was of their own doing, not by the law itself. Brown overturned that, saying that the state cannot enforce laws that required separation, that de jure segregation was inherently unequal because it connotated that one race, i.e., whites, were superior to the other, i.e., blacks.

Prior to Brown, the LDF hadn’t attacked segregation in public schools on its face. Rather, it had made the claim that blacks schools were not equal in facilities, curriculum, etc., and fought for the courts to order school districts to equalize black and white schools. In many cases, this strategy succeeded. But the LDF realized that they could do more; victories challenging the basis of segregation per se in higher education showed that there really was something inherently unequal in state-sanctioned separation. In law schools, for example, access to other students who were to be future colleagues, an alumni network, prestige and traditions the Court agreed were “intangibles” that equalization of facilities could never overcome.

So Brown was decided this day 57 years ago, and “separate but equal” was declared unconstitutional. Continue reading “On the Legacy of Brown”

Is the high black abortion rate a problem?

I’ll spare you the suspense: I think not. Now read on for the rest.

Here’s my position: I’ve never had an abortion. And I don’t think I ever will. I have friends and family who have. I am staunchly pro-choice. I was kind of pro-choice before having children. I am even more so after having children. It’s a responsibility only those who truly want to do it should take on. We don’t support parents in this country. And arguments about all the people who want unwanted kids are BS. Look at how long kids stay in foster care. 

So here’s the deal. As I regularly troll the internets for stories about black children and black mothering, I came across this op-ed from Dennis Byrne, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, commenting on the billboards across the country that try to shame black women into not having abortions. Although he is neither black nor a woman (his words), he thought it his (duty? calling?) prerogative to comment on the “high abortion rate among blacks.” Here’s the gist:

Political correctness and ideological dictates discourage discussion of the culture of some black communities as explanative of violence, ignorance, high rates of abortion and other dysfunctions. But for those communities, culture is described by the growth of a matriarchy, as displayed by the many grandmothers raising their daughters’ children. By the absence of men in child rearing. By men who prey on young women who have never learned what to expect from decent, caring and responsible men. By the collapse of the family and the destruction of men’s and women’s traditional, balanced roles in making children strong enough to resist the challenges of today’s broader culture of irresponsibility, casual sex, substance abuse and other plagues.

In this op-ed, Byrne rehashes an old, but reborn, theory: that there is something intrinsic to black “culture,” independent of any outside factors, that accounts for the disproportionate numbers of abortions in black communities.

This makes my blood boil. One, because as a scholar who studies culture, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

First: on culture. Byrnes defines culture as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group.” Um, not quite, homie. Where do these beliefs and behaviors come from? They don’t just spring forth from the middle of the earth, waiting for people to adopt them. Culture is not “created” nor does not exist in a vacuum. Culture is both responsive to and part of shaping structure; many sociologists, such as myself, explain culture as the opposite side of the coin to social structure. The growth of a matriarchy (which is largely a myth, I believe to demonize black women) and the dearth of men available to actually father their children are events, happenings; they are not culture. Nor did not happen outside of the influences of social structure. Many factors colluded to affect that outcome: collapse of manufacturing industry; subsequent high rates of black male unemployment; mass incarceration; felon disenfranchisement; the crack cocaine epidemic.

Culture reflects options available within a given social structure. Yes, people make choices, and they have agency. But agency is not what we think it is as total free will, ability to choose anything and everything. Culture reflects what one BELIEVES to be their options, what one can do with what one is given. So black “culture” can never be defined as one thing, one way of being, one way of behaving. Because we live in a myriad of structural positions, and some of us have options that are not available to others and vice versa. And among the options, some of us choose #1 and others choose #4 and so on.

THIS is not all there is to black culture, despite the moniker...

The “collapse” of the family structure is less to do with any possible independent effects of culture than with the structural effects of class. As I’ve discussed here before, a class structure that allowed for families of any configuration to make a decent living would have more time for child rearing. A school system that did not grossly and blatantly favor wealthier children over less wealthy children would be one in which all women could be educated enough to take care of themselves, and not fall “prey” to vicious and violent men.

If you want to change how people behave, you need to change their options. You need to change what is available to them. You need to change their structural reality.

And two, if the pro-choice side is the “right” side, why should we care about disproportionality?

Making arguments about cultures connection to disproportionality makes clear that true intentions are to get rid of the option to abort altogether. For if you are pro-choice, do you even care about disproportionality? Or rather, should you? If you believe that anytime a woman gets pregnant but for some reason – any reason – does not want to go forward with that pregnancy, she should have the right to choose to end the pregnancy, then every abortion should look the same to you. Regardless of the race of the woman. Disproportionality then appears to be that black women are having more unwanted or mistimed pregnancies, but are also using this option, the option to terminate, more than other women.

This can be interpreted multiple ways, but I’ll offer two that I find the most liberating. First is that black women are more aware of their reproductive rights, are more in tune with what they do and do not want, and are more willing to choose to abort. If you are pro-choice, this doesn’t seem to be a problem – black women are, in not the best language, taking advantage of exactly the right Roe v. Wade stood for – the right to make a decision about your body without anyone else second-guessing you or interfering. Calling these numbers a problem feeds into the idea that black women are not capable, or are somehow ignorant (or culturally deficient), of making this decision for themselves.

Second, this can be interpreted as other women – white, Latino, Asian – are not as gender liberated as black women. Bryne in the article above – as do many men – lament the “matriarchy” in the black community as a disruption of “balanced” gender roles. Who said gender roles had to be balanced? Instead of considering that black women are having too many abortions, maybe women of other races are having too few. In other words, women of other races are less willing to have abortions when they actually would choose to under different structural circumstances. Again, with culture as the flip side of structure, women of other races may feel as though their options (culture) are limited, despite Roe v. Wade, given their structural position.

This is not to say that black women do not experience and live under patriarchy. They absolutely do. But the facts are that black women are less likely to marry than other groups. Not being legally bound to your oppressor is sure to make a difference.

Spoken from a sociologist who studies culture: If you want black women to stop having abortions, if that is your true goal, you need to change their world. You need to make it so that there are no reasons for why a pregnancy would be unwanted or mistimed.

A billboard does not change the world. It just pisses people off.

Hey Michigan: These Are Children

Are you: Homeless? An ex-con? Pregnant? A single mother? BLACK? POOR? In foster care? Well, then watch out – you are a prime target for being denigrated, disrespected, and dehumanized in Michigan.

Not only are homeless women being arrested and charged with larceny for enrolling their children in the wrong school district in Connecticut, but several states away in Michigan, single, pregnant, and Black teen moms have been arrested in Detroit for staging a sit-in in their school to protest the fact that it will be shut down at the end of the school year.

Sarah Ferguson Academy is one of the only schools in the country that educates pregnant teens and teen moms. This schools raises its own money through its agriculture program – a farm, in the middle of Detroit. 90% of its students go to college – any college, somewhere, anywhere, and get money to go there. This school makes sure that these children – because they are still children – are getting an education, learning how to be parents, making a better life for themselves and their kids.

But now that Michigan state has taken over Detroit – yes, they’ve taken over the entire city – a “dictator” has decided to close a bunch of schools, including this one, unless a charter organization agrees to take it on. And the charter can do with it whatever it wants, which means either way, this school will probably close. But these girls value their education SO MUCH that over Spring Break they organized a sit-in, and occupied their school to protest the dictator’s decision.

And what does the state do? Arrest them. (Please watch the video here. Watch the police officers manhandle pregnant teens and turn on their sirens to drown out their shouts.)

***

It’s not only in the schools. A state senator, in order to save money, recently introduced a proposal to restrict foster children in their apparel choices. For their clothing allowances, which nationally are only about $200 a YEAR, Sen. Bruce Casswell would propose that this money could only be spent in thrift stores.

Yes, you read that correctly. Foster children would only be allowed to purchase used clothing. Apparently since this Senator never had anything new as a child, neither should children who are not living with their biological parents and are in a limbo state of extremely stressful uncertainty.

[pause]

Update: After the story went viral, the good Senator amended the proposal to say that the children could buy new clothes, but wanted to make sure the gift cards they received would only be used for clothing and shoes. Because of course, foster kids can’t be trusted to only by clothes. They might spend it on candy and soda.

I’m sorry, but Michigan is coming off like a state that hates children. Poor and/or black children to be specific. And it pisses me off. What about you?

What you can do:

Donate to cover the girls’ legal fees

Contact the good senator

Doll Tests

Dolls have a particular significance in the lives of children. My daughter is just now beginning to form an attachment to her little brown doll, named, rather appropriately by her, “Baby.” She’s started moving Baby’s hand in a “bye-bye” motion, and now insists on putting Baby to sleep at night before going down for sleep herself.

I thought of my daughter and her Baby this week as I showed my students film of what dolls can say about childrens’ perceptions of themselves. The famous doll tests, used by social scientists in Brown v. Board of Education to prove that racial segregation caused self-hate and feelings of inferiority among children of color, have since been replicated. More than 50 years after the case, the results are the same: white children characterize black dolls and black images as bad, mean, and ugly; black children do the same.

And so, it was with intense concern that I scanned the toy boxes and book collections of two pre-schools I visited this week, in anticipation of enrolling my daughter in a morning program. My husband and I have managed without daycare for this long, believing we were the only caregivers certain to value her brown skin, kinky hair, and big brown eyes. But at twenty months old, it is now time for her to socialize more regularly with other children, and to form trusting relationships with other adults.

I searched the toys and books because I knew I could not count on finding other black children at the schools. Although the director of the first school I visited tried to pretend that she really had to think about the answer when I asked “Are there any black children enrolled here?,” she ultimately had to tell me what I already knew from visiting the classrooms: “No, there are no other African-American children enrolled at this time.” The response of the director at the second school was the same, although I did encounter one thing that I did not encounter at the first school: a black baby doll. In fact, it was a white child playing with a black baby doll. And, as I scanned the room further, I noticed pictures of children of color on the walls, and books featuring children of color on the shelves. A close look at the school calendar revealed a Black History Month event scheduled for next week. Noticing my attention to these details, the director of the second school said to me, “It’s important to us that we have more children of color here; in the past, we have gone to black churches in the area and made an enrollment push. We remain committed.”

Just a few minutes ago, I received an email from the 2nd director, notifying me that we had made it off of the waiting list, and were being offered a spot for my daughter in the fall. In the spirit of Brown, she will be a black child attending school with white children. Contrary to the spirit of Brown, she’ll be the only one. And yet, like the social scientists in the landmark case, I’m relying on the significance of that black baby doll and a child’s reaction to it, hoping that this time the doll says something more positive–more hopeful, even–about what the racial climate will be for my little girl at this school.

The Lottery

In the era of education standards and accountability, the debate regarding the potential of charter schools to reform American public education, particularly for children of color, has heated up. Against this backdrop, several films have recently been released about charter schools. In anticipation of a classroom discussion I intend to conduct about one of them, I recently watched the “documentary” The Lottery. In this case, the quotation marks are intentional, because boy, was this one shoddy piece of documentary work.

My critiques of The Lottery are numerous, but I’ll start with data, or the lack thereof. Sackler, the film’s director, did not attempt to provide viewers with any data about charter school performance compared to traditional public schools. But then again, I don’t blame her. If she had, she would have had to admit that the most comprehensive study of charter schools to date found that fewer than 20% of the schools provided its students with better educations than public schools, almost half offered comparable educations, and more than a third offered their students inferior educations. Talk about your inconvenient truths.

But the absence of useful data was just one of many failures in the film, with unfair portrayals of the major players in education reform being the next problem. The Lottery shamelessly demonized teacher’s unions without bothering to interview even one union rep or pro-union advocate in defense of the organizations. This, despite the director’s decision to interview, almost exclusively, pro-charter advocates, some of whom likened unions to thugs and mafiosos. Now, I understand that there are plenty of villains to cast in the education reform debate. Even if, however, the unions are every bit as obstructionist as the movie suggests they are, and are dumping bodies in the river to boot, it is only fair to give them the opportunity to voice their perspective. If the director’s intent was to pin blame for public school failure on teachers, that’s fine, but she then shouldn’t have called her film a documentary. She should have called it propaganda, because that’s what it was.

Moreover, I have to defend the unions a little bit on this one. Anyone with an understanding of labor struggles in this country has to acknowledge that unions can and do play a vital role in protecting workers’ rights. Although it is true that union contracts have often enshrined due process procedures that result in the retention of many sub par teachers, it is not true that due process in itself is inherently problematic. Nor do I buy the argument that because these sorts of procedures are “never tolerated in the private sector,” they should not be tolerated in the public. To the contrary, due process is the name of the game in the public sector, and for good reason. Teaching at a public school is a public job, funded by public dollars, meaning that all qualified citizen are entitled to the job. And if, after having given the job to a citizen the government wants to take that job away, there are procedures that must be followed, for the government does not have the right to arbitrarily take away from citizens that which has been provided for only by citizens’ grace. I agree that some of these procedures have gotten out of hand, and that if we are to take the teaching profession seriously, it has to become easier to dismiss underperforming teachers while rewarding effective ones. But we cannot, and should not, get rid of due process. You want the freedom to engage in both justified and arbitrary firings? Go to the private sector.

While conveniently avoiding relevant data and scapegoating teachers and the unions that protect them, the movie lacks any substantive discussion about the real problems with American public education: segregation; funding disparities; poverty; inadequate health care and food insecurity among students. Instead, the film misleadingly suggests that reform is synonymous with charters. And it does so while exploiting black people to make the point. Prominently featured in the film is the contentious battle between a Harlem charter school that petitions to be housed in a soon-to-be-closed-down failing public school, and the black and brown parents who protest the charter school’s petition. Between participant interviews and clips from the heated public hearings on the issue, you walk away with the impression that parents of color are ignorantly opposing the very movement that is going to save their children. Missing from the film is any legitimate analysis of why these parents are so oppositional or what it feels like for a community to have their neighborhood school closed without education alternatives for their kids; most of these parents, after all, will not be able to obtain a spot for their sons and daughters in the new charter school. She never considers what it does to a community when a center in that community–a public school–is shut down. Needless to say, I didn’t appreciate the way in which Sackler’s portrayal legitimated the cultural deficit model that is regularly foisted on black people in this country.

And as if that weren’t enough, I was disgusted by the film’s presentation of the actual lottery. As has become all the rage, many oversubscribed charter schools hold public lotteries, at which anxious parents and their children gather in an auditorium to learn whether their child has won a coveted spot at the school. The parents of students’ whose names are called jump up triumphantly, running to the front of the auditorium, ushering their children towards clapping teachers and administrators who welcome the child to the school. The parents of students’ whose names are not called sit in the chairs despondently, ultimately heading home, clearly defeated by their bad luck. It is heartbreaking to see the looks on parents faces who had pinned their hopes on wining a spot, and the sad faces of their children who realize that their parents’ devastation has something to do with their limited opportunities. These schools say that they hold these lotteries to illustrate demand in poor communities for their services. I say they are exploiting the hopes and dreams of these families, and their beautiful black and brown babies, for a cheap publicity stunt, and that The Lottery was complicit in that exploitation. Not surprisingly, only 1 of the 4 families portrayed in the film won admission to the featured charter school.

In defense of the movie, some say that it at least “started a conversation,” but I don’t think the movie did anything positive to further an honest and realistic dialogue about public school reform in our country. Most people who saw the film are not like me or the other writers on this blog who are knowledgeable about public school education. Most viewers don’t realize that crucial data is missing. They don’t understand why parents in the film opposed the arrival of one small charter school in exchange for the closing of their neighborhood school. Most people sat down with a box of popcorn, were entertained by the drama which unfolded on the screen, and walked away with a skewed understanding of charters as the answer, unions as the devil, and black people as backwards for fighting the closing of their neighborhood school.

When discussing the film with one friend who happens to be an educator, she used the theory of “structural functionalism” to discuss what is happening with public education: poverty and marginalization of many exists to ensure wealth and access for the few. As a person with a B.A. in sociology, I agree that the theory is relevant here. And yet, social science terms can problematically make societal issues seem academic, objective and neutral, numbing us to the real injustice that is operating in the background. I’ve got a better way to sum up what was going on in that “documentary,” the charter school movement, and in American public education in general: this is some racist and classist $hit.

Happy Birthday to Us

One year ago, January 2, 2010, I started this blog. A week or so before, I’d put out a clarion call on facebook for mothers of color to start a group blog about being, well, mothers of color, because I was appalled by the lack of brown mommy representation on the 2009 annual list of the best mommy blogs.

I’m looking through this list again, for 2010, and sadly, not much has changed.

But CocoaMamas definitely made a splash amongst our own – we were nominated and in the running for a Black Weblog Award in the Parenting/Family category this year  – a huge honor for a blog as young as ours. And although we didn’t win, we made a name for ourselves as a well-written, highly timely, blog-to-know-and-read. For our first year, I think that’s fabulous.

So what have we talked about this year? Our most popular post was from just a few weeks ago, written by Carolyn in “Can Fathers Just Walk Away?” , a story about a father who is struggling to maintain a relationship with a son that seems to not want the same. Another post that generated a lot of discussion, written by ORJ in “Too School for HomeSchool”, focused on black parents and the homeschooling option in the face of failing public schools. I wrote, in “Dude, You’re a Fag” about the tragedy that is occurring in the country when children are taking their lives because of bullying for being who they are, which is gay. Benee wrote a provocative piece, in “Father’s Day is For Fathers. Period.” in which she spoke out against single mothers who claimed father’s day as their day. Salina wrote, in “First Day of School Blues” about how she still, in 2010, has to coach her son about the realities of racism as he attends his predominately white and Asian high school. And Tanji brought us to tears in “The Architecture of Violence” with the devastating story of baby Dalaysia, her second cousin, who was brutally raped and murdered this past summer.

But we’re just getting started, folks.

Continue to follow us, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. If I have my way, we WILL not only win a Black Weblog Award, we WILL also make our way onto one of those best mommy blog lists. You must conceive it to achieve it.

Peace and Blessings in this new year, this new decade,

LaToya

What am I Paying You For?

You place your children in their care for more than 8 hours a day. You trust them with your most precious possession; those little bodies that you nurtured and grew inside of you for nine months; or else waited patiently for months, maybe years to become their mama. Many of you came out of the workforce, or chose occupations so that you could avoid having to give them your children. I’ve heard plenty of mamas say, “I didn’t want a day care raising my kids.”

But for the rest of us, who by necessity, or by choice (it’s both for me), day care, nursery school, preschool, whatever you want to call it does play a large role in raising our children. We go to great strides to pick out the best ones. When they were younger, I wanted a place were they would be loved all over and safe. Just safe. They were with a wonderful Ghanaian woman who I still keep in contact with who had a family day care. But the drive was 20 minutes both ways, and when I started the law school portion of my program, and my fibromyalgia got bad, I couldn’t do the drive anymore.

So then God sent us “GaGa,” one of my best friend’s mother, who came over every day and was more like a grandmother than a nanny. And Big A (my almost 5 year old) went to a very reputable half-day laboratory preschool twice a week that cost as much as we paid our Ghanaian care provider for full time care. But everyone said how great it was. And it was.

Big A’s vocabulary tripled that year. He became so independent. I loved the way he was growing. Little A (my three year old) was always at home with GaGa, who loved her to pieces, and had known her since she was a baby. I was comfortable with the care my children were receiving – most of the time, they’d been with black women who were like family. If there was a disciplinary issue, they handled it. If there was an eating issue, they handled it. We were just on the same page. (Except when the Ghanaian was feeding Little A Vienna Sausages, canned meat product – I did have an issue with that.) Big A was just starting to venture into the “real” world, and he was doing great in it.

Fast forward to this year. The real world is hitting my kids like a wall of bricks. They have three care providers on a daily basis: one preschool in the morning, a babysitter that gives them lunch, and another preschool in the afternoon. Why? The short answer is GaGa is moving; the afternoon preschool is the “great” one that Big A started in two years ago and it just stuck; but it’s only half day so I needed to put them in something in the morning hence the other preschool; but there’s a 45 minute gap that neither school will allow the children to eat lunch at so hence the mid-day babysitter. *Sigh.*

And while the schedule isn’t so bad, as the children seem well adjusted to it, it’s more the, how do I say…issues that have been popping up that I’m not quite sure how to deal with. And this has been an issue for me in all service oriented things, not just day care. The question is this:

How do I tell someone that I’m paying, but who is performing really an invaluable service for me, that I’m not really appreciative of the way they are treating/talking to/assessing/simply coming at me with craziness and nonsense?

Case in point: A few days ago, we got a report that the Big A was eating too much snack at school. *Pause* *Blink* What? What do you mean he’s eating too much snack? My first thought was this: although we do get a generous scholarship, the Big A’s tuition is $11,000 a year, not including the summer. Yes, you read that correctly: $11K. And we bring snack everyday to share with the other children. Sooooooo….to me, he can eat as much snack as he wants! For $11K a year, y’all should be servin’ a meal!

And what added insult to injury, was not just that he’s eating too much, it was that he was “taking more than his fair share.”

He’s 4. (and three-quarters, to have him tell it. But you get what I’m saying.) Does he even have a concept of his “fair share”? Are are they just saying my boy is greedy?

And I can imagine it – him sitting there, eyes big at the rice cakes and bananas, oranges and string cheese. I know my child; he’s stuffing it all in his mouth like he doesn’t get fed at home….he’s coughing and gagging because he’s eating too fast…and he’s hungry because he didn’t eat his lunch, b/c he’s waiting for the snacks…yeah, all that.

And now I’m just mad. Mad because they are attributing these grown up concepts to my child who is just hungry. And mad because I also feel like this is a waste of my time, time that I’m paying them for. Is this really a parental problem that they should be bringing to me, with my $11K on the line? For $11K, y’all can’t handle that? (And again, let me say, we don’t pay $11K, due to generous donors and the scholarship fund. But that’s neither here nor there. We still pay a lot. And the teachers don’t know how much we pay.)

I just feel like we pay too much to have to deal with all this little stuff at the day care. I know that I am still raising my kids, even though they are at day care, but in all honesty, I’m paying for their help.  If they are coming to me to report every time the Big A eats too much snack – what do they expect me to do? I know some parents would come during snack time and sit with their child and see what’s going on – I’m not doing that.

The Big A and I talked about it, mostly to say that I was going to tell the teachers that he had to eat whatever was left in his lunchbox before he could have any snack. Easy. Case closed.

And you know what? He ate his entire lunch. I didn’t even ask them about snack today I was so annoyed, and figured that they were bold enough to tell us once, they’d be bold enough to say it again. But what are you going to do? I guess the lesson is when you ask for help, you can’t complain about the form in which it comes.

Dude, You’re a Fag*

This week, the fifth teenager committed suicide after being taunted, harassed, and bullied because he was gay. I watched the parents of the fourth child, only 13 years old, as they explained how their son was endlessly psychologically tortured because of his sexual orientation. The mother broke down in tears, and the father gripped her body to steel himself and hold in his emotions on national TV.

One of the teenagers that killed himself this week was a college student. His roommate recorded his sexual contact with another man on a webcam, of course without the young man’s permission. Twice he did this, sending it out to his friends, and inviting people to watch live. He tweets to his followers: “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay” and “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again”. This teenager was not “out.” He was outed, by his freshman roommate, just as school was beginning, and he responded by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

I’m angry.

I’m angry at the bullies themselves, of course. Certainly in this last case, these “children,” while still in their teens, are college students. The two students accused of the invasion of privacy are 18, and in our society, that’s the age of majority – no longer a minor. It’s arbitrary, of course, but the fawn must become a buck at some point. In some of the other cases, the bullies are 13, 14, 15. Certainly not adults. And so my anger also reaches the school who lacks a no tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, the teachers who didn’t pay attention, and of course the parents who don’t know that their kids are bullies.

But do you know who I really think is to blame?

YOU. US.

Why me, you say? Because you continue to allow people to say “faggot” around you without correcting them, or allowing them to think it’s okay ‘cuz they’re “just playin’.” Because you voted “yes” on Prop 8 denying folks the right to get married. Because you still look twice (or three or four times) when you see a same sex couple holding hands walking down the street, sometimes shaking your head. Because you say things like, “Well, if that’s what they want to do….”, making this big distinction between “them” and “us.” Because you don’t teach your kids that families come in all different types of packages and some kids have two mommies or two daddies and that’s okay. Because you are still trying to fit your kids into tight gender roles and won’t buy your son a Dora water bottle if he wants one or make a pink crown for his birthday if that’s what he wants because you are afraid of either “making” him gay or “encouraging” his gay “tendencies.” Because you still put your son in the Boy Scouts. Because YOU support candidates for governor who says things like:

I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t.

Because YOU, America, are still a highly anti-gay country that refuses to agitate to get Congress to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; because in most of YOUR states, America, gay people can’t marry the people they love; because in many places, America, people can’t be WHO THEY ARE because they fear persecution.

And even if YOU think you’re being progressive by saying, “well, there’s nothing wrong with being gay, so when my kid says it to another kid, it’s not really a slur…” YOU know that’s bullshit. YOU know when a kid is trying to hurt another kid. It’s like when a black child says to another dark-skinned black child, “Ohh, you BLACK” or “Ohh, you DARK.” Saying, “that’s so gay,” is a taunt. There’s nothing nice about it.

And don’t even get me STARTED about Black YOU. Because where would I begin? Prior to this rash of young white men taking their lives, last year 2 eleven year old black boys took their lives due to being taunted about being gay. This beautiful chocolate child hung himself with an extension cord…aren’t we losing enough of our black boys to prison? Are we so dimwitted as a community that we’d have our sons DIE or be imprisoned in the name of their masculinity rather than be the people they are? How dumb does that sound?

Our children reflect US. Not just us, as in US as parents, but US as a community, US as a society, U.S. as a country. It is not shocking at all that children are being bullied because they are gay; being gay is not something that we, as a country, embrace as “normal.” And when you are not normal, in school, you will be bullied. What is shocking is the extreme response to the bullying – instead of fighting back, these children are taking their own lives, letting the bullies win.

So what then do we do? A relative of a teen who committed suicide after being bullied said this in a recent People story: “You can’t make someone be nice…You have to help the person who’s being bullied get stronger.” I tell my children now: If someone hits you once, you tell the teacher. But if they hit you again – you hit them back as hard as you possibly can and KNOCK THEM DOWN. Bullies prey on the weak.

Fortify your child. Let him or her know that you love them unconditionally, and make sure you explain what that word means. Allow them to be who they are, pink Dora cups and all. As they get older, let them know why “faggot” is a word you never want to hear them say and why they should not allow it to be said in their presence. Ask them about who they are attracted to, and be positive as they question how they feel. When you ask your child what happened at school, and they say, “nothing,” don’t let that be the end of the conversation.  Talk about bullies and bullying and what they should do if someone does something to them that they don’t like. Role play and act it out if you need to. If a bully needs to be knocked the eff out, tell the teacher Mama said to do it.

Those suicides happened on all of our watches. They belong to all of U.S.

*Dude You’re A Fag is the title of a book by C.J. Pascoe about Masculinity and Sexuality in American High Schools. I highly recommend it.

Too Cool for Home School?

In researching the home-schooling trend, a movement that seems to be gathering steam, I came across the book “Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League.”  The author begins the book by stating, somewhat apologetically, that her family had not chosen homeschooling because they concluded it was the best option after researching their sons’ educational opportunities.  Rather, they decided on homeschooling in reaction to what “some white people had done to them.”

I can certainly empathize. I have written before about what I think white people might do to my daughter in the school system.   As eloquently explained by my co-blogger, the “colorblind” mantra–all the rage since the election of our first black president–dangerously allows people to ignore the ways in which our society’s institutions and systems perpetuate racial inequality.  In the classroom, it dangerously allows teachers and students to ignore the ways in which race influences their decisions in a learning environment.  And so, I’m anxious about teachers who will underestimate my daughter’s abilities, subject her to racially offensive lessons, or discipline her for “acts of insubordination” that would merely land her white classmates a stern look.  I worry about student social patterns, broken down along lines of race, that may render her isolated by her peers, left out of playgroups, and uninvited to birthday parties.  I’ll be on guard for administrators who, under the guise of “colorblindness” and “objectivity,” will seek to erase people of color from the curriculum all together.

Home-schooled, my daughter could avoid all that.  Our home is full of positive images of people of color; our books include not only black children, but children of all races.  We would never underestimate her ability; in fact, we’d likely expect more of her than public school teachers would.  We could integrate current events into our lessons, placing them in the proper social context, teaching her about race and class in ways that will make her an informed and compassionate citizen of the world.  We could give her a culturally reaffirming and rigorous education.

Alas, it’s only a pipe dream.  My husband and I both work full-time, and so it is unlikely that we will ultimately decide to home school.  We’ll have to settle for using our own resources, as educators and people of color attuned to race and class dynamics around us, to be doggedly vigilant regarding what goes on in our daughter’s classrooms.  All the same, “Morning To Morning” has got me thinking about how to give children of color better educational experiences; could homeschooling be the answer for more of us?

And So It Begins…

 

 

Garvey's 1st Day on Earth

 I knew from the moment we decided upon his name, Garvey, he was going to be someone special. Of course, every parent feels this way about his/her child(ren). But, something in my soul knew he was meant to be. We didn’t plan him, he just kinda made his way to us. We fought a lot, but he brought us together. In the saddest moments I’ve had recently, his smile, semi-funny-but-not-really-funny jokes made me laugh, his dancing has kept me entertained… he’s been my rock. He is going to go far in life… His life has purpose!

Natural-Born Revolutionary

And now, he is going to school.  I discussed here the struggles we were having finding somewhere for him to go to school. On Friday, we finally found out where he is going to school and it happens to be one of the better schools in NYC. It’s conveniently located a few blocks from his father’s job, and my research tells me this is exactly where I want my son to begin his educational path to greatness. I’m quite pleased. He will live with his father during the week and stay with me on weekends. We worked this out in his best interest and I anticipate his success with this arrangement.

And so we’re opening the next chapter: School.

If I cry one more time…

New school clothes: Check
Fresh haircut: Check
Thomas and Friends Bookbag: Check
The Ability to Wipe Himself After #2: Check

Lately, I’ve just been watching him, this firey ball of energy who loves hugs, kisses, trains, and Michael Jackson. This beautiful prince whose future is so bright, this man-child I made. I’m just in awe of him sometimes… I get caught up in loving him so much, it can be overwhelming.

I’m ready. I’m ready to let my baby go out into the outer world we call school. I’m ready for him to make new friends, have new experiences, and be in the care of someone responsible for a bulk of his education. I’m ready for the cuts and bruises. I’m ready for pictures of turkeys made of his handprint. I’m ready for his first written sentence. I’m ready for him to say, “Mommy, don’t kiss me in front of my friends!” I’m ready for everything that comes with taking this next major step…

…I think.

*sniff*

I'm A Star

Yes, Baby… you are