What We Shouldn’t Tell Our Children About the Trayvon Martin Verdict

 — written by my sista Salina Gray

I’ M saddened and actually surprised by the number of people who carry such FEAR and worry into their parenting. And what’s most tragic is that they’re giving it to their children … And even other peoples’ children. I think perspective and rational thinking are crucial when you’re responsible for the welfare of a child.

Please stop telling your children what a bad and dangerous place the world is.

Please stop telling them that everybody hates
them because they’re Black.

Please stop telling them that random non-Black folk are hunting them down in the streets and killing them. It’ s just not true.

Trust if we did a RIGOROUS and ACCURATE data analysis and reporting of the results (here in the U.S) the numbers would show that it is NOT ‘open season’ on Black people as I KEEP seeing people say.

And please stop telling each other that Black boys ‘aren’t safe anywhere.’

And stop telling them that George Zimmermans’ acquittal means that their lives don’t have value. Trayvon’s life had value. Oscar’s life had value. No matter what Mehserle, Zimmerman or their supporters think. The decision of these 6 women, the defense, hell the whole judicial system in Florida does NOT determine the value of our babies’ lives. Sorry. I will NOT accept or perpetuate that narrative.

Tell them instead about the centuries old diseases called White Supremacy and racism. Tell them about the origin of this race and color mythology. Talk with them about their manifestations and impact on every facet of our lives and the importance of eradicating them, creating a world where No group is stereotyped, mistreated, marginalized, oppressed or abused.

EMPOWER them with self confidence, compassion, empathy and courage.

Seriously.

Stop w/the wimpy cowardly parenting already. That shit is way unhelpful. And it is NOT how the Ancestors who lived, fought, bled and died to be recognized as human got down.

Perspective based on actual data not just personal experience, anecdotes, anomalies, and what the media portrays is necessary.

We need to raise Warriors.
That won’ t be accomplished by instilling fear, doubt, and worry.

I learned a LOT interacting with OG (as in Original Gangsta) parents. Even in the midst of gangland, they raises their babies to be SOLDIERS: proud, reppin their set, their block, their hood and their flag to the FULLEST. EVEN in the midst of their enemies.

I apply that same mentality to my parenting and teaching.

If my analogy is lost on you and you dont understand where Im coming from… Ill say it this way:

in the Spirit of Malcolm, Ella, Yaa, Fannie Lou, Arundhati, Lolita Lebron, and the countless who have committed their lives to the struggle… EMPOWER your babies. Give them HOPE and not hopelessness…

Please.

Where are their comfort dogs?

At first, I thought that comparing the experiences of the slain children in Newtown to the slain black and brown children across this country was insensitive. I thought that it just wasn’t the time to point out the inconsistent treatment of dead children due to gun violence. I thought that no matter the color of the child, the pain to that parent is the same. And I still think all these things.

But as I’ve taken in the media coverage in the past 4 days, I’ve started to get a little annoyed. Angry even. And ultimately unbearably sad. And perhaps that’s my fault for watching the news, and their macabre fascination with death and tragedy. It seems that CNN simply cannot get enough footage to capitalize on the pain and sadness of others. Their camping out in front of churches where children are being buried despite the families’ requests for privacy? I almost want to throw my shoe at the TV. But instead, I just change the channel.

But not before I saw the comfort dogs.

comfortdog

The beautiful golden retrievers dispatched to Newtown to bring some joy to the children of the community. The dogs trained to be gentle with even the most aggressive child. The dogs putting their nose to a 4-year-old’s nose. A shiny golden coat gentle rubbed beside a rosy cheek.

 

And while my heart broke with the memory of the pain, it also broke at the injustice of the disparity. At the fact that it seems that some kids’ deaths mean more than other children’s deaths.

For where were the comfort dogs to heal the children living in the Florida community of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, children likely traumatized that they could be shot down under the Stand Your Ground laws?

Where were the comfort dogs to heal the children living in Chicago when 7-year-old Heaven Sutton was shot in the back after running from her mother’s candy stand when she heard gunshots?

Where were the comfort dogs to heal the children living in Camden, NJ when a 6-year-old first grader was murdered trying to protect his 12-year-old sister from rape?

Where are the comfort dogs for the millions of children in Philly, Detroit, Chicago and other urban areas who are suffering from PTSD from the DAILY threat of gun violence and death?

 

I want the children of Newtown to receive all the good things this world has to offer. I want all the well-wishers to send teddy bears, cards, and care packages. I want the knitters to send their handmade monsters to every single child at Sandy Hook Elementary School so that they know we love them.

But I also want the Camden first-graders to get comfort dogs. I also want Heaven’s classmates to get handknit monsters. I want a CNN special for every child who has ever died due to gun violence. I want their names and faces plastered on TV with words about their favorite book and how their smile brought their families joy. I want news vans to stay on the scene for days talking about the senselessness of every child’s death.

 

Not just for the children who go to school in a “bucolic” New England town.

Not just for the children who go to school in a place that had not seen more than one homicide in the last ten years.

Not just for the children who go to school where the vast majority of them are white.

 

Please understand me – when I see the face of each and every 6 and 7 year-old who died in Newtown, I see my own almost-7-year-old first grader. I hold nothing against those children or their parents or their community. I just want equity. I just want EVERY child to be remembered. I just want the same outpouring of grief for EVERY child who dies of gun violence. They may not have died en masse, in one classroom, in one community, but they are dying nevertheless. Their parents are hurting nevertheless. Their classmates are traumatized nevertheless.

I want the sports teams and day time TV hosts and churches all over the country to observe moments of silence EACH time ANY child dies from a gun’s bullets. I just want to feel some sense that if my cousin’s children, who still live in Philadelphia, are murdered by gun violence that the nation will mourn for them. I want some sense that if the children who play at the Boys and Girl’s Club in East Palo Alto were gunned down that the nation will mourn for them. I want some sense that black and brown little children matter too.

But I won’t hold my breath.

 

dying in the streets

i wasn’t even going to comment on trayvon’s death. so many others have said so many eloquent things that i just didn’t feel the need to add anything. but then my son, my 6-year-old prince, made me see that silence is not what’s good in these streets.

i watch this news with my kids every morning as we eat our breakfast. i understand they may not “get” everything, but i want them to know there is a world out there bigger than them. well, this morning on good morning america, there was a story on the shooting death of trayvon martin.

my six year old son sees trayvon’s picture and asks – ‘who is he?’

me: ‘he’s a child – a 17 year old boy – who was shot and killed while walking down the street.’

him: ‘why? what was he doing?’

me: ‘honestly, he wasn’t doing anything. he was black and walking.’

him: ‘that’s just like martin luther king. he was shot because he was black too.’

my six year old son can recognize that this shooting of a black child is as suspect as the 1968 shooting of a civil rights legend. my six year old son can recognize that something is as amiss in our society today, with our black president, as it was when blacks were still fighting for our “rights.”

[pause]

how many more trayvons do we need to see that race and racism is as alive today as it was 50 years ago? the means and methods have changed, but not the end results.

our peoples are still dying in the street in this war.

and i still need to teach my black son how not to become a casualty.

Out the Mouth

“If you speak Chinese, you must be white.”

******

The other day, my son, age 6, my daughter, age 4, and my husband and I (age 30 something) were driving down a busy street on our way to drop me off to have lunch with a friend. On this street, there are a number of restaurants from many different cultures: Japanese, Chinese, Indian, American, Italian. For some reason still unbeknownst to me, my son noticed a Chinese restaurant and said the words that begin this post.

I don’t think my husband heard these words, but I sure did. I immediately responded, “Well, Big A, that doesn’t really make sense. Most people who speak Chinese are, well, Chinese. Not white.”

“Yes, they are. They are white.”

At this point, my husband says, “What? WHAT??” I put out my hand, meaning to signal, “SHUT UP.” Big A continues:

“This girl in my class, Benny*, she speaks Chinese. And she’s white.”

Now, I know Benny. Benny is certainly NOT white. But perhaps she is biracial, so I allow for this possibility. “Well, maybe Benny has a white parent and a Chinese parent. But she’s at least part Chinese. That shows that non-white people can speak Chinese.”

And then something really brilliant comes to me.

“And you know what, Big A? Ms. Arlene* speaks Chinese. Did you know that?” Ms. Arlene is a very close family friend, and she’s black. But she speaks fluent Chinese, and is teaching it to her (black) children.

Big A: “Well then she must be white.” Loving the 6-year-old logic.

Me: “But you know she’s not. She’s black, like us.”

Big A: “Ms. Arlene’s not black. She’s brown.” Ut-oh. Ms. Arlene is light-skinned, but only a little more so than Big A and his sister. At this point, I’m a little lost, especially because we have now pulled up to my lunch spot, on a busy street, with no time to sit and continue to chat. I’m torn between three interrelated issues that I’d like to address in my last words. So I chose what I consider to be the easiest.

“You know, Big A, Chinese is a language. Anyone can speak Chinese. Just like anyone can speak English. You can speak Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Swahili – it doesn’t matter. Language is available to everyone.”

But this point, his eyes have glazed over and he’s on to some new distraction outside his window.

****

The other two issues, outside that of language specifically, was dealing with the “Chinese = white” racial confluence and the “light-skinned = brown not black” skin color conundrum. Several days later, however, these two kinda intercepted.

We’re watching Ni Hao, Kai-Lan. It dawns on me that this is a perfect time to address the “Chinese = white” issue. Kai-Lan is obviously Asian, right?

“Big A – look! Kai-Lan is speaking Chinese, and she is Chinese, right? Not white, right?”

Never looking away from the television: “She is white.” I suppose it’s not obvious.

“What do you mean? Kai-Lan is not white. Look at her!”

“Mommy. You look at her. She’s white.”

******

I thought I’d done well by “teaching” my kids that they were black. I wanted them to understand one of the social groups to which they belong, and to have a deep seated appreciation and love for their social group. I never wanted to reduce being black to skin color, but have definitely used skin color as a starting point for our conversations.

But now I realize that I must go deeper, even starting at such young ages. I somehow assumed that they would innately see and appreciate the difference among folks once I pointed out their blackness, but I now realize either (or both) one of two things is occurring: 1) they only see themselves (black) verses everyone else (non-black = white) or 2) they are utterly confused about themselves being “black” when their skin is not Crayola black and therefore are not able to tell the “difference” between other groups with similar skin colorings.

Sigh.

I’d thought that “teaching” them about race would be like “teaching” them about our religion, Christianity. I thought they’d hear the songs and the stories and the admonitions, “You should love God” and a love of the Lord and Jesus would just permeate their souls. And for a while, I thought that was what was happening. We started really “doing church” two years ago and since then, they will say on their own how much they love God and spout their knowledge of the Bible and prefer Bible songs over other songs and will talk about being like Jesus. And while I understand this is indoctrination in some form, it’s also been a full-court blast socialization, full of questioning and misunderstanding (“is God like magic?”). It hasn’t been one conversation here and there every few weeks. It’s been every day.

If I had to choose, I want my children to have a better understanding of Christ than I do them having an understanding of race. But now I know what I need to aim toward, at least somewhat. Race, ethnicity, culture, and language need to be a constant part of our conversations. Otherwise, one day they are going to misidentify the wrong person. Someone who ain’t playin’ “I don’t know the difference between White and Chinese because I don’t see race.” Yeah, that can’t happen.

 

 

I Pledge Allegiance?

For the last two weeks, my daughter has been making the same observation wherever we go:  “Look, Mommy; the American flag!…God Bless America!”  We don’t talk much about the flag in our house (or about blessing America), but today I found out why she had become such a vexillologist.*  When I dropped her off at pre-school this morning, her regular Tuesday music session was already in progress.  I helped K quickly wash her hands so that she could run off and join her classmates.  As I walked out of the room, I heard her music teacher say, “Okay, let’s stay standing, because I brought my flags with me today!”  I left the classroom, but stood outside the door to watch as the music teacher picked two children to hold two flags, and then led the group in a song that I couldn’t hear, but assume was patriotic.  Watching all of this, I was caught off guard.

My husband was raised in the black nationalist tradition, and I am first-generation—both of my parents are immigrants to the United States.  As a result, neither my husband nor I are strangers to alienation within the borders of one’s own country.  As far back as high school I stopped automatically pledging allegiance to the flag every morning.  Part of it was pure teenage rebellion; I was just daring somebody—anybody—to try and force me to recite the creed.  But part of it was also a political awakening.  It had started becoming obvious to me that, some 30 years after the civil rights movement, Blacks were still not necessarily embraced as rightful citizens of the United States.  The American flag, in all its starred and striped glory, still did not represent me, and so I did not have to pledge allegiance to it.  One need only look at the enduring birthism movement in the country, a full 3 years into Obama’s presidency, to find continuing evidence of the country’s ambivalence towards its minorities.

As an adult, I remain conflicted about my country of origin.  Our national conversation—or maybe lack thereof—regarding marginalization and subordination is discouraging.  A social and legal embrace of “colorblindness” have made impotent the words of the Fourteenth Amendment; instead of genuine respect and dignity for all citizens, we have mere formal equality, as if treating similarly people who are not similarly situated could ever result in justice.  The current discourse about reproductive rights has left me feeling attacked and hurt; the rhetoric makes clears that my capacity as a woman for thoughtful and rational decision-making is still questioned.  Buoyed three years ago by the election of our first Black president, I am now deflated by the racism and classism that still abounds; that is, indeed, on the rise, as indicated by presidential candidates who “don’t want to give their money to Blacks,” or who “are not concerned about the very poor.”  Although I never feel more American than when I am abroad, when in my own country, patriotic stirrings wax and wane.  I dismiss The Star Spangled Banner as war propaganda, but eagerly harmonize to “This Land is Your Land;” I roll my eyes at “America, The Beautiful,” yet, “If I Had a Hammer” never fails to bring me to tears.  I’m ultimately more patriotic to the idea of what American could be, but not what it presently is.

Which brings me back to my daughter.  What, exactly, do I want to teach her about allegiance to the flag?  She is, after all, a citizen of this country, and must learn that, if only to ensure that she exercises her rights.  Like me, however, I’d also like her to see the potential of the United States—which means teaching her to love this country, so that one day she might be motivated to improve this country.  And yet, as I walked away from her classroom today, I felt uneasy about having watched the classroom teacher help K place her tiny hand over her beating heart.  My reaction to such early political indoctrination regarding a country that has still not done right by all its citizens is mixed; much like my feelings about my country, I suppose.

*vexillology: the scholarly study of flags

Oh Na-Na…What’s My Name?

If you didn’t know (and now you do): I’m pregnant! Even though I’m only 17 weeks and looking like 30 weeks, I’m doing well and feeling okay. I’m as tired as I’ve ever been, but writing fellowship applications while attending classes plus running after two kids will do that to you. My pregnancy is the reason things have been kinda slow around here.

So even though I’m not yet halfway through this pregnancy, and I don’t know the baby’s sex yet (but I will find out December 2!) I have been seriously investigating baby names. As you know, my kids both have names that begin with “A” and, as you may not know, both names are Arabic in origin. Most likely, we will continue with that pattern, but it wasn’t easy getting there in the first place.

When we decided on our son’s name, who is the oldest, my husband had reservations about using an Arabic name. Only five short years after 9/11, he was concerned about possible discrimination our child would face simply due to his name. And I’m sure his fears were well founded; many audit studies show the discriminatory effect of the perceived racial background of job applicants based solely on their names.

And just recently, someone told me how they “hated” my first name, even though it’s a name this person was also associated with. When I inquired as to why, they replied, “Because it’s so ethnic.” Their feeling was that stereotypes and negative connotations follow a name like LaToya from jump street. With a name as undeniably “black” as LaToya, people with this name have to work extra-hard to overcome initial prejudice before they’ve even been given a chance.

Her concerns aren’t unfounded; in fact, “LaToya” is a name commonly used in job discrimination audit studies. People with my first name get 50% less calls for interviews than those with “white” names, like “Emily.” When I was young, I also kind of hated my name – it sounded ghetto, hood. I was a bit embarrassed to have such a stereotypical black name.

Of course, my feelings have completely done a 180. First, I like my name. I like writing it with a loopy L and a elegant T. It’s a happy name. When non-Americans hear it, they always comment on how pretty it sounds. They don’t have the same racial baggage that we have here – LaToya is just another name.

Second, I think people should name their kids whatever they like, without fear of ridicule. It really bothers me when folks make fun of the “made-up” names that many working-class and poor black parents name their kids. Once upon a time, “Emily” was a made up name too. Almost all names can find their origin in something that wasn’t the name of a person; Emily (according to some sources) is from “the Latin Aemilia, a derivative of Aemilius, an old Roman family name believed to be derived from aemulus (trying to equal or excel, emulating, rival).” Imagine the first time someone tried to name their daughter Emily. Other folks were probably like, “What? You just named your kid ‘rival’?” I personally find it refreshing that our people are so creative!

Lastly, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should not bow down to racism and prejudice by changing what we do. I can’t teach my children to not judge a book by its cover if I also advocate for folks to change what they would do naturally in order to give off the “right” impression. Furthermore, how many beautiful names would be sacrificed because we don’t want people to know our children are black? Should we all be named Emily or Greg in order to confuse the race gods? Or should we focus on more important things – like making sure all the Sheneneh’s and Bonquishas know how to read?

It is definitely possible that my name has, in some way, held me back. Obviously not too much, since I am a graduate student at one of the world’s most elite universities, with a named fellowship. But even if it had – I wouldn’t care. Who I am is so much more than my name, and I don’t care if people know I’m black before even seeing me. That is their issue, not mine. In fact, being black is something I’m proud of, and if my name introduces that before I can get a chance to, all the better.

(And this is just my jam!)

Loc’ing it Up

Little A’s came out of the womb with almost no hair at all. It wasn’t until she was almost three that her hair began to grow. Little A’s hair is soft and fine. In the sun, it glistens with hints of red.  When brushed, it can be brushed straight.  When left alone, it curls into large corkscrews. It tangles and knots easily when not braided or combed every day. It will begin to loc after several days of being let free.

A typical morning of grooming sounds like this:

“Ouch!”

“Ouuuuccccchhhh!”

“No more comb, mommy! I can’t do it! I just can’t do it!”

These are the protests of my little girl as I comb her hair.

I remember HATING to get my hair combed. No matter what the size of the comb, I remember the feeling of my head being yanked as my mom attempted to pull the comb through. I remember enduring the cornrows and braids so tight so that they’d last all week. I remember crying. I remember pain.

I don’t want that for my little girl.

I never want her to feel like she has to endure pain in order to “look good.” I never want her to dread a specific part of her body. I never want her to believe that something on her needs to be fixed.

So, I’m contemplating loc’ing her hair. My own hair has been without chemicals for about 10 years and loc’d for five. While sometimes I am annoyed with my hair, mostly due to my own lack of creativity, I think loc’ing it has been the best decision I ever made for it. Hair is never no-maintenance, but five years in I wash every two weeks, quickly retwist, which takes an hour, and the lightly oil and brush every other day. No pain. No dread. (No pun intended.) I can wear it back, out, up, straight, crinkly or curly. And it just keeps growing.

When I’ve contemplated this before, loc-ing my little girl’s hair, and aired my thoughts, I’ve gotten all kinds of opinions, the most oft being “Don’t do it!” When asked why, folks usually reply that loc’ing is permanent, and therefore not a decision a parent should make for a young child because “What if they don’t like it? Then they’ll have to shave their heads!”

I think these opinions have more to do with how people feel about locs than any legitimate concerns about child autonomy.

First, we already make so many decisions about our children that are “permanent” — they wear the clothes we want them to have, their dietary preferences are shaped by ours. And I do my child’s hair almost every day in the way that I want it. She’s only 4. Second, it’s only hair. I’ve rocked the TWA, BFA (Big Fat Afro), braids, twists, and press-and-curls. And, as shown above, Little A is adorable with no hair 🙂

I think people who have these opinions are just not comfortable with locs in general.

They think it’s too “ethnic”, too “black”, too much of a statement maker.

They think putting locs in a child’s hair is like expressing your political views on your children.

So what if it is? If the political view is that I want my little black girl to love her hair, and skip the years of self-hate I had about my hair – what’s the problem?

they learned it from watching you

My four year old is the only black girl – hell, person – in her preschool. Last year this wasn’t the case, as her brother was there with her. But this year she is all alone.

Last year, there were some problems with “mean girls” – yes, in preschool. They would exclude Little A, and if there is one thing Little A cannot stand is being excluded. Even when children tell her they won’t be her friend, she replies, “Well, we don’t have to be friends to play together.” Yeah.

So imagine how pissed I am that now children in the preschool are still excluding – but making it explicitly about skin color, eye shape, and hair texture.

What is the school doing about it? Well, first they discussed it with the kids, pointing out how the teachers (none of them black, but two white, one southeast Asian and another east Asian) are all different but they all like and love one another. Next they plan to consult with folks who have experience handling this in early education. They also talked to a few parents, three of whom have a child of color and the other a parent of a white child, because “those were the names that came up.”

Will there be a parent meeting about this? Well, yes, but no date has been set. And their next step today in this conversation? Talking about animals.

Animals.

This whole situation pisses. me. off.

One, this is not a new issue, so I’m quite annoyed at the school’s reactive posture. This should have been seen as a possible problem from what happened last year with exclusion, and me specifically bringing up the problem of race and racial differences. Why they are unprepared for this blows my mind.

Two, why only have conversations with the children most negatively affected – the conversations should really be with the parents of white children. They are the ones doing the excluding. They are the ones acting out racial prejudice.

Which leads me to my last issue – having the teachers address it in school is fine with me, but let’s please recognize that these children learned this behavior at home.

They learned racial prejudice and exclusion from watching their parents.

Young children emulate their parents. They think their parents are the best thing in the world. And in thinking so, they copy what they see their parents doing. I know, because my kids, at 5 and 4, are copying me all the time. My son wants to “wear pajamas like Mommy.” My daughter tries to match my clothes each day. They talk like me, use the same idioms as me.

And while being an overt racist will probably lead to racist kids, you don’t need to be a verbal racist to show racism in your life. You don’t need to say that black people are bad or Asian people are weird for your kids to learn racism. They learn it through the daily experiences of our lives, from what we watch on TV to the people they see on the street everyday. And most importantly – who you hang out with, who you invite over, who are obviously your friends send messages to kids about what you value as a family. For my kids, living in an area that is 2% black, we practically have no choice but to live truly multi-racial and multi-cultural lives. We have white friends who come over, who are obviously mommy and daddy’s friends. We have babysitters that are white. We have good friends of practically every race. And our kids know they are our friends because we talk about them, we hang out with them, they have a constant pressence in our lives. So our kids don’t get any idea about excluding children based on race or appearance.

For (some of) these white kids though, their lives are white. Their parents don’t have friends of other races – they don’t have to. Their kids witness their parents having mono-racial ideas of who is worth hanging out with and who is not. And while kids may not, at this age, put an inherent value on thing like skin color, hair type, and eye shape, they do recognize difference easily enough to see that the only place they interact with people not like them is in school. And they make an inference that if Mom and Dad don’t hang out with these people, then I shouldn’t either – for whatever reason.

This is a nasty lesson to start learning at 4 and 5. I’m determined, however, to make this a teaching moment for all involved, especially the white parents.

I am Troy Davis

Southern trees bear a strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. –Billie Holiday.

I wasn’t a proponent of the death penalty yesterday; I’m not one today. But today I feel a new urgency to end the death penalty in America. What happened to Troy Davis wasn’t just a miscarriage of justice; it was murder. It was state-mandated, legalized murder. Our nation has turned a corner where it is not only unafraid of getting it wrong, it embraces it’s an arrogant sense of its own perfection. How many times was Davis’ execution postponed? No murder weapon found. No physical evidence. Seven witnesses recanted out of nine.  Seven. And guy number eight? That’s Sylvester “Red” Coles. He’s the one the other seven said killed Officer Mark MacPhail.

Reasonable doubt? Better for 10 guilty men to go free than one innocent man to jail? Right. It’s disgusting that we killed a man. It’s disgusting that the MacPhail family lost their police officer son. It’s disgusting that the killer will never be brought to justice for that crime. I’m saddened that a man was murdered in Georgia and it was legal. I’m sad that the barbarism is visited more often on people of color and poor people than not. A 2005 California study found that one is three times as likely to receive the death penalty if you’re accused of killing a white person.  I’m sad that sometimes the system doesn’t work, and the checks we put in still don’t prevent the worst outcomes.

How many times in the past 10 years has DNA evidence learned a man’s name? How many times has 20 years been served when we realize a person is innocent? Over 130 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973. We can’t take this back. We can’t discover new evidence and let him out of death. That alone should compel us to end the death penalty. As a mother I am heartsick. Too often Black boys are assumed guilty anyway.

What gives us as a nation, as a society, the right to kill a person? It’s expensive. It’s cruel. As imperfect beings; we will get it wrong occasionally.  That fact illustrates the inherent flaw in the system. We’ve practiced capital punishment far too long in this country. It needs to end. We need to support the Innocence Project, which fights to exonerate wrongfully convicted people. We need to support Amnesty International. I hope this stinks to high heaven and the stench is so bad we change the laws just so we can breathe again.

The last straw is the fact that there were no dissenters on the Supreme Court. They just signed on to the whole mess. And they had Troy Davis strapped to a gurney, just waiting? That is cruel and unusual. I love cops. I respect the work they do and know that most are good men and women. I hate that Mark MacPhail was killed going to someone else’s aid. I can empathize with his family. It is difficult to lose a loved one to violence and you do want revenge. But for the state to authorize murder is wrong. It will not bring Mark MacPhail back and the risk it too great that we got it wrong. We need to do better.

The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. The struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones that will come after me. ..Georgia is prepared to snuff out the life of an innocent man.

– Troy Davis (via cultureofresistance)

Why I’m In Education Reform

Below is the text of a speech I gave last week to celebrate the 2011 Bay Area Graduate Fellowship cohort Education Pioneers. I was a keynote, representing my cohort, along with Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento (who is engaged to Michelle Rhee – who knew??).

I never thought be working in educational reform, even though come from long line of teachers.

My mother always said: “LaToya, you don’t really like kids.” And that was true. My mom had a family day care – a day care in our house – for most of my life, and I came to resent those kids and their invasion of our space, their monopoly on my mother’s time, and the fact that I was forced to take care of them. I always knew I wanted my own children, but other people’s kids? Naw, son. That wasn’t me.

But this changed when I became a mother 5 years ago to my son, Big A, and again 4 years ago to my daughter Little A. Suddenly I saw my kids in every kid. I felt the same love toward each kid that I felt toward my own kids. I couldn’t explain it, but somehow I understood their vulnerability. I understood why they needed someone to take care of them. I understood why my mother had dedicated her life to other people’s children.

Early on in motherhood, I recognized the differences between my childhood and my children’s childhood:

  • My public elementary school was 99% black vs. my children attend a (very expensive) private preschool where they are the only black kids
  • We didn’t have a car when I was a young kid, so we walked everywhere vs. my kids complaining about walking a few blocks
  • We ate a lot of frozen foods, French fries, and fish sticks vs. my kids eat 75% organic from WholeFoods
  • I’d never been on an airplane until I was 17, and that was to Florida vs. I can’t keep track of the number of times my kids have taken cross country airplane trips

As a parent, I realized early on that my children have advantages solely due to luck of being born in the position of having two college-educated parents, living on a university campus. Unearned advantages. Advantages that have nothing to do with anything they did. Advantages that look like “merit” but actually make false the dominant ideology of the America that anyone can be anything because kids come to school with vastly different backgrounds and experiences, some of whom are much better prepared to fit into the culture of schools.

Yet my children still face challenges. Their black skin means that upon walking into the school’s doors stereotypes are attached to their little bodies. They are unlikely to see teachers or principals or superintendents or governmental officials that look like them, unlikely to see educational reformers with black and brown skins like theirs. They are more likely to end up in special education, despite my PhD education or almost-lawyer status. My son is more likely to end up in prison than in college.

So I work in education reform for them, and for all children who look like them. Despite the general lack of racial diversity that I’ve seen this past summer from the Bay Area’s educational reform leadership, I’m hopeful that educational reformers will begin to address the same issues that we know exists in schools within the very organizations that purport to be harbingers of change.

One thing I am sure of is that my cohort is ahead of the ball. From the midst of these 40 some odd people I’ve met teachers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and policy makers who are also working for my children and children who look like them, and I’m energized and full of hope due to their very presence. I’ve been impressed by their willingness to tackle difficult questions, like the lack of proportionate racial representation in educational leadership, even when it comes from someone as assertive as myself. So while I was honored that they asked me to represent them this evening, I’d really like to ask them to now join me up here.

I encourage everyone in the audience to take a look at these faces. The network created by Ed Pioneers is awash with people like this, people who are eager to work to erase the system of racism and oppression that exist in schools, people who are eager to erase the opportunity gaps, people who are eager to talk about race, class, racism, white privilege, and power, no matter how hard those conversations may be. It’s up to all of us now to make our organizations, our workplaces, and our schools safe places for those conversations to happen.

I’ll be continuing to fight the good fight here in the Bay Area as I finish my degrees and raise my children, hopefully continuing to work with the special education department in SFUSD and support the work that Education Pioneers is doing. I’m truly inspired by my cohort and the Ed Pioneers network that one day equality in education will be a reality for all children.