My wife and I are determined that our daughter will have the things we never had, experiences that were out of our reach due to poverty, death, parental disinterest, neglect, or lack of awareness. We both came from very little, and now that we have something, we want to use our resources to better the life of our daughter. We do this in a variety of ways. But what will have one of the most significant impacts for her is how we educate her.
When you have a child, many experienced parents feel it’s their duty to give you as many pointers (wanted or not) as they can in order for you to “not make the same mistakes I did.” What these pointers really amount to are subtle judgments on your parenting style, how you choose to dress your child, their hair, and where you’re sending them to school. While these are all contentious issues, especially in Black communities, I never felt more on the defensive than around the idea of where my daughter will attend school this fall.
Not too long ago, I was sitting with a group of parents in an animated and hilarious conversation about just how crazy parenting can be. The stories ranged from one mother’s daughter singing Mary J. Blige at the grocery store at the top of her lungs, then deciding to get butt-naked and continue crooning; a father pushing his son on a swing, but accidently pushing him off the swing and the feeling of horror watching his son sail through the air and crash to the ground. (His son got up and asked to do it again.) At this point, there were no judgments, just the sharing of stories to blow off parental steam.
When talk moved to education, there was a shift in the mood.
At first, we all were engaged around the idea of Afrocentric education. We’re all in agreement that the cultural integrity of our children is a paramount concern. It was argued that too many kids lost what it meant to be Black when they attended school. There were many complaints that schools have systematically devalued the Black contribution to the United States, and to the world. Several of the parents opted to home-school, so their child wouldn’t be “whitewashed or erased completely.”
When it came my turn to vent, I informed them of the private school (well known in our area) that we’re sending our daughter off to, and then asked, “what is a Black education for a multiracial child?” If I jumped out of a watermelon bug-eyed wearing tattered rags and holding a chicken wing while tap-dancing, I could not have shocked some of them more.
I won’t bore with the back and forth of what happened, but here’s a summary quote: “Oh, so you’re just trying to make sure she’s bougie and forgets where she comes from.” I argued that we wanted our daughter to have the best education we could afford, and that fits the upward trajectory we wanted her to travel. It is not the school’s job to teach my daughter about her culture, though it is the school’s job to not culturally diminish her or foster a hostile environment of White supremacy.
It is our job to give her the cultural education she needs and deserves. I will not subscribe to the notion of Black or White education because this false idea is why so many Black folks I know have not become as involved in their child’s education as they should be. If you don’t care, why should your child? We anticipate some level of cultural disruption at school—and we are prepared for it.
From the playground to popular media, our daughter knows—at 5 years old—that her skin color (not to mention gender) will cause some measure of conflict. While no one wants to add pressure and stress to a child, you have to present them with the reality of their situation. We’ve already told her, “You might be the only brown-skinned girl at your new school. Some people may have a problem with this.” Her response? “They will just deal with it. It’s my school, too.”
When the inevitable skin color, hair texture, “why am I the only one who looks like me?” challenges rear their demonic heads, we will affirm her by saying the same things we’ve been expressing since the day she was born. “Your hair is beautiful; your skin is beautiful; your story is beautiful; and you are beautiful.”
Now, let’s see about this homework.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.