At night I wake up in a cold sweat thinking about the education my children receive. Thinking about their future sends a twinge of cold fear up my spine. Why did I move my kids from the semi-urban neighborhood where we owned our home to rent where we go to school now? My brain sings the answer to me as a well-tuned black church choir of 100 harmonic souls: “the zip code”. Fortunately for me our pocket of this zip code is one of the most uniquely diverse places I've ever lived in culturally and socioeconomically. My kids lucked out on not being the token in their culturally international classrooms. This isn’t a typical experience for many kids whose parents did the same thing as I did. Many “token” kids grow up as unwanted guests in their schools or grow up defending and rejecting a perceived notion about their personhood or culture all in the name of getting a “better education”.
I've sat through my share of panels, read scholarly articles, and have spoken with many parents of color, specifically black parents, who see access to “the best” schools and “the best” opportunities as a synonym for white. I've often corrected my friends and peers on this notion. The notion that even in 2017, you are programmed to see white as “the best”. But is it “the best”? I think we need to see “the best schools”, “the best opportunities”, and economically stable whiteness, as well funded, carefully cultivated, and wholeheartedly supported, in ways that black, brown, yellow and, yes even poor white, schools and communities are not.
It is a ridiculously narcissistic trope that black people are fighting for desegregation in 2017 because we want to be around white people, that we want to be them, or even that we love them. The thing is, “minorities” just want respect and equity. We need to end the rhetoric that portrays black people as victims of Stockholm Syndrome when we aren’t. The desegregation discussion always centers around “diversity and inclusion” when it’s not about feelings. At the heart of the matter it’s not about white people being around or not, people of color desire a high-quality and equitable education. Is that unreasonable?
What causes black flight? Being around whites isn't the key to quality education, it’s the economics of the choices and mismanagement of resources by the state and by local school boards, that drives blacks to move into white neighborhoods in the first place. It's not our love for white people or our desire to be like them or have what they have. As “Booker T. Washington” as this sounds, I want to make it clear that I believe heavily in a diverse (cultural and socio-economic) world, however until human nature catches up with my ideology, we need to be frank.
The time has come. We must pivot and take over the desegregation narrative because it is distracting and untrue. Can the so called black leaders in education begin to make this statement of truth- ‘It's not about feelings it's about survival’? If the United States should stay a mighty nation, we must prepare American kids of all colors to survive in a global economy. It's not about how I feel about my neighbor or if I like their culture. It's not about whether I want to be loved by others or if I want to be picked on your team. It's about survival. And if we want to be blatantly honest, our country cannot survive with an education system constructed to produce 37% of students (of all colors) as properly prepared to enter into the workforce. These are failing numbers for our country.
Poor, middle, and upper class blacks just want what everyone else wants- equality. We want an equal opportunity for our children to reach their full potential and if that means staying in a homogenous neighborhood, moving to multicultural school environment, or subjecting our children to tokenism in a homogenous white community, so be it. But the fight for educational equality is not rooted in the idea that we want to become anyone other than our best selves… I don’t care if you like me as long as you respect me and leave me alone.
Look at all of the homogeneously black schools where regardless of their economic status, the school graduated more than 90% of the graduating class and above 80% of those kids went to college. Do you think that those parents cared that there were no white students in the institution to ensure their education would be solid? Hell no, the parents were pleased with the results the school produced. Let’s be honest… Do you think the first black girls and boys who desegregated schools in the south actually WANTED to go to those schools? Think about it. As a teenager would you want to subject yourself to racism, ostracism, and a full on assault of your identity and culture? Do black kids in all white environments in 2017 want to do the same but do so by experiencing microaggressions and blatant ignorance?
Let's not be lazy in our solutions. It's lazy to think that administering an IQ test to pick the best and brightest; or sending a few poor black kids to parochial and independent schools; or moving your family to an all white suburb would result in black children getting a better education. This doesn’t get to the heart of the problem. Parents of color and educators working in communities of color, must demand that all schooling funded by tax dollars is up to par with their contemporaries on the other side of town. This is why we rush to desegregate. The blatant inadequacy of offerings results in the continuation of disparity within a group of people resulting in the perpetuation of a caste system. A system that feeds into a racist narrative, the school to prison pipeline, teenage pregnancy, and the like. Black flight to white schools will not solve these issues. White flight and seclusion only exacerbates the situation by creating more obstacles and hurdles to overcome. White classmates and white schooling is not the solution but a bandaid on a larger economic ideological practice.
I look forward to the day that I don’t wake up at night asking: “Why do we continue to build walls to access when the words 'and the pursuit of happiness' are literally written in our founding documents?”; “Why is there segregation in 2017?”; and “Why did I move my children here?”. Ideally a multicultural and multi-socioeconomic community would be the utopian promise to all children across America because that is the reality of this nation. However because we as humans, can't seem to get our shit together, segregated environments will exist as homogenous neighborhoods sit adjacent to each other. Forcing people to get along is difficult and it's ridiculous to make this the focal point of the desegregation issue when equality and economic opportunity should be its foundation (especially if we keep saying we are all equal in the eyes of God and the law). Our country cannot maintain the status quo, and until white fear is eliminated we cannot continue focusing on empathy and respect and peace and love as the center of the desegregation discussion. The argument must focus on the reallocation of resources to support equitable public education across the nation to bolster our country’s economic survival in the global economy.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working to make life more equitable for all people. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.