This post is a reprint from last August, but today was the first day of school for my wee lass and the feelings that I felt last year are pretty much the same today. I wonder if as long as we are in Maine will I start each school year nervous and fearful.
This is one of those posts that will probably come across as disjointed so I will apologize in advance but I hope in writing it, I can work through some of my own issues…after all blogging is cheaper than therapy.
It’s school time and this year the kidlet enters school. We have been getting ready for this by attending the various screenings and Open Houses. I have been putting on my best happy face all the time stuffing down my own deep feelings related to the idea and of having my daughter start school and frankly my pot boiled over last night.
Growing up I was what folks called a good kid, that meant I didn’t backtalk my parents or any adults (considering how quick my father was to spank for small things, backtalk seemed like a great way to end my young life before it started), I made good grades in school and generally speaking I was a studious well behaved kid. The type of kid parents and adults rave about, after all I didn’t cause anyone any grief. Instead my black relatives teased me for talking “white” and made my life uncomfortable which I suspect is why I have little contact with my extended family to this day. My classmates either ignored me or made fun of me for my dark skin, funny hair and overall lack of whiteness. Problem was deep down I was an unhappy bordering on tortured kid who in 4th grade threatened suicide, yet no one believed me and thankfully the idea never went beyond being just an idea.
The older I get, I am convinced that my parent’s decision to send me to a magnet school that was predominantly white played a huge role in my general unhappiness. However my folks were working class and it’s a known fact that by and large working class and poor families do not value or encourage much dialogue on issues like feelings. So I held my feelings in and it was only when I got to high school and discovered weed and booze that I found a release for my unhappiness. Besides the stoners were less bigoted and more accepting of a skinny gawky Black chick. So much fun I had for the first time in my life that going to school became less important especially when I realized I wasn’t going to get my ass kicked any longer by my parents. So when I turned 18, I said fuck it and dropped out and the rest is as they say history. Thankfully I did eventually realize school is not all bad and did return to school as an adult.
The reason I share this is because the kidlet’s impending arrival to formalized education has brought up many of these painful memories, memories of feeling like I had no place, being teased for my kinky hair, shiny legs…thanks to ashy skin my Moms believed in oiling me up so I went to school glistening. Add in the fact my folks were Black hippies and were into shopping second hand long before it was hip, I was a walking outcast.
Truth is while I moved to Maine for my son, I never saw myself putting down roots here. I figured as soon as he turned 18, I would get the hell out of dodge and either go back to Chicago or maybe move to San Francisco. But life happens while you are making plans and well I lost both my Mom and Granny, became a homeowner and well the kidlet was born. On some level maybe I was thinking the magical fairies would get us out of here by the time she was school aged but life doesn’t work that way.
In some ways when it comes to the kidlet we lucked out, her previous daycare was actually diverse, but it was not in out town, it was the town I work in which has a higher percentage of low income families that somehow correlates to greater racial and ethnic diversity here in Maine. Seriously, if you want racial diversity, look for the poor people! She loved her daycare and was fortunate to have as a good friend another biracial child but its school time and she must attend the school in our town and well it’s not terribly diverse. Oh, it’s more diverse than it used to be but long story short the kidlet is only one of two kids of color in her class and the other child is Southeast Asian and does not speak English.
I know this because today when I went in for the last minute school preparations I talked to the kidlet’s teacher and wanted to know how she will address the issue of diversity and was met with a blank look. No, I really mean a blank look. She finally told me that she didn’t think there was going to be any issues because well kids don’t see race or color. Um…..what fucking planet are you on? I suppose my temper started rising when I realized that she had no clue what I was talking about considering the glazed over look her eyes got as I had been explaining some of my concerns with the kidlet starting school and the purpose of this meeting was to talk about the kidlet’s readiness for school based off the assessments that had been done coupled with any concerns I had. Needless to say I have a dilemma, there is no question in anyone’s mind that she is ready for school and from an academic standpoint I think she will do well but I admit it’s the social piece that concerns me.
This past year she was in a preschool that was far less diverse than her previous childcare center had been and already I saw a slight change in how she viewed herself, her hair was not long like so and so. Well no, your hair is curly and while it is long it does not flow like that kids. It’s those little things that concern me because it’s the fact that the standards of beauty are not a kid who looks like her. I think the fact that we have no extended family of color here also bothers me and concerns me, right now the only woman she sees that looks like her is me. At least for me when I finished with my day of torture at school I was surrounded by folks that looked like me at home. On the bright side my Pops is moving out here soon so she will have more exposure to folks like us.
I realize some readers will say well just move, in a perfect world maybe that would be possible but moving is not an option for a myriad of reasons. None worth going into but at the same time I am scared, every kid of color I know out here has at one point or another dealt with racism and bigotry in the schools. A dear friend of mine left Maine last year because she was worm down with battling the schools over the distinct lack of sensitivity to race and difference. Sorry, but no one is moving me out till I am better positioned to do so and that will be a good 5-6 years away at the soonest.
So that leaves me considering what I consider the nuclear option…homeschooling. I won’t lie while I have always been attracted to the idea, I have been attracted to it in the same way you admire your buddy who works out 7 days a week and has a killer body yet you know you have no time or energy to do so yourself. Yet while I don’t wish to put my issues on my child at the same time I feel like I need to start thinking about homeschooling in the event school is a bust. I admit it scares me, the idea of school harming her through the possible cruelness of kids and cluelessness of teachers scares me. But at the same time the idea of teaching my own kid scares me…after all what if I fuck up and scar her? What if she is like 12 and can’t read because I can’t figure out how to teach her. On some level I know I am being silly but these are my concerns. Never mind the fact that the hubster is not proponent of homeschooling though after one of the most volatile conversations in our 15 year relationship he is willing to give it a try but has his own concerns.
I tell ya raising kids is hard enough but raising brown kids in a white world at times makes it even harder.
3 thoughts on “Raising brown kids in a white world”
Hi there! I found your blog because I am a resident of Maine who is looking into adopting, and out-of-country adoptions are of course more often than not nonwhite. And it concerns me that a child of any race other than white could develop big problems with the huge lack of diversity here. How did school turn out for your little one? Was it a good experience?? Thanks!!
Maybe pulling her out of school isn’t the option, girl. I think it’s going to require strategic parenting.
At some point, she will have to confront being the only one of her kind–especially as a biracial kid. If she faces it now, she’ll be better off for the future. But, if you could supplement her learning with books about multiculturalism, race, etc., I think she’ll do fine. Make field trips on the weekends to the nearest “big city” (Boston?) where there are kids of all colors, so that she can get used to seeing real mixture. Make an effort to constantly, yet casually point out beautiful black women to her when you are watching TV. Make positive comments about black people when she’s around them. Take her to surroundings where there are positive black people so that you can make those positive comments. LOL.
It’s all about making a concerted, intentional effort to help her see herself and see diversity
I just started following your blog. Mostly it was the title that got my attention. I was a black girl in NH and many other places during the tumultuous 60’s. My father was in the Air Force so we were dragged around from base to base every few years. I had 2 brothers but they were so much younger than I that I always had to go to the new school alone. I dreaded going into class and then being seated next to the little white girl or boy who sometimes recoiled and made faces while the rest of the class laughed. The worse was lunch. Sitting alone in the cafeteria. It even lasted until college when I was assigned a roommate who came up to the room and once she saw me, she and her mother went back to the dorm monitor and asked to be re assigned. So, unfortunately kids aren’t so color blind. Hopefully it’s better today. But I can tell you this. It made me a stronger, more determined and empathetic person. And to be honest, now that I’m older, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. My guess is whatever you decide, she will be fine and so will you. It’s the love that you give to her that really matters.
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