Raising Brown kids in a White World

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.

9 thoughts on “Raising Brown kids in a White World”

  1. I grew up in Australia as a brown person, racism is obvious everywhere. I don’t really know where we can go to be accepted or where we can raise our children to feel like they are normal.

  2. hey…I’m doing a paper on racism in Maine and I stumbled across your blog. My husband and I are BROWN people in a white town (Machias). Yes there’s the university and they have token brown and black people but uhhhhhh…excuse me but barely token. I think there’s some Filipino’s around here somewhere. They have a few foreign doc’s that are doing time at the hospital until they fulfill their requirements so that they can stay in the U.S. but they don’t count in terms of permanent population. I’m half Hispanic and my hubby is a dark Puerto Rican. Two of our children finished high school here but they look white despite the name. Many of the Mainers we’ve run into are STILL clannish and the kids weren’t very accepting. Plus this is like a little bible belt town at times so there’s *that* influence. So our kids are grown and gone and we’re planning on getting back to CA in the next five years. Like yourself, we aren’t close to our extended family. So what happened? It’s been a year and you haven’t posted anything! Renee

  3. I can understand your situation as I am living the exact same model, except in Scandinavia. It was all good, when the discussions revolved around Hello Kitty and Reggio Emillio in school…When babygirl came home and was taking off her jacket and “lifted up” her non existing hair that was over the hood, I knew it was time to have the talk… Here we don’t have the option of home schooling which really pisses me off. Fight for your right to party.

  4. Hey Shay,

    I think because your babygirl has a huge personality, do a preliminary search and see what options there are for homeschooling groups/coops. I think if you have a good support system, you’ll come to see that you are more than capable of handling her education–knowing where your need to fill in the gaps and having the resources (i.e. with the homeschool organization) to do so.

    Homeschooling appeals to me on so many levels. My sticking point is the isolation you can sometimes feel. When it’s all on your shoulders alone, it sometimes feels overwhelming and impossible.

  5. I have for you a tale of two sons (My oldest and youngest) they are 10 years apart.

    My oldest son went to pre-school and elementary school in the same state that our President Obama grew up in….where whites and black are and remain the minority. In fact, there is really no majority there.

    Not to say that there was none of the issues of racism there but there were far fewer than where we are now. Any issues that had arisen where dealt with swiftly, and did not re-occur.

    My youngest went to a very diverse preschool at the university where we are living now (Central/North Michigan). The “otherness” began to rear it’s ugly head ever so slightly then, but it was easily overcome with explaining.

    Then came elementary school….and the fight has began in earnest. It started when he was in kindergarten where he was 1 of two Black children. I was invited to speak to several classes about Kwanzaa, since they were doing “celebrations of the world” for the holiday season for K-2. 6 classes rotating through the various sections each collecting various momentoes from each section…flags, Kinaras, minoras, etc. His teacher even had “The days of Kwanzaa” music playing in the background. I was doing my thing explaining the various items on the table I set up…and the kids were getting ready the do their activity when one of the other classroom teachers quipped “where is the flag for this section?!”…with a smirk on her face.

    I asked his teacher if she had a computer…and then told her to type in Marcus Garvey….not thinking that she would not know what to look for. So, I had her type in Pan-African Flag. Huge Pan-African flags galore! she turned the computer monitor in the class direction and told the class to start drawing! The other classroom teacher had one of those tight-lipped smiles on her face and was silent for the rest of the session. The kids were thrilled.

    Needless to say I have not been asked back since. Nor have they had that particular activity. (chuckle) don’t start none….won’t be none.

    For his 1st grade I was greeted with an animated 30 minute explanation about Martin Luther King and why we have the holiday….The school day before the 3 day weekend they manage to inundate the class on segregation, civil rights and, the Little Rock 9. Then told me that since then “everything is now normal”. My oldest could not stop laughing for an hour. I’m sitting there looking at this child and seriously planning on blowing my budget on more books and videos regarding our history.

    I have had to console him numerous times because he does know that he is “different”. some of the questions he was asking me since then have broken my heart and pissed me off to no end….questions about his hair, his skin. And I keep telling him there is nothing wrong with you..be proud of who you are.

    I had made it a point to buy up books at the book fair only if they have positive images of himself or other Black people. There is nothing but Black art hanging in my home. I even went and bought the educators edition of Eyes on the Prize and had him sit through it. (and he will be sitting though it several more times at that.) In fact I made both sons sit through it although my oldest had seen 6 of the 14 sections in US history class at his high school. You can never watch it too many times.

    So… my point after this long novel is….you’re going to have to do much more than you expected to do for your daughter than you have ever imagined. There are forces out there that do nothing but negate what has been taught at home. And they will keep negating until she either succumbs or she is strong enough to stand on her own. But for now, you will have to help her and probably check a few clowns that try that last nerve.

    Start that book budget now.

  6. Better to have peer pressure than no peers. As a student at 13 public schools (the lion’s share in Maine/New Hampshire) and now 1 private college in the middle of Wisconsin, I know what my baby sister is up against. Being the only brown kid in class demands you learn much more about yourself and about other people. It demands that you master observation, the ability to defuse any situation instantly, and it really builds a masterful understanding of how to make friends. I consider it my civic fucking duty to the ignoramuses I meet on campus to illuminate what people beyond their economic, racial, ethnic, etc circle are like. No doubt it’s tiresome but being raised in Maine has a tremendous list of pro’s to a limited list of con’s.

    Being exposed to people of similar origins is extremely important but aside from when I was 6 and lived in Chicago I didn’t know a black kid until I was in 6th grade and moved to Manchester, NH. Ice Bucket has a superb advantage because at the end of the day she comes home to her Mum who looks just like her!

    I wouldn’t cast out the public schooling option just yet. It’s certainly an opportunity for Icey to grow beyond race, and stereotypes. It’s an opportunity to get to know herself. I love my baby sister, and wouldn’t steer you wrong.

    • Thanks sweetheart! The only reason that Icey will start school is because of her large personality I think she has the ability to overcome it but I think the teacher’s attitude and dismissal of my concerns is what pissed me off…her teacher is young, about 25 at best so I would have expected a little more awareness.

      You are right that being the only person of color does require you to master observation and situations, in that regard you are very much like me son. But at the same time I think it takes a psychic toll on you; one that I didn’t even become aware of until I was much older than you. In that regard as I told you before I will always have regrets about how you came to live out here and worry that your sister may not be as resilient. I also wonder if its different for boys compared to girls. Even in the 80’s in high school I felt the boys of color had a far easier time than the girls.

      In any event, the Ice starts school in a few days so we will strap up and go for a ride but be prepared in case we have to change gears.

  7. I was going to mention School Around Us, also. Also, in Maine, you don’t legally have to do anything formal (either declaring your intent to homeschool or sending a child to school) until the age of 7. Keeping her out until then (or for a time, at least) and exploring your options, gives you just that, options.

    As you know, my pre-teen and teen have never attended school and I have a much different perspective on the learning portion, and the fears you expressed. A five year old is so young and the primary learning a child that age is doing, is through play and if given the freedom, will continue to play to learn until pre-teen years, when play turns into mimicking adult behavior. Peter Gray at Psychology Today writes about this theme a great deal. Here’s a link about trust.

    I applaud you for listening to those voices inside you, your unease with the situation as a whole. It’s definitely worth exploring. It’s difficult work, but you and I. deserve that second look.

  8. Oh, this makes me sigh in unhappy recognition. I grew up one of the few brown kids in a very white environment, and there was NO acknowledgement or discussion of difference. It was extremely messed up, and had a big effect on how I saw myself in the world. And I didn’t fully get what was going on until I left there – I just didn’t have the vocabulary or context to understand the situation.

    Sounds like one advantage your daughter has is having a mom who is engaged with these issues & who will talk about them openly. It will only be good for her to know that there is a bigger, truer reality that the one she sees at school. Wish you all the best, whichever way you go.

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