Shanita Hubbard recently wrote a piece in the NY Times that should serve as a further wakeup call for the white folks who don’t see color, avoid raising their kids in a way that teaches them about race and racism, and the Black folks who think all our children’s problems will be neatly solved by just integrating them into lily-white schools.
Professor Hubbard teaches at Northampton Community College, a school that some of our graduates attend. The experience she captures in her op-ed can be used to not only describe her child’s experience at her school “in a red state” but also how plenty of students of color experience school in integrated settings.
One only needs to look at what courses students of color have access to in “integrated” schools. Often, these should be considered “parallel-play” schools rather than integrated schools.
If I am a Black or Brown student attending an “integrated school” where few, if any, Black students participate in rigorous courses and coveted opportunities, what messages do I receive about hard work, intelligence, and belongingness?
Professor Hubbard describes how she has to remain “vigilant against the psychological damage of having my daughter internalize the feelings of inferiority that can occur when her peers imply she is less than them.”
I have to . . . ensure that my daughter knows she’s not inferior to anyone, that she doesn’t become hateful and that she never treats anyone differently based on anything other than character. I try daily to paint a picture for her of the people and attitudes that exist outside her school.
One of the questions we always ask potential staff members is, “How will you support the positive racial identity of our Black students?”
We don’t want mealy-mouthed answers. We are looking for concrete strategies these candidates will use to recognize and counter-attack the incessant messages that attempt to devalue Blackness and the Black lives of our students. Black Lives Matter, so any messages that attempts to contradict it, must be addressed head on.
The National Association of Independent Schools advises that when white parents avoid helping younger children understand how to talk about race and racism, it can affect the children’s ability to have effective and productive conversations about race as an adult.
While some privileged white families and teachers will lament that talking about race and racism sullies the innocent cocoons their children reside in, children of color are having their innocence snatched, slammed, and shot out of them.
As educators, we can and must ensure that we are providing students with ongoing opportunities for cognitive dissonance about previously learned lessons of white supremacy. Because, no matter what is spewed from the Oval Office, racial bias is most often taught and reinforced at people’s kitchen tables and in their car rides home.
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.