Race and Education

  As I thought about how to write this article, I decided that the most valid thing I could do would be to write from my own experience as a mother of mixed race kiddos. I am white and grew up in an area without nearly enough diversity. It would be arrogant to say I know enough about other people’s experiences to write an article on it. But, I can write from a parent’s perspective. 

        We adopted our oldest child from foster care. He is Native American and we got special permission from his tribe to adopt. Cool right? I think it is, but it’s not without challenges. Mostly for him. 

        Our son has very dark skin, and I was naive when we adopted him. I have always thought I didn’t have any racism in me. At all. I thought he was a darling little boy, and all children from Heaven are equally precious, and we were lucky to have him. So what that his coloring was a little darker, and anyone who treated him poorly was ignorant. Wouldn’t it have been nice if I was right, and the whole world saw things this way? That’s where I was wrong.

          I should have put more thought into his experience and perceptions. The world wasn’t the same for him that it was for me. I didn’t notice it at first because I have pretty cool friends and a great family that loved and accepted him as their own. But over time, I saw it. 

        Older ladies at the grocery store would raise their eyebrows at me, and cashiers asked me if I would be using food stamps. What? That’s not a normal thing to randomly ask someone. Or, is it just something they didn’t ask me before because of my racial privilege?

         One time we were getting our drinks and preparing to sit down at a restaurant table and a woman who had been watching me with my two kids asked if my son was adopted. I’m pretty friendly, and smiled and said “yes.” He is older than my biological daughter. 

          She shook her head, like she was sorry for me, and said, “Well, sometimes that happens before you know you can have your own.”

          She’s lucky I was too dumbfounded by her comment to know what to say. And in case you’re wondering, we adopted him after we had our daughter because we wanted to. 

         I have to admit, a lot of people have been great and respectful of us and our son, but there is always a concern in the back of my mind. I hope and pray he won’t be misjudged, mistreated, or denied opportunities because of his darker skin. I want him to have every opportunity in life. 

          One time he came home from school and said that after showing a friend his family photo, he told them that we were all albino Native Americans, and he was the only one that didn’t get the genetic mutation. Another friend of his knew the truth but played along. They kept the joke going for close to a month. 

         It might sound funny, and I’m sure it was to them. But, my heart broke a little for my son. Having to talk about why his family looks different, even having to think about that, is tough. 

         Some of the hardest conversations I have had with my son about the things he has to do to protect himself. He has to be respectful, we all should, but his safety can depend on it. The other hard thing I have told him is that he should recognize racism in the world, but that he should never lower his personal standards because of it. He cannot ever sink to that level. More is expected of him because the world has failed him.

          I have told him that I want him to live his best life, and I support and encourage that. I want him to honor his Native ancestors and learn about them, what they went through, and advocate for those who don’t have a voice of their own. I want him to be kind and good, even when the world isn’t. That is a lot to ask any kid to do. But, I want him to always have hope, even when it’s hard. And I want him to be safe.     

As an educator, it has been helpful for me to see what it’s like as a parent. I have to admit that while I try to watch over all my students, I take extra care to make sure my minority kiddos are being treated well. I watch to see that they have decent friends, and are encouraged academically to do their best. We talk about racial issues, in child-friendly ways, at school. But, I always wonder, is it enough? How can I know? Please feel free to add your respectful comments to this article. I want to do better and learn. 

‘Each Kindness’ by Jacqueline Woodson. I like to read this book to my students when we talk about kindness. Ms. Woodson is also an award winning black author and beautifully approaches racial issues in her writing.
‘Brown Girl Dreaming,’ is a personal favorite of mine.
‘The Day You Begin,’ another beautiful book by Jaqueline Woodson. Multicultural literature is a beautiful way to open our children’s eyes to the world around them and encourage empathy.

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