My daughter started kindergarten last week. And it was bittersweet. On the one hand, I was excited to see her transition out of daycare into the formal system of education – a transition that clearly indicated that my precious five year old, the one who I carried for 9 months, nursed for 2 years, and with whom I have spent untold hours reading to, potty training, and you know, general caring for, was growing up.
On the other hand, I was a nervous wreck because for the first time in her life she would be under the instruction of a white teacher within a white institution, and I would not be able to be present to protect, love, and guide her through it.
I have heard the stories from parents and educators alike who have witnessed first hand the intrinsic racial bias that is displayed towards students of color. While this bias may not be overt, meaning that it is often not intentional or done from a place of malice, it operates in such a way that targets students of color, limiting their ability to be well and flourish in the same ways that their white classmates do.
It does this by drawing on stereotypes about people of color to form conclusions about behavior, culture, and values – conclusions that are inaccurate because the premise from which they were formed assumes that children of color are either always in the wrong or in the perpetual need of white saviors. These negative assumptions are more than simply wrong but absolutely destructive to students whose young minds who are so malleable.
Now, I guess, one can probably understand and perhaps sympathize with my fear in sending my daughter off to school. Over the years, her father and I have gone through great lengths to ensure that she has a healthy understanding of herself: we’ve affirmed that she is beautiful, valuable, intelligent, curious, funny, and so much more. We’ve taught her the beauty that is inherent in her skin color and the curl pattern of her hair which is prone to much shrinkage.
We’ve told her that she can achieve anything that she puts her mind to and that she should never say ‘I can’t do it’ but rather ask for help. She is learning that she has a rich cultural history spanning two nations – America and Nigeria and she is thoroughly interested in learning Yoruba, her father’s language.
And we’ve told her times without number how much God loves her and how much God delights in her and how much she is fearfully, wonderfully, and beautifully made. This she knows.
But I know that she has just entered a system bent on telling her the exact opposite of all that I’ve worked to instill in her.
Perhaps I should take an act of faith. Maybe I should be more trusting and less skeptical. Probably. There are individual schools and teachers who are doing an amazing job and who are intentional about providing the best level of education to all of their students regardless of race, culture, or socioeconomic background.
I believe my daughter’s school is one of those schools which is one of the reasons I was intentional in my selection process. These are rare, shining examples which deserve to be praised, uplifted, and modeled.
Even so, the system, in spite of the great schools, the outstanding curriculum, and the award-deserving teachers, is flawed, and mostly so for students who look more so like my daughter. The individual stories of success get lost and are even severely impacted by a system bent on destructive – which is highly financed and politicized, further impeding the damage, another story for another day.
So I don’t trust it. I can’t trust it. Having faith in the school system to do right by my daughter and all of those who look like her is like having faith in white supremacy to do the right thing. It just may not happen (soon).
The burden of proof is in all of the students of color who walk through the doors of education and leave broken and wounded. So I am not hinging all of my faith here. That would be lunacy. Instead, I stay informed. I stay vigilant.
I re-educate and supplement whatever the teacher is teaching with material of my own, books of my own, knowledge of my own. And I resist, I resist the notion that our kids can’t learn, that they are not up to par, that there is something inherently wrong with them because I know that is not true. And everyday, I make sure my daughter knows the same.
And if all else fails, there is always homeschooling!
This is an excerpt from Ebony Adedayo’s article On Kindergarten and Little Black Girls which can be found in its entirety on her blog.