Kindergarten registration is a time that is both exciting and full of anxiety for many families. Every mother experiences joy and excitement as well nervousness and angst when preparing to send their child to kindergarten. We feel that our child is growing up, will be more independent, will have a whole new bigger circle of friends, and worst of all, she will need us less and less.
As a mom to a black child in Vermont, I have another set of issues that come up as I ready my daughter for Kindergarten and the world beyond.
A little background – For the last two years, my daughter has been attending a wonderful small private school where, although she was the minority, she feels nurtured and loved. The classes are small and her current teacher, who is black, teaches the kids as young as four about African American history, slavery and civil rights.
When we decided that our daughter will be attending public school later this year, I started doing research on the demographics of our public elementary school. I was not surprised to find that the school’s demographics mirrored that of the state with approximately 1% of the school population being black. What was not available to me through the Department of Education was how the school dealt with issues of diversity, inclusion and racism. My research indicated that there is little education available for staff and teachers on these matters which made my husband and I realize that we had work to do at home to prepare my daughter to enter a world where she will likely experience first hand racism. Don’t get me wrong, I love our community and love her school and believe that the teachers are amazing, intelligent and compassionate.
But I also know that we live in a world where racist incidents happen every day in every community.
Some of these incidents make national news such as the recent incident at SAE in Oklahoma while others stay under the radar. I was surprised to find that a quick Google search revealed just how common examples of racism are in every type of community and school. I read about recent incidents where a grade schooler told a black friend that her father would not let her attend her birthday party because she is black, a middle school vice principal heard making comments that he does not like black kids and a college student returning from her spring break to find racial slurs scrawled on her apartment walls.
It made me feel that I have been naive and it broke my heart to have to teach my daughter at her very young age about these injustices of the world we live in.
I mean sure we talk to my daughter about her heritage, the Civil Rights Movement and slavery and read her books like The Story Of Ruby Bridges, If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks, but we have been fortunate enough not to have any first hand experiences with overt racism. And as much as I believe that our community is full of caring, loving people who are not racist, I have to prepare my daughter because I know at some point she will come across racism.
It will hurt and shock her and I have to give her to tools to prepare her, teach her how to respond and most importantly know that it is not her fault.
So with a broken heart I teach my daughter that there will be times that she will be treated differently because of her skin color, that she may be told that her skin looks dirty and that certain kids may not want to play with or become her friend because she is black. I will explain to her that her teachers or other grown ups may say inappropriate things without realizing it and that people will make assumptions about her because of her race. That teachers may have higher expectations for her and that her white peers may get away with more than she would. I will also teach her that she will often feel like she is the sole representative of the black race in her classrooms and how to deal with that.
I arm her with words and tools to respond to these instances and promise to be her ally, to defend her and to stand up for her. I hope that will find strong anti-racists allies in her community of friends and teachers for all the times that I am not there to protect her.
In the last year or so I have made it a priority to educate myself in matters of race relations in this country and can’t stress the importance of this education.
It is necessary for all parents – even those who don’t have to deal with these issues in their everyday lives. For us to raise our children to be strong, kind, tolerant human beings it is not enough not to be racist. One of the most important things you can do is talk about racism, injustices and inequalities with your children and help and empower them to become anti-racists allies.