How do parents come together to talk about race and education?

by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Vera L

During this past school year, the idea of beginning a group for parents of African American students at my sons’ elementary school positioned itself in the forefront of my mind. There is already a group at the school for Latino parents. One of the Latina moms decided to start it up three years ago to deal with issues raised by the district’s ESL (English as a Second Language) regulations and procedures. It’s now an active group of parents who participate regularly in school-wide activities.

When my older son first started at the school, I wondered a little about why there wasn’t a group of active African American parents, but didn’t dwell on the issue. As my sons have gotten older, and as issues have come up (some of which I’ve written about here at Anti-Racist Parent), I’ve felt the need to make more than social connections with other parents. I talked the idea over with some of them, and we formed a parents’ group. We wanted to make it inclusive, so we invited anyone parenting African American kids, including those kids who are part African American. Transracial adoptive parents and any parent of a child of African descent would be welcome.

As we’ve moved through this process, though, a question has come up again and again from parents across the racial spectrum. Why have a group geared just to African American students? Why not a broader “diversity” group? One person described a “multicultural” committee she knew of at a different school that held fundraisers and cultural events.

Those of us who started the new group, though, wanted to focus on African American kids for a couple of reasons. One was that there are issues that are particular to growing up black that are somewhat different than those for kids of other races. The criminalization of black boys is one. Low academic expectations for black kids is another. I personally felt the need to bring together a group of parents to address black kids’ self-image. How do we as a community of parents push back against the stereotype that “keepin’ it real” as a black kid means being an underachiever?

What I wanted to avoid was an emphasis on things like sharing cultural traditions and celebrating heritage – the kind of thing the “multicultural” committee at the other school does. Our school does stuff like that pretty well, but a big part of me feels like that skims the surface of racism by focusing on “teaching tolerance”. It is a wonderful thing to teach kids and parents alike about other cultures and to celebrate the beauty in difference. But it is much different and stickier thing to talk about inequity and power imbalances. I want to get to things like discipline practices that end up with black boys being the ones who are regularly put out of the classroom. I’m concerned that a group with a wider focus won’t be motivated to deal with those issues.

So, I’ve been mulling this over this summer, and it occurred to me that it is something I could put to you all, the community at Anti-Racist Parent. What happens at your kids’ schools? How do parents come together to talk about race and education? In cross-cultural groups, single focus groups, a combination? What have you seen that works, or doesn’t work at all? I’d love to hear!

Vera L is a former attorney and social worker who is now a stay at home mom. She, her partner and their two school-aged are an interracial, two-mom, adoptive family living in Berkeley, California. They are intimately familiar with conversation about race, family difference and fitting in.

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