“Our goal is to raise nerds”

written by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Deesha Philyaw

So this morning, the mailman made my 5.5-year-old daughter Peyton’s day with the delivery of her U.S. state quarters collector’s folder.  Peyton joins her 10.5-year-old sister, Taylor, in this endeavor, and she hasn’t let a little thing like not being able to read all that much stop her.  She matches the engravings on the coins to the pictures in the folders.

As the girls gleefully sift their collector’s “gold” out from amongst the regular old quarters in their piggy banks (and my purse), I am reminded of two things: 1) as a child, I collected straws from restaurants and fast food joints (don’t laugh!), and 2) a conversation their father and I had a few years ago with some friends, another black couple who are raising two sons.  “Our goal,” the dad told us, “is to raise nerds.  Straight up.”

He and his wife didn’t care what others in their extended family and circle of friends thought their kids should be doing in terms of extra-curricular activities, which leaned towards basketball and football–you know, black boy things.  Whatever.  This couple, who are indeed fans of basketball and football, nevertheless encourage their boys’ burgeoning interests in other sports, reading, math, and science.

This couple doesn’t really subscribe to the idea that these are “nerdy” endeavors; the dad’s comment was tongue in cheek.  But still, it contained an element of truth. They don’t want their sons to feel that because they are black and male that there is some prescribed list of suitable activities and career aspirations to which they must limit themselves, like pro ball and rapping.  Further, these parents believe that worshiping at the altar of this “list” has the potential to lead too many boys astray.  There’s nothing wrong with NBA aspirations, but it’s a bad idea for a child to put all of his eggs in that one very statistically unlikely basket.  Unfortunately for too many black kids, other alternatives for their futures (college, success in other professions, entrepreneurship) don’t seem any more likely.

Children who have parents or other care-givers to encourage them towards a variety of personal interests and career possibilities are truly blessed. I’m happy that my kids have a diverse set of interests and are lovers of words and books, science, and math.  To my knowledge, no one has told them that stuff like doing well in school and coin collecting is considered “nerdy” in some quarters (pun unintended!).  But if and when that happens, I hope that they are secure in their choices, and that they will have fully embraced the truth that their dad and I have been striving to instill in them since birth: There is whole world full of possibilities that is theirs for the taking, and that their own consciences, values, and interests–not other people’s expectations, stereotypical or otherwise–should be their guide.

Deesha Philyaw is a freelance writer who has written for Essence Magazine, Wondertime Magazine (a Disney publication), and The Washington Post. Deesha holds a B.A. in economics from Yale University and a Master’s degree in teaching. In her pre-mommy, pre-writing life, she was a management consultant, briefly, and then an elementary school teacher. A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Deesha currently lives in Pittsburgh with her two daughters. Deesha blogs at Mamalicious! and Co-Parenting 101.

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