Monday, July 28, 2008

Race Ya

We've been having some big discussions in the Fostermamas house lately. As we look further in relocating one big theme is coming up.

Race & Education

As transracial adoptive parents we have a responsibility beyond typical parenting. I want my kids to be smart, healthy and happy and I want them to be strong black citizens.

As we look into communities we're often judging how racially "diverse" they are. While reading an old post at Antiracistparent I began to delve deeper into my feelings on that subject. Part of the post there quoted:
Barry-Austin recalled a New York Times article from several years ago that looked at South Orange and its racial make-up (Preserving a Delicate Balance by Andrew Jacobs: May 18, 1997.) In it, the author cited the words of Professor Douglas S. Massey, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of ”American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass” (Harvard University Press, 1993.) Professor Massey spoke of surveys in which African-Americans respondents describe a neighborhood as ideally integrated when the racial composition is a 50/50 mixture of the two races. To most of the white people surveyed, on the other hand, integration meant more of an 80/20 mixture (heavy on the whites, please.)
How much diversity are we looking for? Is there a number I can put on it? Historically St. Louis' racial census has been 50/50....but that does not mean you can go into any neighborhood and find that diversity. Like many urban cities we are still very segregated. AA communities to the north and Caucasian communities to the south. Our lack of integrated diverse community options had us thinking that maybe we should just look into strong black communities instead.

Then I had to go and watch CNN's Black in America, The Black Woman & Family. One of the interviews was with a Harvard professor who quoted that children in undevoloped countries get a better education than black children in this country. God that makes my heart sink. I know that there is a huge gap in the resources that historically black schools receive compared to white schools. They quoted the drop out rate among black high school students as 50%. FIFTY percent. I don't want my kids to be that statistic. What parent does?

I don't want my kids to struggle, I want to give them every educational opportunity I can. Since my kids all have some special needs I know I'm going have to advocate to make sure that they already get some of the same educational advantages typically developing children receive. We're already seeing how hard that can be in a school district with no funds. (This week we enrolled the girls in the local magnet school that they were accepted in -boy that's another post)

I want to live somewhere where rich white folk pay high taxes so my kids can go to a great school. I want my kids to attend schools where the teachers are highly educated and credentialed. I want schools that have the latest technology and state of the art science labs. Typically that's a white community. Why does that make me feel so uneasy? Am I using racism and white privilege to my advantage instead of fighting the man?

A long time ago I read the book Silver Rights about one family's fight to send their kids to the local white school after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated the desegregation of all public schools. I remember thinking after I read that book that I would make sure that my kids took advantage of every opportunity that they paved the way for.

But as a transracial family it's not that easy.


Anonymous said...

I have ZERO compunction about using my white privilege to my African American daughter's advantage.
ina, not anon.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you're asking the wrong question. Are you willing to sacrifice your children's education so you aren't using 'white privilege'? Or so they have enough black people around them? What does it mean to be black?

I know I don't have a good answer for that, as I'm white, grew up in a very white area, and didn't spend much time around many people of any color. But one of my closest friends is black, raised in white suburbia. Her extended family lives in louisiana and they make fun of her family for not being black because she listens to country music and dates white girls primarily. So in a sense, she is more 'white'.

On the flip side my wife grew up dirt poor as one of the few white kids in the ghetto. In some ways you could consider her more black than my black friend - but I think that's defining black culture very narrowly.

I know you've thought about this all a ton more than many other people, so this isn't new. Just hoping to bring the perspective back where it belongs. Education is very important. If they don't know tons of black people, does that matter? I agree that it's important for them to have role models and understand their heritage, but really, their culture is your culture and life.

Basically, you're doing your best. Just find a place that feels right. Screw percentages. If it feels right, it'll be right, no matter what the demographics say. Maybe others will follow your lead and they'll tip in the direction you want anyway :-D

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

We think about this all the time. I guess for me, the question "Is this neighborhood (or church, or school) diverse enough" requires lookingat a couple of factors:

1. Are there enough different Black people around that our daughter will see more than one "way" to be Black -- will she meet neighborhood kids skipping rope, attorneys, day care teachers, artists and all kinds of other people who are Black? Will she be exposed to different Black opinions about everything from hairstyles to politics to religion?

2. In our overall daily life, will we, the white parents, be in the racial minority while she is in the majority, at least some of the time?

3. Are the other white people we will be around accustomed enough to racial differences that they won't constantly be asking us questions about parenting a Black child? Can folks accept the makeup of our family as part of the normal, expected range of human diversity?

There's probably no "magic number," but I bet you can find a neighborhood you feel good about for the kids, where you also have access to an excellent school.

fostermama said...

I really like Beth's list.

We've been struggling with this a bit, too. We have chosen our home city, and we are happy with it in most ways. But there doesn't seem to be a black intellectual/afro-centric/black progressive activist community here. As progressive activists who mostly make our own community among same, and who imagine our children might grow up to do this as well, this is a frustration. And one that no general percentages can change.

Our own street is probably slightly higher black than white, but very close to 50/50. It makes a huge difference to us that the two "block mothers" on our street (women who know everyone and everything going on at all times and are very friendly and welcoming) are a 60s-ish black woman and 40s-ish white woman with a biracial teenage daughter.

Educationally, we plan to homeschool. Which is fraught with issues of its own, especially around providing diverse role models. There's an awesome (as schools go) bilingual program at the neighborhood school that definitely has black (& hispanic) teachers and black (&h) kids with black (&h) parents. We haven't completely ruled it out, due to that draw. I very much understand your sense of being pulled in multiple directions by your priorities.

Maybe a strong black community IS the most important thing. A place where the black kids have majority-black (or well mixed) good schools. I've heard Atlanta has a huge middle-class black population.

Our local friends who're raising two AA boys chose the almost-all-white liberal private school because they saw a good education as the top priority (one of their kids is special needs, and they have had to fight for him to get the services he needs). They also took on the burden of educating the parents and staff of the school about racism and pushing (hard) for the school to do more about diversity, etc. So, there's that angle.

Really hard choices. None of us have easy answers.