To say our family has been radically changed in the last several years is an understatement. Some of what changed for us was our privilege and because I made a choice to come out, I could feel those changes in revealing ways. I felt guilt with each decision to let go and had to work through the eye opening realities that were unexpectedly exposed in me. My racism, sexism, and internal homophobia had to be dissected and rooted out for me to move forward past the status quo of my former life, and deconstructing those internal ISMs has become my ongoing work.
One such change - which brought up my racism in revealing ways - is my schooling choices. My children had been attending a mostly white, very small, private 'alternative education' school. I believed very fervently in alternative education and even though we were not an incredibly wealthy family, I did what it took to make sure my kids had the education I felt 'they deserved'; the education I thought was best for them. When I separated from my husband and started coming out, I could no longer afford the school they were in or that kind of education. The following school year, I enrolled them in our neighborhood public schools. We lived, at the time and only because of my privileged connections with the church I worked for, in one of the most up and coming neighborhoods within inner city Houston. It is also a neighborhood with some of the highest economic disparity. Most people who are privileged and live in this neighborhood put their kids in private school or take the time and energy to enroll them in magnet programs where their kids, who are often in Vanguard programs or chosen for different academic or creative abilities, attend more 'sought after' schools. For this reason, even in some of the most affluent neighborhoods in inner city Houston, you will have 'neighborhood' schools that are not 'sought after' where only kids from the more run down outlying areas or apartments of the sought after neighborhoods go. These are not the worst schools in the city, but they are not sought after by many of the people living right next to them.
So my very white, very blonde children, who had mostly been in very white and affluent schools and who had been in alternative education, were sent off to schools where they were a minority. I would love to say I did this on purpose to teach them about their privilege, that I somehow made a conscious choice about their education, but that would be a lie. I sent them because that was all I could do. While I would have preferred 'the best', I settled for what I saw as less for my kids. I survived; we survived.
But the truth is, in these schools, my kids are still white in a system that favors them. Quickly and with hardly any effort of my own. My children rose to the top of the pack. Suddenly, they were selected for the Vanguard program and the Gifted and Talented program. This is not to say that my children do not deserve their status as GT / Vanguard. This is to say, however, that they had advantages in the system. They are smart, articulate, creative, they have parents who are educated who read to them every day of their lives. They grew up going to the library, bookstores, museums, plays, etc, etc. And they are white. This is not to say that they do not have disadvantages, such as a genetic propensity toward Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety and mental illness. Or a home life that was falling apart before their eyes, divorce, survival of an abusive home, trauma, etc. Their stories are complicated like everyone else's; there is no such thing as a simple story.
But what we need to look at in all of our stories is the subtext. The subtext - the back drop - is racism. The backdrop to the story most white women tell, who are privileged enough to even have the conversation about "where their child will go to school", is racism.
When you are making a choice about your child's school, that is a privilege. Let's start there. I'll wait a minute. Not everyone gets to choose.
And when we begin to look at schools, starting with that first simple google search to understand what makes a 'good school' , you will find race. How many white kids are in school = a 'sought after' school. I speak the truth, the truth in the subtext, which is right here for us to google search for ourselves. What seems like a problem most white moms are unaware of (and if they are aware of see as not having to really do with them), becomes exposed when we understand that our choices in schooling directly impact the school system around us. And what is almost too painful for us to look at, but we are going to go ahead and look at anyway, is that our choices in our children's education have a direct impact on the children around us who might not be ours. They are not ours, but they are OURS. Last week, I went to a talk on reconciliation for the Disciples of Christ churches (DOC) in the area, where Dr Alex Byrd accentuated his points on racism in our culture with frank talk about the Houston school system. To explain how a racist system plays out in our city, he named schools, he named injustice in our school systems, and revealed the fact ours is increasingly MORE segregated, historically, than any other time POST-desegregaton. school system is increasingly MORE segregated, historically, than any other time POST desegregation. Let's sit with that information before we move on.
A few months ago a friend asked me to listen to a This American Life program entitled The Problem We All Live With. I listened to the story of segregation still playing out in our school systems in the United States, and how a school system accidentally desegregated in Normandy, Missouri. I was struck by the audio of one of the school board meetings, and the obvious racism playing out in the white mothers' nonstop testimony about what their children 'deserved'. These were mothers taking up so much space in the conversation about their children that they neglected to make room for everyone who wanted to speak. Mothers I have a lot in common with, mothers who I have heard speak in impassioned tones, mothers that stand up for their children and their children's education, mothers who I have sat with during lunches and PTO meetings and shared the ever present conversation of "Where will we choose for our children to go to school". What I also was struck by, however, was the shake of the black mother and daughter's voices describing that same board meeting. The shake of a voice that is being silenced but has something to say nonetheless. I recognize that shake and the feeling in your vocal box that sinks down into your stomach. I've had that same shake in my voice when I was trying to speak up for myself and my children, when I was angry and tired and scared.
And in that moment, listening to this audio program, I felt my own internal racism and I began owning that it has led me to racist choices. I owned my own protective nature and how it it's rooted in love for my children, in wanting what is best for them. I understood that what is rooted in something very right, is negligent, even still. There are places in my life where I had neglected to factor other mothers and other children into my equation of what is 'best'... I have failed to make choices rooted in equality for ALL when I made choices around my children's education.
Here's the thing. This isn't about getting it all right, I know making choices about what is best for your children is hard. I am not asking you to put your children in harm's way when you make a choice to school them. What I am asking is that we begin to weigh what is best for all into those decisions. I'm asking you to invite yourself to imagine a world where ALL children are safe, not just yours. I am asking you to invite yourself to imagine a world where ALL children deserve a quality education. I'm asking you to reconsider your ideas surrounding your children's safety and education and examine them for racist subtext. I'm asking you to factor all of that into your child's education, and into the choices you make around them. What is beautiful is that we can even invite our children to imagine with us.
What my daughter has seen and experienced in the school she has attended these last several years - the school that I 'settled for' - will most likely change her worldview forever. What she has learned and expressed about her own privilege, when she steps into a classroom as one of the few white girls, has and will continue to change her. The things she has observed as injustice, the ways in which she sees her own privilege playing out and the relationships she has built with children she has met and known has shaped her and, in many ways, it has saved her. She is not alone in being a child with a gay mom, she is not alone in being a child of divorce, she is not alone in having a family figuring out how to be its best, and she is not alone in having to struggle to learn what is best and true. She has advantages over some of her peers, and she is aware of those advantages in a way she never was before. She is learning to be in trusting, loving, forgiving and truthful relationships with her little family and with the world. She isn't learning to see past race, she is learning to understand her own race and her own place in the world, and how she can be apart of making it a more just, loving and equal world for everybody. She's learning how she can use her privilege to end her privilege.
This is a hard earned win, my friends.
This was published on Reconciliation Ministries Blog.