I've missed two deadlines with this piece. Two. Usually I'm a little late because I'm tweaking things at the last minute. But to miss it completely? I've never done that. (well, except in 9th grade when I simply disregarded the due date of our poetry project for no other reason beyond that I just didn't feel like turning it in. I don't quite understand what I was trying to prove--it was completely finished. The only reason I still remember is that my mom--even now--won't let me forget...)
But this...This is hard. In almost every setting, in almost any group, the topic of race and racism puts everyone on edge.
Many academics will assert that race is just a social invention. It doesn't really exist. Which works in theory, if you never leave your house.
But we do. Relatively frequently. And, when we do, we're reminded that the cultural impact is real.
The number of African American homeschoolers is growing rapidly. They made up around 3% of the homeschool population in the mid-1990's; now, roughly 10% of homeschoolers are black. Which, statistically, implies that--in a group of 300 kids--my kids are it. In our experience, that's pretty accurate.
Way too often, my family is the diversity.
Sometimes, it doesn't matter. But sometimes, off-hand comments are dropped carelessly and I worry about what my kids will internalize and so I listen and watch.
For some reason, it is always, always, about the hair. And when someone mentions hair--and inevitably someone will--it's my cue to listen because their questions and comments reveal more than they think. There are a lot of stereotypes wrapped up in hair.
When my daughter was in public school, the racism did not surprise us. Not only were we teachers in the system and therefore on the "inside" and acutely aware of the systemic climate, we also knew the history of the region and how it continued to feed that climate. Too many children don't know what to be aware of and too many parents have been taught not to question, and so racist presumptions and assertions creep in quietly--unchallenged--until they become part of the academic fiber and part of our children.
As homeschoolers, we have the time and the opportunity to identify racism and to confront it head-on. We see what our children are exposed to and we have a chance to seek out the truth with our children instead of accepting the traditional air-brushed text. We have a chance to tell our kids that, yes, color does matter--let's figure out why.
It is exhausting sometimes to be the lone family of color at a homeschooling activity. Or to be the second family of color. I've seen my kids literally pulled over to greet a new family, as proof of diversity when there is no other common element. I've listened to stereotypes tossed into a discussion and tried to effectively weigh the cost of not speaking up against the certain discomfort that would come if I do.
We live in an emotionally, if not physically, segregated culture. It's hard to realize the full impact of race unless it's had a direct, absolute and continuous presence. Homeschooling within the black community is still seen as extremely unusual; some even view it as a betrayal. Activists fought for the right to attend integrated schools. People died for that right. Only in very recent years have some parents realized that the right to be inside the same school building doesn't equate to the same education or the same opportunities. Bigotry didn't evaporate; it merely shifted and attacked from a different angle, and homeschooling provides a leverage that isn't available in a school.
I've learned that, if I'm not watchful, my children will end up as the diversity-du-jour and that's not fair to them. Those individuals who loudly proclaim their ability to be color-blind and who express profound and extensive--and, yeah, loud--disgust at blatantly racist words and actions are usually the same individuals whose conversations are subtly laced with the same stereotypes that inundate the media and, ultimately, give racism its power and allow it to grow. It's those individuals who openly acknowledge that they *will* say something stupid, and ask that you call them on it--because they want to learn and move forward--who will make a difference and who I will trust with my children because they genuinely care.
It angers me a little when parents talk about pulling their children out of school because of the diminishing patriotism or tarnishing of the Founding Fathers, because schools haven't even begun to touch on the truth. And if the little bit that is present in school, in isolated moments, is too uncomfortable, then how much truth will be hidden at home? And how will it spill into conversations as our kids get older? Because my kids know their history, even the tarnished bits that are probably singed by the heat of hell.
So we drift in and out of communities, and I step carefully, wondering if my boys will be safe. And, rarely, I find a place, where we're not alone. Where I can speak and be heard--and understood. Where my fears are accepted as real and no one tries to soften them with an optimism lined with pink clouds and rainbows and unity songs. Where we settle in and speak comfortably, where hair and skin is simply beautiful and not exotic, and where, beneath that skin, our kids have brains and an imagination and power.
Missy's homeschooling journey began when she realized that the walls surrounding her daughter's classroom were too narrow; there was no room for exploration, no space for stretching. Now, she and her three children stretch and explore the world together. My blog: caffeinatedjive.