My son is only a toddler, but I already struggle with the importance of academic excellence and the need to make sure my son receives his education in a classroom with other children who look like him. Last year, shortly after moving to the Upper West Side, I began my search for a good daycare/pre-school for my oldest son. My son is not yet two and he is full of energy like most toddlers. When we lived in Brooklyn, my son attended a racially diverse daycare operated by a Black woman. In our new neighborhood, I interviewed with Montessori schools and other options that seemed like a good fit for my son. While I was usually impressed by the curriculum and learning outcomes of the toddlers, I was immediately turned off by the absence of Black children or instructors in the classroom.
After interviewing and touring (virtually, in some cases) five schools, we finally landed on a daycare/pre-school near Lincoln Center. I loved that the head administrator for the school was a woman of color. And, it didn’t hurt that the lead instructor for the class my son would enroll in was a Black woman. My son has been at his new school for five months, and he has flourished. He randomly recites his numbers and he can correctly recognize most colors. But, it’s not all good. My son is the only Black child in his class. When I first learned this fact, I researched some of the scholarly articles about what age kids become aware of race. I also looked at journal articles about the socio-emotional development for Black boys in predominately White educational environments. As I read some of the articles, I felt the need to google the authors and their backgrounds for context. I didn’t like everything that I read, and I felt troubled by the lack of empirical studies. Still, I decided to enroll my son because I felt comfort that his instructor was a qualified Black woman.
Earlier this week, an email went out to all of the parents in my son’s class that stated the lead instructor for his class was departing. I found myself once again confronted with the issue of my child being in a space with children and instructors who don’t look like him. Outside of his school, this is not an issue. My son lives in a home with two Black parents, a Black younger brother, he has numerous in-person playdates with his Black cousins and we immerse him in books and activities that are Black-centered, including his favorite educational show “Akili and Me.” Despite my best efforts, now that his Black teacher is departing, the fact remains that my son spends the majority of his woke hours in a setting where he does not see people who look like him. In all likelihood, this will not change as he continues his education and pursues a college degree. A good friend of mine, who is not a person of color, told me my son is too young for me to be worrying about these issues. She does not and will not have the same struggle I have. I reminded her that the mere fact that she does not have to think of these matters is an example of her White privilege.
We discuss race matters often, but I felt the need to remind her of a second example of how race is something I think of frequently. I came across an article in Forbes magazine about America’s Best Neighborhoods. Out of curiosity, and as an excuse to delay doing my own research for my dissertation, I decided to research some of the neighborhoods that were cited. For all of the neighborhoods that also had the “best schools” as measured by whatever indicators are used (usually, it’s standardized test scores), there was practically no racial diversity in the schools. In some cases, to get more information on the “Best Neighborhoods” I would go to Wikipedia to look up my second favorite “D” word: yes, that would be demographics (my first favorite “D” word is diversity). Honestly, there was no surprise discovery. Again, there was little racial diversity among the people living in the neighborhoods. In some cases, I’d feel a little hope and see that a neighborhood had a decent, but not significant, “Hispanic/Latino” population. I wondered how many of those “Hispanic/Latino” individuals identified as White or are perceived as White, if a random stranger described the individual.
Most of these details might not matter for some people. But, they are factors for my consideration. I would have also preferred to read an article titled “Best Neighborhoods” from the perspective of a Black person. I would love the article to answer questions like: How likely are you to see another Black person on a random walk around town? Will your son/daughter be the only Black person on the track team? Will the school only talk about the numerous contributions of Black people during February? Would that discussion be limited to athletes and entertainers or will it include achievements in STEM? Will the curriculum include readings by Black scholars and authors? Will holiday decorations and greetings include Kwanzaa? Are any of the elected officials Black? It grinds my teeth that when I look at “great schools” or “Best Neighborhoods” there is only a limited presence of Black bodies. My son’s school isn’t bad, I just wish it was more racially diverse! But, I don’t want to engage in wishful thinking for change or to just use the buzz words about the importance of inclusion and diversity. For change to take place, there must be action. For now, I have to make the decision with my husband on whether to remove our son from his predominately White school.