She will be stronger, bolder, & more empathetic...
Recently our daughter came to us asking if she could change schools. For those not familiar with our community, our school system ranks among the top in the state and the nation. Our town is consistently ranked as one of the safest in the state. We live “over the mountain”, just a short drive from downtown Birmingham. We live on a quiet street with children flanking both sides of our home. We love our neighbors and, for the most part, enjoy this community that we call home. One of the reasons we chose this town was because of the excellent reputation of the school system.
However, when our 4th grader tells us that she wants to change schools, it is an evident sign that she is struggling. When our sweet girl was adopted and came to us at 3 days old we knew there would be times when it would be difficult to fit in. All girls experience that at times, right? But as a biracial girl growing up in a town that is 90% white, the struggle is real.
When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, her response is “I don’t know”. However, the signs currently point to a career in education. For years she “played school” and for Christmas she would ask Santa for things for her “classroom”. Her school supply stash would cause great envy for many.
Our future educator told us that there are no black teachers at her current school and that there was only 1 black teacher at her former school. Here’s a kid that loves school and is on the path of being a teacher, yet her experience of black people in the field of education is currently limited to the custodial and cafeteria staff. She wants to go to a school where “black people are respected”. She wants to attend a school where when black people are in a position of authority it isn’t an anomaly but instead is standard.
Friends and family tell me they don’t see the color of Avery’s skin. When they say this I know that they mean that the color of her skin doesn’t matter to them—they would love her no matter her skin color. I get that, yet as the mother of kid with black skin I want everyone to see her skin color. By not recognizing Avery’s skin color then we are not honoring her true identity. To help Avery feel truly comfortable in her own skin, then we need to recognize that she is a black kid.
Avery reflects back to her younger school years and is reminded of classmates saying things that really shouldn’t be said in this day and age. “Don’t play with her because she’s black.” “Her hair is an afro.” “Your skin is ugly.” “I can’t invite black kids to my birthday party”. She feels that she needs to do something to make it easier for younger black students. She wants to speak to the counselor to suggest classroom conversations that celebrate diversity and promotes acceptance.
My heart aches for our beautiful, sassy daughter. She often reminds me that Barack Obama has similar skin color and it makes her proud. She is scared when she hears of police brutality that seems to target people with the same skin tone. She is confused when she studies slavery and the Civil Rights Movement because it is hard for her to imagine that people would be unjust towards others because someone is black. Avery is confident when she looks at pictures of her gymnastics team and sees four black, one Asian, and six white smiling faces plus a black, male coach. Avery gets mad when she has to get her hair washed and styled and feels that her hair is her curse. She wishes her hair were straight and able to be styled like her classmates.
I don’t know how to console Avery when she’s hurting. I tell her often how much she’s loved. I tell her that she can do amazing things because she has a servant’s heart. I try to increase her awareness of our black leaders. I remind her to treat others in the way she too would want to be treated.
I try to understand, but I can’t. I hope to bring awareness of this institutional racism that permeates my community. I hope to create an open dialogue that will help others recognize that racism still exists. I want to do more, but I don’t know how.
I feel helpless, but am hopeful. I am encouraged, but know the reality of the world in which I live. I must do more. I struggle alongside of my daughter. She will be stronger, bolder, and more empathetic of others because of these life experiences. I hope the same can be said for me.
**Avery approved this post :-)