Becoming an Antiracist Parent

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Kids working on project

I grew up in a family of educators. Both my parents and all my aunts worked as teachers, principals, or at the collegiate level. Throughout my childhood they all emphasized the importance of a well-rounded education. My family was not afraid to be hands-on when it came to my education and ensuring I had all the tools necessary for success.  

One place there was a need for family to be hands-on was when it came to learning Black history. I grew up in central Virginia and attended a school where I was one of two Black students in my class from elementary through middle school. All my teachers K-12 were white. The schools I attended for elementary and middle school made no recognition of Black History Month. I do not recall more than a brief lesson or mention of prominent Black historical figures we are now accustomed to learning about; Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Fredrick Douglass were all footnotes to a larger lesson plan. There was no mention of the Civil Rights movement or an exploration of slavery beyond the simple line of thought: It happened, it was bad, it was fixed. Usually, this wide range of topics was confined to a single lesson. I was forced to learn the details and necessary nuance that should have accompanied those lessons at home from my mom or other relatives.  

It took me years to understand the emotional toll this gap in my education had on me. I essentially received two educations: the traditional U.S. history lessons not atypical for a student of the early 1990s, and a second education on my culture, heritage, and history to learned in a makeshift classroom known as our kitchen table. The danger of this dual education experience is that I felt isolated from my classmates.  I was unable to connect with them beyond the surface level because large parts of my story were omitted.  It was as if I lived behind a veil where I had to pretend that I fully subscribed to the lessons I heard in class when in reality they always felt like half-truths.  

The disconnect I felt in the classroom had a lasting effect on me, both in my performance in class and in my home life. Having my story left out of the teachers’ lessons left me to fill in the gaps on my own. It was frustrating to see my white classmate’s history so eloquently explained through stories and illustrations in our textbooks, while mine was never mentioned.  

Fast forward to the current day; I am the parent of two biracial children. I am fully aware of the peaks and valleys they will likely face as they grow into adulthood, and I am aware of the responsibility my wife and I must prepare them for life outside our home. Preparing our children for adulthood means making sure they do not experience the same feelings of disconnection and isolation in school I experienced as a student. They deserve an education based in truth and historical facts.  

Children get the most out of school when they feel safe, and that comes from feeling connected to their community. When my kids experience an antiracist-based education grounded in fact-based historical truths, they are learning a complete history that is representative of them. The exposure to a well-rounded curriculum creates opportunities for them to learn about themselves and their classmates. In addition, an antiracist-based education allows them to connect with classmates through a shared understanding of each other’s experience. This creates an environment where everyone, students, teachers, and parents’ benefit. They learn from one another and gain a sense of community. 

My wife and I are responsible for providing the best opportunities for our children and we can do that by supporting the teachers who support our children. Maintaining open lines of communication with their teachers, and letting them know we notice, and appreciate them teaching lessons based in truth and compassion. We will actively be seeking ways to complement our children’s teachers by providing access to recommended teaching resources and creating cohesion between the lessons learned around the kitchen table and the ones in the classroom. Our kitchen table conversations will be supplements providing context and learned experience, and not be responsible for filling the gaps in our kids curriculum.  

We are not educators in a classroom, but that does not mean that we cannot support our children’s teachers who strive to create safe antiracist classrooms for all their students.