My parents, who are immigrants from the Caribbean, made the choice to raise my brother and I in an all white suburb outside of Chicago, Illinois. When Black parents make the choice to raise their kids in White suburbs it usually is a decision that is very conflicting. We look to give our kids access to great public schools, safer communities and lots of resources for families but we almost always give up diversity.
My husband and I chose to move to the suburbs for a lot of those same reasons but due to my life experiences, I am mindful of these five things to make sure that my son is not marginalized because of the color of his skin.
- Being Labeled as a Troublemaker: According to the US Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights Data Collection on School Climate and Safety, “During the 2015–2016 school year, Black students represented only 15% of total US student enrollment, but they made up 35% of students suspended once, 44% of students suspended more than once, and 36% of students expelled. The US Department of Education concluded that this disparity is “not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.” Many Black people have stories of their friends or family who have been unfairly singled out by teachers whereas white children are considered “class clowns” and given a pass on bad behavior.
- Undervaluing intelligence: My husband grew up in the city and my brother grew up in the suburbs but what they both have in common was that their boredom in class was considered disruptive in class by their white teachers before their sixth birthday. My husband was expelled from his preschool program from being “disruptive” and my brother was held back a year in elementary school because he was considered “too immature.” My husband eventually was tested for gifted programs and was placed into gifted programs. As a parent, you have to advocate for your child and challenge the narrative from the teacher and possibly the school.
- Being Held to a different standard than white classmates: One of the first things you can ask at your school, is what the rates of punishment are by race. The school will have a breakdown of all the kids by race, then ask them what the breakdown of detention, suspension and expulsion is by race. This will give you a good idea if the school has a racialized punishment system.
- Not Having Teachers that look like them: The first time I ever had a black teacher was as a sophomore at University of Michigan when I took a French class. I spent 19 years of my life being taught by only white teachers who had no understanding of my experience. My son on the other hand, has been extremely fortunate to only have had Black teachers since he’s been in daycare until now. I fully expect this to change when he goes to elementary school in the fall.
- Being the Token: When you are the only Black kid in class, you become the token voice on anything related to Black Americans. The teachers look to you every day during Black history month to answer all the questions or are expected to know any fact related to Black people in America. We have to expand our vision of Black history month so it doesn’t put Black children in a stressful situation but also allows for White children to get a more comprehensive view of American history.
These are just some of the very real concerns that Black parents need to think about that White parents don’t when raising their kids in the suburbs.