It amazes me that educators will have an entire door decal, classroom decorations, music on, new shiny Scholastic books to read, and parties (that happen within the school day in place of whatever lesson was planned) with green/St. Patrick inspired themes for all of the kids in the classroom but are unable to designate a day within Black History Month to celebrate the presence, history, and accomplishments of Blacks.
St. Patrick's Day is a day.
Black History Month is a month.
During Kingston's parent teacher conference last month, I asked his teacher what she was doing to celebrate in the way of instruction for Black History Month. It was February 9. She stuttered, coyly smiled, put her head down, apologized, and said, "Mr. Gaines. Nothing. I hadn't even thought about it."
I talked about the necessity for children to learn about figures that aren't just Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, or Rosa Parks. That lessons taught to our kids should be age and content appropriate. And that kids realize that Black History doesn't start at slavery or culminate in the Civil Rights Movement. I talked about why erasure of cultural identities hurt our children, society, and systems. And how because she is choosing to not think about or teach about cultural events and figures and hadn't even made the consideration about it, that she perpetuates said erasure.
And for me, the father of a biracial son (whom the world will view, treat, and regard as Black-because: one drop rule) incinerates me. In that moment, not only was I self-advocating for my son, but for the emotional, academic, and social well-being of his peers who may not know anything about the culture or contributions of Black Americans if it's not taught in school. Additionally, it speaks to the continued intellectual and emotional heavy lifting that People Of Color in this country do so that their humanity is understood by the people around them.
I’m not suggesting that educators are the sole designees to teach history and culture. I’m not abdicating individual and the familial role in their responsibility to teach and give the kids the narrative they feel best meets the needs of their child. As parents, we much teach our kids the narrative of who they are. That is our first responsibility. I don't "expect" the school, a government funded organization to do it. BUT I WILL hold them accountable for when, if, and how they do it. I will hold them accountable to teach culturally relevant and responsive curriculum to the my child in the classroom. Especially with my tax money and on behalf of the other kids who need to hear/see/know their historical narrative.
It's important that my son's culture is reflected, celebrated, and affirmed in every space he is in. And it must be, especially considering that the construct of whiteness will encourage him to not celebrate his narrative and to celebrate the dominant one with jubilation and excitement. And if he chooses not to he will be called "problematic" or "disobedient" by teachers around him, and later in life that decision to not celebrate the dominant narrative will be called "anti-American".
I make sure that the shows we watch on TV, magazines around the house, music in the car, food we eat, places we vacation to, books we read, movies we buy, games we purchase, proverbs we post in the house, music played during bath time or when we’re cleaning, traditions celebrated and followed, people we allow around him, the barber shop we go to, etc. look like him. Instilling self-identity and cultural pride (especially in Utah) is paramount to how he views himself and interacts with the world around him. In a classroom environment where his peers have asked “why the dirt won’t come off of his hands” because the brown doesn’t wash off, or his karate teacher reaching in to touch his hair and tell him that it’s “weird that it’s so curly”, or friends wondering why someone a different color than him is picking him up from school we have to strive to affirm the worth, value, and beauty that he holds as a child of color in a state that is white, 73% Mormon, historically socially and politically conservative, and ranking as one of the top ten conservative states in America. We talk news and current events under the standpoint of what he thinks about it and how it can/will affect those who share our identity. And talking about race/cultural identity isn't a one time thing, it happens as the world happens. Research shows African-American adolescents with an informed racial identity have more academic success.
Every parent may not self-advocate for their children. Maybe because they think the teacher is doing it. That they have a hard job and are doing their best. Maybe because of concerns that the school would be uncomfortable celebrating one culture over another (which was why she said she hasn't done anything). Maybe because they don't know how to bring it up. They don't have the language to articulate their concerns. Maybe a language barrier in how they speak English and fear of it being judged. Or their encounters with that particular teacher or educators in the past was met with disregard and minimizing their cultural concerns. Or that because of the way we acculturate people to believe that teachers are doing their children a service by doing their job. There is a myriad of reasons. Who knows.
The idea that you have no lessons, events, celebrations, parties, movie days, build up weeks to culminate in the celebration of the formal holiday or any other age appropriate celebrations is problematic and should be explored. Deeply. Not just from an individual perspective but a larger systemic one. Educators have to see the ways that their behavior perpetuates racial dominance and cultural stigma. And once they see their own behavior and the effects that it has on the world around them, they must work to see how the system they are a part of does the same and work to dismantle it.
If these paradigms aren't challenged, educators are complicit in propagating white supremacy, racism, and bias. Those behaviors become normalized for our children to enact. This is how you teach children to be racist.
You want all your kids to wear green today. And are ok with the kids pinching the kids who aren't wearing green but would send Tyrel to the office for pinching Abby next to him for not wearing a similar dashiki to his. This ideology and the behavior that comes with it says so much about the ways in which you are willing to be a part of an anti-Black white supremacist education system. It speaks to how you will continue to assert that kids all learn the histories of non-Black/Brown immigrants but will always center and encourage celebration of European ones. And if you decide to teach it, you do it from the textbook on your bookshelf without fact checking to ensure that a revisionist, glorified, romanticized view of history is told. It speaks to the necessity to see narratives told and celebrated that affirm you, your history, your comfort, your worldview, and your own personal narrative but not the Black and Brown children that sit in your classroom that yearn for their stories to be told, their culture to be represented, and their identities celebrated.
Stop propagating supremacy under the guise of education and fun when you negate to do it for Black History Month, Chinese New Year, or Cinco De Mayo (that usually results in a chips and salsa snack, piñata game, and everyone wearing handmade sombreros), or any host of other day/month celebrations that center people of color or marginalized identities.
Educators must develop and continue to develop their cultural competency not just for themselves and their own professional/personal development but because children construct ideas about their cultural (and other types of) identity and its acceptance in places that they go and by people they look up to to affirm it and normalize it the same ways as they do their own cultures.
I told his teacher that I’d help her. That I’d bring in books that she could read to the kids during story time as well allow her to borrow games, movies, and other resources we use in our home. She took me up on my offer of support.
It was important for me to ask about Kingston's teacher's celebration of Black History Month especially in a classroom (and school) full of Black and Brown children. Their wellbeing depends on it. They deserve to walk into a room and know that the woman up teaching sees as much value in their lives as they do the Irish-American (read: White) ones that are being celebrated today.