What you can do to challenge racial injustice in school

Written by Rorri Geller-Mohamed, LCSW

January 31, 2020

Most parents prioritize education in their parenting approach. Most of us want our kids to learn and be successful in school. The problem that our kids are facing is that often they are thrown into a school environment that isn’t conducive to learning. School systems are inequitable and have a racist history that hasn’t been addressed.

You likely heard this recent example that has been all over the news about a school not letting a Black student walk for graduation because of his hair. In the school district’s racist opinion his dreadlocks don’t fit within school policy. You can read more about it here and here and here. You can use your voice to call the Barbers Hill school district superintendent to demand that they change their racist policies to let Deandre Arnold walk for graduation. I found the information on who to call to make a complaint on Ijeoma Oluo’s FB page where she reposted Dreeny Paine‎’s post to Seattle Naturals which you can see and follow here. You can call the school district at (281) 576-2221‬. Press 5 (more options), Press 1 (superintendent). I called on Thursday morning, no one picked up but I left a message with my name, telephone, email address and asking them to end their racist policies and allow him to walk as well as describing the harmful effect this has on the social and emotional well being of their students. .

Here’s the thing though, there is a bigger call to action here. Something that we need to be showing up for in our children’s schools. This incident doesn’t just affect one child. Think about the message this sends to all the Black children that are part of this school district. They are hearing messages of not belonging, of not being valued for who they are, and of the people that are in charge of their education not truly caring about them. This is racist and messed up. Where are the white people that are showing up to say this is wrong? All of the white parents could demand the end of this policy and say that if they don’t allow him to walk then their child won’t walk either which would mean there could potentially be no graduation. Not a good look for a school.

There may not be such blatant examples as this at your child’s school but I imagine there are likely situations where your child or other Black kids, Indigenous kids, Kids of Color are intentionally or unintentionally receiving the messages that they aren’t valued for who they are and that they aren’t truly cared for. We need to be actively advocating for a safe learning environment for our kids because anything less is unacceptable.

What sometimes prevents us as parents from doing this?

  • We want to but we don’t see the problem likely because of our whiteness and the white supremacy culture we have been raised in. It’s a blind spot even if we don’t think it is.
  • We think as long as we talk to our kids about it home then that is enough.
  • We worry about being labeled “that parent”
  • We don’t believe that we actually have power in the situation to change it. These systems are designed to keep people oppressed and it feels uncomfortable asking to challenge it.
  • We don’t know how to say it in the right way and worry about explaining it wrong.

Our kids deserve better. They deserve to go to school and learn. They deserve to feel safe and protected from harm especially when they are in school. They deserve to feel that they are valued for who they are.

When these things aren’t in place, it puts our kids at risk of mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, it puts our kids at risk of academic challenges, it increases the likelihood that they will engage in high-risk behaviors.

So step up and get involved in advocating for a safe learning environment for your child of color and all children that allows them to thrive.

To showing up.

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