And so it begins. The realities of raising a child who straddles two worlds. The worlds that divide her between skin color and socioeconomic status.
I’ve been touring preschools. Recently, I toured a small school on the east side of Austin. It was filled with mostly dark-skinned children, Hispanic and black. The teacher, in what would be Annika’s class, is a black woman. Two other teachers were Hispanic. Almost all of the children were of another race besides white. In fact, I only remember seeing two white children. The school was inexpensive cheap-as-all-hell compared to the schools that come highly recommended in my parenting circle.
Education-wise, it is prep for public school. Annika’s would-be class is covering topics that she is already fluent in, colors, shapes, numbers, ABCs. Most likely, she’s already ahead of many of these kids. The set up was adequate. They had a discipline policy that I felt comfortable with. The teachers were warm and friendly, as were the children.
Earlier in the spring I toured a Montessori school that I adored, and although they only had a sprinkling of dark-skinned children, the director informed me that they actively recruit minority children out of desire for diversity in their school. My only problem with that school is that they don’t have part-time days and we feel that Annika simply is not ready for five-day-a-week schooling just yet. Her personality is such that easing her into things slowly works way better.
Then I chatted on the phone with a preschool that has a part-time slot available for the fall. It’s a small school with a progressive educational philosophy and comes highly recommended in my circle of friends. I’m scheduled for a tour early next week when they open for the summer.
When I asked about diversity I was met with hesitation. She informed me that there were no African American students in their school but they do have an “Asian presence.”
This is not about bashing any of the fancy, expensive schools.
It is what it is, and I don’t blame any particular school, nor do think they are purposely keeping black students out of their schools.
It’s the world we live in. Even if we were in Detroit suburbs we’d be facing this dilemma as well. Although, there would be some black students, the upper scale preschools would most likely be majority white as well, even in a metropolitan area that has a huge population of black people.
Austin only has a small percentage of black people as it is, so it’s not surprising that private schools are lacking in diversity.
For a day and a half, before I had a chance to discuss this with Toyin, I obsessively wondered, which school will we choose? What’s more important? A leg up on education? A philosophy that we think would instill early educational values that we agree with? Or is it more important that she’s around kids who look more like her?
I have no doubt that the upper echelon school practices tolerance and the children would most likely be from families similar to our current social circle.
But they are all white. Annika would be the only one in the school who is black. At some point, she is bound to notice and wonder why. She has a very clear understanding that her skin is brown, daddy’s is brown, and mommy’s is white. She notices our differences.
At this age, in the school with mostly minority children, she is not going to wonder why she isn’t being given fancy blocks and sandpaper letters.
But as her parent, I know the difference. I know that she is not getting what I consider to be a better education.
I discussed this dilemma with a few friends who are in biracial families. They all preferred the school with dark-skinned children.
And so, it begins and ends all at the same time. Even though I haven’t toured the upper-crust school, I have little doubt in my mind that I will like it.
Ultimately, I left the decision to Toyin.
For now, I am planning to defer to him on final decisions about racial issues, for what I think are obvious reasons. Other than his skin color, he and his family have a strong connection to the Nigerian immigrant community. Annika will very likely feel more of a connection to the culture of her background rather than her skin color, so if the decision were between a mainstream school filled with Nigerians, learning how to speak Yoruba and learning about Ife Ife, then the decision would have been obvious.
But since we live in America, and most of the black students will not be actual Africans, it makes the decisions a bit more murky to me.
I don’t want Annika to live defined by color. But yet, it is a factor when deciding where she will spend time getting her education.
I guess, what gets me the most is that people talk about wanting diversity and preaching tolerance, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of action behind those words.
If we are going to raise children in a racially tolerant world, a world that becomes less racially divisive as the generations unfold, then it starts in preschool.