Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
I grew up in one of the most racist, segregated places in the United States — Milwaukee, Wisconsin — and for a portion of my childhood, I had no idea. When you’re younger, you are not always aware of the challenges you’re going to face because of where you live, how much money your family has, your gender or the color of your skin. All I knew was I had my parents, a home to live in, friends, and most of the toys and clothes I wanted. I was happy. My neighborhood was safe, I was able to ride my bike or play outside, and most of the people in my neighborhood looked like me.
The interactions I had with people who looked different than me were short and uneventful — that was until my parents decided to take me out of public school and enroll me in a program called 20/20 that transported inner-city kids to suburban schools. Looking back, I understand why they made that choice. They didn’t like the education I was receiving at MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) and due to segregation, all of the good schools were in white neighborhoods. So at the age of 9, I left the comfort of my environment and was dropped into a rural farm town with about 10 other Black kids to attend school.
I remember having to get up very early in the morning to catch the bus for the 30-minute ride. I looked out the window as the city landscape disappeared and was replaced with flat farmland and weird smells. There was nothing familiar about what I was looking at. The first time the bus pulled up to the school, I immediately noticed that all the students walking in were white — and I immediately felt nervous and out of place. I was somewhat used to being different because I was raised a Jehovah's Witness and often stood out because of the faith's religious beliefs, but this was a different feeling.
I remembered the instructions my parents told me: “Don’t leave any food or drink unattended, don’t eat or drink after anyone, don’t use anyone’s comb or let them use yours, don’t share lip gloss, take any medicine, gum or candy from any of those kids. And if anyone treats you bad, call us.” With those commands in my head, I walked in. When you’re young, you’re very aware of your feelings, if you feel safe or comfortable around people. You can read energy. Despite the smiles of the administration and teachers, I didn’t feel safe. I was too young to know why or what to call it, but I knew their smiles were not genuine. And that feeling lasted throughout the entire time I was in the 20/20 program, which was fourth to 12th grade.
What I was feeling was what it felt like to be Black in white spaces.
At home and in my community, life was spoken to me. I was told I was smart, pretty, creative and that I could do whatever I wanted. At school, I was disrespected, discriminated against and my greatness was always questioned. How was I able to read so well? Did I really write that story all by myself? Did I really score that high on that test? Being smart and a high achiever was met with suspicion and accusations. The fact that I could run fast or sing well was not shocking to them and they encouraged those talents. But when I scored high on a test, I must have cheated, right?
It was confusing because as I walked the hallways I could see the influence of my culture everywhere, from the way the kids dressed, the music they listened to, even how some of them tried so hard to emulate the culture of their favorite Black rappers. They loved everything about Black culture except the Black people. How was that possible?
It was no different for me as an adult in corporate America. The magnifying glass was always on me and I had to reach an ever-rising bar of excellence that my other melanin deficient co-workers didn’t have to. It’s the main reason I left and became an entrepreneur.
I want a different life for my daughter. I want to nurture her talents and show her other ways to make a living so she doesn’t feel having a common nine-to-five job is the only option. I want to put her in as many safe spaces — spaces where she will be celebrated — because I know what the real world will be like. This is why I refuse to send her to an all-white school.
I understand that she will be her own person who will make her own decisions. I graduated high school in 1999, so my experiences are over 20 years old. But even in today’s time, Black kids in white spaces are too busy fighting with the fact that they are being tolerated and mistreated rather than welcomed. Kids are proudly flashing the nazi salute, teachers have dressed up as the border wall for Halloween, Blacks kids are being put in mock slave auctions — and these are just a few of the examples that made national headlines. How are Black children supposed to focus on their education in those environments? Let’s add to that the fact that our Black kids are often punished harsher than others and are being educated by teachers who don’t know, understand or love our culture, more than likely unwittingly contributing to structural racism.
I’m not mad at my parents for sending me to an all-white school; I know they were doing what they felt was best, and that’s all any good parent tries to do. I can’t shield my daughter from everything, but based on my experience, I can try to make some choices that will give her different experiences from mine and therefore shape her life differently. She will have all her life to deal with unfair treatment, defend her Black girl magic and try to decide what battles to fight. While I have control of the environments she is placed in every day, I will do my best to make sure her childhood and adolescence are fostered in self-love, education about our history and modern-day hurdles, intersectionality, support and pride.
I know that we as parents want our children to have what is considered the best, but in my opinion, sending your Black child to all-white schools does more harm than good. Racial trauma is real, and I’m learning how to heal myself in a world that constantly gaslights Black people. Let’s start taking control by doing everything in our power to protect our children’s mental and emotional well-being.