“Thank you, Mom, for listening,” she said. I sat down. It’s not often my twenty something daughter begins a conversation thanking me.
I knew it was serious. “I just listened to a TED Radio Hour Podcast called ‘Confronting Racism.’ It was about how Black, and Brown children are disproportionately disciplined in schools. When it happened to me you moved me, and I thank you,” she thankfully continued.
She went on to explain how the talk exposed how Black children are suffering psychological trauma in public schools and what can be done to raise public awareness. When we hung up the phone a solemn realization overtook me: We haven’t told our story.
We, the Black children who are the first generation that integrated public schools, that now have graying hair, rarely talk about our experiences. Our socialization was not to speak of the unpleasant ways that White folks treated us. We tucked those experiences away in the crevasses of our minds. We minimized their effect on our psyche. We overcame, didn’t we?
Some of us survived it; the weak, those who came with other issues, didn’t. Most of us graduated from high school. Some of us even went on to become successful professionals: doctors, lawyers, authors, business owners, and even politicians. But, we continue to wear the mask in the words of Paul Lawrence Dunbar.
Over 60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, after forced integration through busing, and fifty years after my own life altering experience with hostile school environments during the 60’s and 70’s, the painful reality is that notwithstanding the few who made it, thousands perhaps millions didn’t. Too many Black children of today are faced with similar experiences with more dire consequences. When we grew up being children was rarely criminalized.
I took the time to listen to the 'Confronting Racism' podcast. Authors Brittney Cooper and Monique Morris, journalism professor Pat Ferrucci, clinical psychologist Howard Stevenson, and anti-racism educator Travis Jones all shared in painstaking detail how the US public education system is not just failing Black children, it appears to be harming them through adultification and criminalization.
The good news is that presidential candidate Kamala Harris has brought the impact of integration in public schools into the national public’s discourse. The not so good news is that unlike that little girl who was the product of a voluntary busing program in California based on income, most Black children and parents of that era know her experience was and is not our experience.
The racism in public education persists. There are lessons that were not learned from the experiences of first-generation Black students who integrated American public schools.