The year was 2007; my son was starting kindergarten at a new elementary school. The preschool he attended prior was so good, my wife and I wished he could have stayed there until college, but unfortunately it ended at four year-old kindergarten, so we had to find a new school for our son. Life is about transition but when you find a great school for your child it is very hard to duplicate that experience, especially for African-American families. So as much as we dreaded making this move, we began our quest for a new school by attending as many open houses and school visits as possible.
Of the many school visits we made, the school we selected had a unique presentation during the school orientation. This school visit, however, would be the only visit my wife wouldn’t be able to attend, so I attended this one by myself. This is often a difficult task; in short, as a six-foot-one, caramel complexion, Black, Male, it is very hard to negotiate the racial script used by the predominate white administrative and teacher workforce. The more than 75% white female teacher demographic is 100% of my son’s schooling experience up until my wife and I homeschooled him. So when I walk into a school in plain civilian attire (without my wife or son) I have to work extra hard to convince that community I have reason and purpose to be in that space.
The reason is usually demonstrated by me articulating the date, time and specific activity that is taking place. In this case, it is “the orientation for prospective parents who are considering this particular elementary school for the fall.” You have to nail your reason statement, quickly, because that red security button was pressed as soon as you came in the school, and without good reason your entire week can be messed up due to the school’s reaction to your unknown presence. Sadly, there was always white parents at these orientations, yet, none of them ever said, “hey, he might be here for the orientation.” Instead, you had white parents and staff members all staring with the same blank expression at this mystery Black person.
Once you have helped everyone understand the reason why you are there, then the true challenge begins—what is your purpose for being there? Your reason is now irrelevant, now it’s about your purpose and in purpose we are talking about intent; positive intent is very hard to convey in the face of the racial narrative that my particular race and gender has a behavioral disposition of being socially inadequate in the areas of love, parenting, thinking, parenting, education, law and overall basic parenting—–and Hiphop. So there is no way that the poster boy of “absentee fatherism” is truly here at 9am in the morning because he cares about his child’s education. In my experience there is always a choice, either allow a second public interview or just say, “My wife couldn’t make it.” That gender specific comment reaffirms that I am there of someone else’s fruition and that helps maintain a more believable stereotype that I am not accountable and responsible on my own and this ultimately allows me to participate in the orientation the way I had hoped before leaving home.
It is important for me to include those first ten minutes of dealing with “White uncertainty,” especially in lieu of the murder of Jordan Davis and the second year anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin, both killed under the guise of “White uncertainty,” and both lives cancelled at the tender age of seventeen. I was 33 years of age as I left home in search of a new school for my son, and in those fatherly instances I am accustom to lowering my guard (unintentionally) about my race until that crowd kindly reminded me that we are still in a time period where an unknown Black male is perceived as dangerous. In less than twenty seconds my mind provided an outline of what I needed to convey to keep myself safe, and to maintain composure afterwards to assure I retrieve the information necessary for my wife and I to make the best decision for our son. But at 33 I had 16 years on both Jordan and Trayvon, and, I was indoors. There is no way a Black, seventeen year old teen can justify [reason] and [purpose] to a gun wielding white American dealing with [racial uncertainty], outdoors, under the freedom of self-governing.
The connection between myself, Jordan and Trayvon is best described by “Black Thought” of “The Roots,” on the song “I will not Apologize,” where he says, “never was I into chasing trouble I am followed by.” All three of us had a different agenda then the circumstances we found ourselves in. Trayvon and Jordan dealt with both the subtle and physical assault of this uncertainty. I only dealt with the subtle assault, which at that point of my life was so common that the ten minute delay of walking through “whiteport” security and laying myself on the conveyor belt of judgment, as they unpack my home address, educational background, marital status, and of course my vocation; at 33 years old this was not at all unusual. I understood that each item had to be carefully looked at until they felt comfortable with what I was “packing,” and then I was granted passage, for the moment. This is so routine that to argue against it would be like challenging the air we breathe, it’s that ordinary.
So after such duress how could this school’s presentation be special? How could anyone possibly trust such an environment to teach their son? Once the orientation finally started there were students from three different grade levels that helped lead the tour. In total there were about five, but the one I connected with was a six grade Black kid, named Houston. We spent the majority of the tour talking and laughing. By the end of my visit I turned to him and said, “ Houston, we have Lift Off!” Houston looked up at me and said, “what chew say.”
To be continued………
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The view of education from one African American father
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