Children will soon, if they haven’t already, fill the halls, cafeterias, and school play grounds as they adjust to the rigors of another school year. As a parent my hope is always the same in late August/early September of every year. I hope my boys do well and I hope they are treated fairly. I pray that no incidents will occur where my children are “othered.” I pray that this school years brings fond memories, bonding with peers, and positive relationships with teachers and administrators. Above all else I pray this is the year I stay out of the principal’s office and continue to stay out of jail. There have been a few incidents in past years where my children were called niggers and it felt like I was a constant fixture in the principals office, and I considered long and hard whether a swift and accurate punch was worth losing my freedom.
Since those incidents I thought long and hard about how to advocate for my children especially when an incident occurs, especially in a school system that is ill-prepared to handle such offensive gestures. Below is my gift to parents; a plan for advocacy when the unspeakable happens. It is a plan I wish I had thought of prior to the frustration we went through as a family.
Simply put; get S.C.R.E.W.E.D. Make sure to tighten things down and advocate for your child.
- Schedule a meeting. When an incident occurs or when you feel your child is being treated unfairly or being mistreated do something. Trust your “Spidey” senses as a parent. If it doesn’t feel right investigate. The microaggressions can wound just as much as explicit racism.
- Calm and controlled you must be—the battles you choose– do so wisely! If you can’t keep it in check now is not the time to meet. Kicking down the door of the school although it would feel GREAT, will not give you the results you are looking for for your child. It may also threaten your freedom.
As a parent of a child of color you must learn you can’t attack every offense. One reason being it would just be too exhausting. Choose which battles are worth fighting. If you storm the school at every side-ways glance demanding someone be fired you will be dismissed as the crazy parent and no one will take you seriously.
- Resist the urge to scream racism. The mere utterances of the words “racist” or “racism” bring the conversation to a halt. No school or administration sees themselves or their staff as racist. Racism and racist brings up images of a Confederate flag waving, moon-shine smuggling, back-woods boy from the south which in no way reflects your school district. You again will be dismissed as irrational. Instead use hot button-contemporary words and phrases.
When an incident occurs you could say, “I think my child has been the victim of racism.” Many hear racism and close their ears to what comes next because they know THEY are not racist. Instead say something like, “I feel as if my child is being bullied and this is affecting his self-esteem.” Bullying and its impact on a child’s self esteem cause the ears of the school to stand up. Know what your school’s hot buttons are and use them to your advantage.
- Expect the “intentions” debate. “Mr. Hofmann, I understand you feel your child has been treated unfairly but his teacher’s intention wasn’t to make him feel bad. Some times our children have to develop tougher skin.”
Often the argument is we didn’t intend for your child to feel that way so we take no responsibility in that. Your child must get tougher and there is no issue. Don’t fall for this okey doke!
Early in my marriage I would say and do some selfish and insensitive things. When my wife pointed them out my response was I didn’t intend it that way and I would wash my hands of the offense. That didn’t make my wife feel better and it didn’t correct the problem. Intentions don’t matter when someone is offended. The offending party needs to be made aware of the offensive behavior so they don’t continue to offend. Blaming the offended party is a cop-out. Prepare for this response and don’t get conned in to debating intentions. Bring to light how the offense made your child feel. Schools do care about the child they service and this should get more positive attention.
- Work for change but understand it is a slow process. The temptation is to fight city hall to create change but by doing so you fail to resolve the issue your child is having NOW. Work to resolve this one issue then once resolved work for system change. Be selfish! Make things better for your child FIRST then work on overall change. Also keep in mind it is not your job to organize a diversity team, conference or educate the district. Again, avoid the bam boozlement!
- Experience this with your child. When there was an incident with my youngest son I wanted to storm the school, and set something on fire. Although that would have made me feel better it was important for me to include my son. I should have asked him how he wanted it handled. By doing so it would have empowered him to handle things on his own later in life.
- Demand follow-up. Often there is a huge swirl of activity when the incident occurs. People agree to meet, plans are set, restitution is discussed and then a month later you realize nothing really happened. Be sure to set measureable goals with follow up dates and hold them accountable.
Email works great for this. After the meeting, send an email to all involved stating your understanding and give a timeline as to when you will follow up. Having things in writing helps to force accountability and it creates a nice paper trail if needed later.
My hope is no one needs this list but my experience is many will desperately need a plan of action. Remember to get S.C.R.E.W.E.D. so you don’t get screwed.