An Open Letter to Black Families Unexpectedly Homeschooling
Dear Black Families Unexpectedly Homeschooling,
We, Black Mother Scholars, ask you to pause and reflect as we experience this world Covid-19 pandemic together which has caused major interruption to our daily lives. It has also given us a chance to spend more time with our children. As you assume your new job as a homeschool teacher, we invite you to teach your children Black history; especially when Black children are subjected to physical, symbolic, linguistic, curricular/instructional, and systemic suffering daily in school.
We want to alert families to these hidden types of violence that are taking place in schools right before our eyes and share ways you can heal your children using Black history. Any of these can and do happen to your children despite your:
· social class,
· social standing,
· geographic region,
· skin complexion,
· ‘proper’ home training,
· Standard English,
· dress style,
· marital status,
· involvement in school,
· academic achievement level,
· academic track,
· or any other factors that Black parents think will keep our children safe.
Importantly, even if your child does not experience all five types of violence that we name, they are witnessing them which has its own psychological damage.
Below are links to a few real examples that are not isolated or historical:
· Symbolic Violence. April Carr’s son was threatened by his teacher, “That’s how people like you get shot.” This example demonstrates how Black students’ psyches, spirits, and humanity are attacked by negative stereotypes. Black children are also subjected to symbolic violence daily when their voices and experiences are ignored and silenced.
· Systemic violence. African American children are disproportionately referred to special education classes and are suspended and expelled in significantly greater numbers than their non-Black peers — even in preschool! Systemic violence is embedded into the school structures, policies, and customs such as tracking, under-resourced and overcrowded schools, and zero tolerance school policies.
· Physical Violence. Sometimes the violence that our children experience is in the form of a straight-out physical attack. In October 2015 — a 16-year old Black girl in South Carolina was violently thrown from her desk by the school’s resource officer as the entire class looked on. An 11-year old girl was wrestled to the ground in New Mexico by another school resource officer (October 2019), which resulted in a concussion and several bruises on her body. A six-year old girl in Orlando, Florida was handcuffed and arrested in 2020 for having ‘temper tantrums.’
· Curricular and Instructional Violence. This type of violence is evident in the whiteness of curriculum, materials, texts, and the absence of normalized teaching of African and African histories day-to-day, week-to-week. For example, in New York Black students were cast as slaves for mock auction and in Georgia during a Civil War reenactment, a Black student was told by his White peer, “You are my slave”. In sum, Black history is mis-taught, distorted, sanitized, and/or omitted in schools so our children learn that White people are the creators of everything and should be respected. They do not learn the rich histories of Black people, our contributions to the U.S. and to the world historically and contemporarily, or our sense of agency and resistance.
Dr. Bettina Love, Endowed Professor at the University of Georgia, says from the moment our Black children enter the school doors,their spirits are murdered on a daily basis. Here are some ideas for healing our children:
- Family Discussions-Set some time aside to meet as a family daily to reflect on how everyone is coping. In a large bowl, place individual questions to foster a space of open discussion. Some of these questions may include: Since, being in quarantine what do you miss the most? What do you worry about? What new hobbies have you gained? Where is the first place you would like to visit? Who is the first person you would like to go and see? You will be surprised on what kind of responses you hear. Also, take some time to discuss, issues of structural racism because our children are listening to the news alongside us and are experiencing many emotions as well. Remember, it is okay for you to show vulnerability.
- Character Development Using Adinkra Symbols-Have your children find character traits of African and African American people historically and presently; highlight the courage, ingenuity, and resilience of Black excellence across times. One source is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on Facebook.
- Readings-Useni Eugene Perkins’s poem, Hey, Black Child. There is also a picture book and online video with this poem. For older readers, the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You is an engaging read and can be found on Audible (Hint: it can be read to them by the author — not you!).
- Africa-Begin with geography lesson of continents and then learn more in depth information about Africa. For example, the song, In My Africa. Families can focus on ancient Kemet (Egypt) and the Ma’at principles: truth, justice, balance, order, compassion, harmony, and reciprocity through discussion, read alouds, and research. The read aloud, Light as a Feather: The 42 Laws of Ma’at for Children provides our children with background knowledge of ancient Kemet and the seven principles. Likewise, it is always fascinating to know that Africa is the cradle of all civilization and to study ancient kingdoms such as Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Kush, Ghana, Songhay, and Mali so we understand many of the legacies present among African American people today. Children will enjoy role playing and dressing up as kings and queens.
Let’s use this time to heal Black families and communities. This is an urgent call that will extend beyond the current pandemic.
Kamania Wynter-Hoyte, Ph.D.
Gloria Swindler Boutte, Ph.D.