I’m a Black PTA Mom and It’s Weird AF
The PTA is a social club of Whiteness. But I’m not in the Club, and these women are not my friends. Yet, I’m still here.
Blackness is moving in the world and entering spaces that do not belong to you. It is a quick scan and not being at all surprised to see only White faces. It is sitting down with an existential sensitivity to being both watched and ignored.
Whiteness in these spaces is defined as more than melanin deficiency. Performing Whiteness is engaging in the room in the way only Whiteness allows, not questioning your entitlement, being dismissive of racial others, and thinking your perspective is the middle norm from which all other perspectives deviate. This performance of Whiteness excludes. It says to Black people, “You do not belong here.”
But I belong in this space. It’s the PTA meeting. I have three kids in school.
My status as a parent doesn’t make being a Black body in this White space any less awkward. After the summer of protest, (some) White parents found themselves bewildered at the police terror Black people know intimately. Surprised that this is “still” happening. They had a “racial reckoning.” White parents needed a White knee on a Black neck for 8minutes and 46 seconds of slow death to be awakened to the horrors and trauma of White Supremacy.
So they started book clubs, with White Fragility being the first text of choice (how ironic that a White woman is profiting from telling White people about White Supremacy). They googled, “How to talk to my children about race.” They wondered aloud, “What can I do?” They talked about “being afraid to get it wrong,” and how this has paralyzed them from taking action.
They are more afraid of getting it wrong than actually combatting racism.
And they expect us to manage these fears, these feelings. They slide into our Facebook DMs asking to have coffee so they can explain themselves after they’ve said something ridiculous, all so they can prove they are a Good White Person. They’ve made it about them. It’s truly the Whitest thing.
At the time I joined the PTA, our school was in the midst of a racial crisis. A racially diverse student body, but a racially homogenous White teaching staff. A teacher wore blackface but “that wasn’t her intention,” and the leadership response was nonexistent. The district’s equity committee had been ineffective for years. Another Black mom and I decided that the school’s PTA needed a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee (although, I’m coming to hate the name and its shortened “DEI” or “EDI”). We proposed the committee and we assumed the positions of Equity Committee Chairs. In exchange for being chairs, we needed to attend all the PTA meetings. That’s that backdrop when I walked into a meeting for the first time. I wanted to engage on “how can we promote equity” (an admittedly incomplete notion), and I (thought I) was there for only that reason. At the time, I did not care about the fun run, the mother’s breakfast, or the auction. (I feel differently now as I want inclusion even in the little things.)
But my presence was more marginalized than my interests. I was an interloper; physically there yet still separate. The members — mostly White women — were friends with each other, and the PTA served as an extension of those relationships. Before the meeting began, they talked about partners and TV, updates to their lives from the last time they saw each other at pick-up… the things friends talk about. Everyone seemed to know everyone and everyone seemed to have a role.
I had a right to be included. But those women did not include me. They knew not what to do with my Black body in their White space, but content with my physical presence, yet still in my place. I did not belong to their social world. Our kids went to school together, maybe they were even friends. But these women were not my friends. They made no independent effort to pull me into their fold.
So I forced my way in. We can’t wait for White people to open the doors.
I am positioned differently now, not only as a caregiver. I am now tasked with being a district leader on “equity.” The (volunteer) job is not only advocating for actions toward anti-racism and ableism and classism and LGBT-phobia in ways that make meaningful change for students — not just making everyone feel like they are doing something — but also having to pull White people along in the process. I must be strategic and organized. I now write stinging emails but save them in my drafts, coming back to them later and tempering down my racial anger impulses. I read them again outside of the cloud of ready to curse a mutha — out.
In this role, it means doing a lot of continuing anti-racist education because even though it is not Black people’s job to educate White people, it is my job. It means giving advice on which books to read and discuss, and then explaining why a book club is not actual work. It means vetting diversity vultures out there exploiting the moment, taking advantage of White guilt to fleece school districts out of thousands of dollars for a one-hour zoom “training.” It means asking what seems like obvious questions to people who have spent a lifetime never having to answer anybody over anything.
It means opposing incrementalism because while history bends towards justice every year a child doesn’t get what they need is a year closer to subordination.
It means we don’t have time for book clubs. It means making people angry and uncomfortable while keeping my eyes on the prize and strategic. And it means attending every meeting and five-hour school board meetings.
It means doing a lot of emotional labor. It means being exhausted not only in body but in spirit.
It means confronting self-described well-meaning White people on why I don’t care about their well-meaning-ness. It means exposing White people’s investment in White supremacy as supported by the very fact that they want me to acknowledge their well-meaning-ness. It means sometimes having to be the dissident by rejecting the workshop rules to “assume everyone is coming from a good place” and “give the benefit of the doubt” and “everyone is coming from a different place” and “this is a process.” It means explaining why none of that matters.
It means being lonely.
But it also means doing what I am supposed to do in the path laid out before me. It means doing the work of living my desire to fight for every child, and not just my own. It means sacrifice but for something I know, I am uniquely prepared to do.
So I keep showing up. Even though it’s weird AF.