Representation Matters

I had a necessary and slightly concerning conversation with some other parents at Jackson’s school the other day that revolved around a picture that is on a website from the fundraiser that we are doing right now. This is the picture:

It’s cute, right? What sparked the conversation was one of the other mommies telling me she wished we would have made it to Midvale sooner because we have been such a blessing to them and Jackson is such a great kid. I thanked her and agreed. I told her this was the best elementary school we have ever been in, and that we have been in three of them.

The first one, I told them, was also great, on paper. It was not a Title One school, which is very important to some people. Like, very important. Like one of my old friends, upon asking why her daughter went to our kid’s school (at the time) when she lived just as close to another one, rolled her eyes at me and she said (in a voice just above a whisper, even though no one was around,) “That’s a Title One school,” and gave me a knowing smile. I didn’t have the heart, or maybe the nerve, to tell my “sweet” friend that I was raised in a Title One school. That I am a product of poverty. That I got free lunch. Of course, this is the same woman who said she wouldn’t send her dog to the Charter school that was in our town, even though she knows people who work there, kids who go to school there. And I’m guessing I know some of her reasoning. PS… She’s a teacher. #EekFace

Our kids at that time, my son and her daughter, were in kindergarten together in a school that was, in the state of North Carolina, an A-rated school, sometimes an A+. The problem wasn’t so much that it had a 3% free or reduced lunch population (which we were a part of, unbeknownst to my friend I’m sure), it wasn’t even that I could count the number of “diverse kids” as she referred to them, it was that the school itself didn’t reflect real life. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the school. I met some amazing people there. Of course I also met some people who turned out to be some real assholes, but most of them were pretty cool. And I’m still friends with some of them. And I still think they are doing what is best for their kids, given where they live.

Let me quickly address the free lunch thing, since I sorta just snuck that in on you. We were on the free or reduced lunch program in kindergarten because at the time that school started we had just moved to NC, and Jerimiah didn’t have a job yet. We were still living off our savings while he looked for work, so the school district automatically qualified us for the program, and we took advantage of it for a few months, until Jerimiah found a great job, and Jackson started to bring his own lunch to school. But still, it impacted the “numbers” for the school, and still the people who were privy to this probably looked at us differently. Most likely. This may be shocking to some of you who knew us back then, especially because people always assumed that we moved to NC because of work. But no. We moved to NC to find better work. We knew we couldn’t stay in Southern Missouri. We also didn’t know that the town we were moving into was basically more of the same, just with more money. I never told people that because I was ashamed of it. But truth be told, we were kinda bad-ass for doing it. For selling off most of our things, for taking a BIG chance. And we have been reaping the rewards ever since. But, again, that sorta behavior scares people. And you can’t make friends easily with that origin story.

Again the school we were at for kindergarten through half of third grade was great. The real problem was just that 90% of the kids were little white kids with the same socio-economic status. And as some of you might know, some of you who have left your bubble, moved away from the places you were born and raised (unlike my sweet friend mentioned above) this is not reflective of real life. As I told this story to my new friends one of them actually gasped, a white woman, and said that was her worst nightmare for her kid. To go to school with people who looked just like her. I agreed. Explained that it was a driving force for us to move into “the city” and enroll Jackson into the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, even with its many problems, it was much more reflective of real life. Then I brought up this picture.

Again, it’s cute. But, after what I just said, can you see the problem? You might hear a lot of people talk about representation nowadays. And if you are white, you may not pay much mind to that talk, well because, you are represented. Everywhere. But this pic concerned me in a lot of ways.

First off, this is the pic that all the kids and parents see when they first log into the site. So if you are a little Black girl (which we have a lot of at our school) then you see a scene that is not reflective of your life. If you are an Asian boy (which we have a lot of at our school) you are not seeing yourself represented very well either. And so on and so forth.

This might be a good time to add that the county that we live in, DeKalb County, Georgia, is the second most affluent county IN THE COUNTRY, with a predominantly Black population. Let me break that down for you. Most of the money, coming in and out of our county, is from affluent Black families. We are minorities here. Jackson is a minority in his school. Both in sex and race. This is our life. Our community. And it is good. Really good.

Back to the picture. Did you notice all the white kids are on one side, while all the “other” kids are on the other side. See that? See the token Black girl? And the Asian boy? See the two kids that could “pass” for Latino? It’s a bit odd. And maybe I’m reading too far into it, one tends to do that when they have been enlightened to white privilege, but I don’t think so. I also don’t think, or want to believe, that the company did this on purpose. I think it was more of an, Oh shit, we need some “diverse” kids in this pic too! And then they hurried up and made sure they had “one of each.” That’s how I think it went down. Either way. Bleh.

I think I’m just noticing things like this more because I am more aware of the world that we live in. The world advertisers create. The world the white-males make for us, and I’m starting to call a spade a spade, if you will. Like my sweet old friend, who still has others fooled, but I’ve seen her true side. Her “Christian” side, and it ain’t pretty. But more about her in another post.

So that’s what’s been kicking around in my noggin today. Representation. The importance of being around people who do not act like or look like or live like you. The importance of cutting through bullshit and getting down to the nuts and bolts of what needs to be said. So here I am, saying it. Like always.

This weekend, try to step out of your comfort zone a little bit. Eat at a new place, try a new store on the “other” side of town. Start a conversation with that one Black man that lives in your town. I dunno. Try something. Be present. Show up for others. You won’t regret it.

M.

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