What I Learned About Race Through the Eyes of My Brown Boy

My eight-year-old son smiled as we drove to school on the first day in August 2014.  “I’m so excited, Mama.  I have butterflies and frogs in my tummy.”  By the end of the first week, he was lamenting third grade.  “I hate school,” he’d moan on the morning commute.  Before the end of the first quarter, I overheard him telling a playmate, “Yeah, I’m probably going to fail this year.”  After his friend left, I checked in with my son.  “Why do you think you’re going to fail?”  He shrugged, “That’s what my teacher told me.”  The mama bear rose up in me. “You are not going to fail!  We are in this together.  Mama will do whatever it takes to help you make it through this school year,” I committed.

Each day I would ask my son about his experience at school.  Being the astute observer, he reported the differences that he saw.  “My teacher is harder on the boys than on the girls.”  As a mom of two boys and one girl who has worked in formal and informal education settings for over twenty years, I understand the differences between boys and girls.  The traditional school model favors girls…sitting in one place for hours on end, discussing a topic, and writing a response to a reading.  Boys need the freedom to move; they like to put their thoughts into action.  I could see how a teacher in a traditional setting who is pressed to meet certain academic standards in order to meet testing requirements might feel more comfortable working with girls.  Females comply, and the teacher can get her job done.  I’m not saying this is right…I’m just saying I understand her experience.  

“Mama, my teacher is also harder on the brown kids than on the white kids, “ he shared.  This comment sent me through the roof!  Although I am a white single woman, I am parenting three adopted bi-racial children.  Our lives model diversity.  We lived in a racially and economically diverse neighborhood in an urban district.  Our drive time and dinnertime conversations centered around race and identity.  We have friends from every background.  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of our family heroes.  His dream that “one day children will be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” is our creed.  I have taught my children what matters most is the heart.  So…to hear my little boy tell me that he experienced racial bias in his elementary school angered me.  

Tamara Fyke
Tamara Fykehttps://loveinabigworld.org/
Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator, author, and brand manager for Love in a Big World, which equips K-8 educators with a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that is both research-based and practical, and also provides the supporting resources necessary to empower students to be socially competent, emotionally healthy problem-solvers who discover and maintain a sense of purpose and make a positive difference in the world. Tamara is the editor of Building People: Social & Emotional Learning for Kids, Schools & Communities, a book that brings 12 wide-ranging perspectives on SEL to educators, parents, and leaders. Now more than ever, we need to teach our children what LOVE looks like. Find out more at loveinabigworld.org.

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