What I learned about the work it takes to protect children from anti-Blackness from being homeschooled
There's no amount of preparation for all imaginable disasters that can stop those disasters from raining down on you when you are Black
My fiance and I are at the point in our engagement where we are pouring over every decision we might possibly ever make together to ensure we are on the same page. I actually don’t know if it’s really just a singular point, or if continual desperate preparation for all imaginable disasters simply defines what will be the rest of our lives together. But for the sake of my mental health and my yet unmastered anxiety-coping skills, I’ma call it that.
We both want 3 children. Adopted, ‘cause too many Black kids are stuck in the foster care system for us to be paying hundreds of thousands for surrogates. We won’t raise them in New York City. It’s too much going on here, and too expensive. We are okay with adopting older children. That one he helped me come to. Sometimes, we ask questions so that the other can help us come to the place of mutual understanding. Questions that are a trusting hand extended—lead me.
“Will we homeschool our children?” He asks, his words unfurling into a palm outstretched toward me. I hesitate to answer, to lead. “Have you thought about it?” he follows up. Of course I have. I was homeschooled myself up until the 9th grade, and it was a life-defining experience. As a Black person, I am grateful for how much institutionalized anti-Blackness I was able to avoid up until then. For a time while homeschooled, I resented being cordoned away from my peers. But I have a different perspective on that now, and that’s not why I hesitated.
I am firm in my desire to protect my Black children from losing themselves to the world for as long as possible. But I am simply afraid I won’t be able to.
My mother was a trained educator. She actually finished her education degree while I was in her womb, walking miles to campus and back every day so that she could shore up the skills to teach me and my siblings. She shouldn’t have had to walk. She shouldn’t have had to acquire skills to protect us from the world because it shouldn’t have been trying to kill us. But she did.
As a Black Hare Krsna adherent (a sect of Hinduism), my mother was used to charting her own path. She understood that this world was not here to protect her and her babies, and so she tried her best to do what it would not. Even though we were broke, teaching us remained her full-time job, sometimes to our and our empty stomachs’ dismay (my father definitely was not making enough to care for their combined 19 children). She shouldn’t have had to choose between us going hungry and instilling in us the memory of loving ourselves before the world makes us forget, but she did. She chose the latter every time.
When Black folks talk about their experiences in school systems throughout middle school, I do not envy them. I do not envy the textbooks that called the brutal African slave trade “migration.” Or the white teacher who tried to convince my fiance he was stupid when he was just a boy. Or being forced to take the first steps in the school-to-prison pipeline. I do not envy absorbing the idea that you can be a “bad” or “good” student, and that those designations depended on how white you spoke or thought or wrote. I got all of those things later, of course, but at least by then I was not a kid anymore.
My mother let us Black children just be Black children. Homeschooling wasn’t so much about what she could teach us, but about what she could prevent the world from teaching us. It was about preventing it from teaching us to hate ourselves. To hate other Black children. Preventing it from teaching us that despite the fact we should have raked up 400 years of wealth, we were always supposed to work, work, work—and even when we did, poverty was still our fault. In fact, I rarely remember her giving us homework. Education was the experience of being as free as we could be, and that was education enough.
Despite all of her efforts, by eighth grade I was resentful of my homeschooling experience. I blamed it on wanting a more active social life back then, but it wasn’t like I didn’t have one. Outside of my bajillion siblings, my mother ensured I stayed involved with other kids by enrolling me in Tae-Kwon-Do and swimming classes, and even somehow came up with money for me to join a rec basketball league.
This made the transition to public school (nearly) seamless in terms of my socialization. But for some reason I wanted nothing more than to be done with homeschooling for my high school years, and I was willing to face everything she protected me from to get out of it. Maybe it was just teenage angst. Or maybe it was the way my mother sometimes became indistinguishable from the world she was protecting me from, especially when it came to her violent censorship of my gender and sexuality, so what was the difference?
My mother did so much preparation to fight the world for us, but her inability to fight it when it came to my queerness showed that the world towers over any of us. Is stronger, too. And when my fiance asks me about homeschooling, I just remember how powerless we all are in comparison. How, no matter how much of my writing career I commit to exposing the dangers of uncritical desires for representation, so many Black folks still cling to it as a saving grace.
No matter how much I want us to be free, Black folks still die every day. No matter how deeply I embrace my queerness, there still may be a part of me that resents it. And my mother, who did everything I could have imagined when I was younger to set the foundations for me to love myself, helped the world breed that resentment in me.
I remember that powerlessness well, and so when he asks me about homeschooling, I want to tell my fiance that sometimes I don’t even know if I can provide for one child, let alone three. That one family adopting a few kids won’t change the system that makes sure Black kids stay in need of homes. That I don’t see myself ever leaving NYC, even though I complain about it all the time. I want to tell him that sometimes I don’t even know if I can love him the way he deserves, let alone our Black children. Let alone all Black people.
There is no amount of desperate preparation for all imaginable disasters that can stop those disasters from raining down on you when you are Black. I am inadequate in the face of all this, so what is the point? I am not enough like my mother to successfully protect our future children. Or I am too much like her. I shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other, but I do.
Until I feel his metaphorical hand still outstretched even after I dismiss his question with a vague, “I don’t know,” and realize maybe it wasn’t an invitation to lead after all. Maybe surviving as Black in this world isn’t about always being the perfect leader when called upon, or being the perfect parent, or the perfect teacher, or the perfect partner. Maybe it’s about acknowledging when you’re not able to lead even when you’re expected to, acknowledging when your parenting isn’t perfect so that you can work on it, understanding when you should just listen even when you’re expected to speak.
The world wants us to choose between perfection and its abuses. You can’t love and learn from your mother if she is anti-queer! Homeschooling Black children won’t save them from the anti-Black world! We can’t abolish prisons because then there will be violent criminals out on the streets! We make these choices because we don’t think we have any other option. But my partner stays showing me that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to be a tool for our liberation, as long as we acknowledge the importance of other tools in the kit. That we don’t have to save our children or ourselves from everything to try to save them from some things.
So I tell him I want use the skills my mother taught me and avoid the mistakes she made in educating our children. I may not always be successful, but for the sake of my mental health and practicing my anxiety-coping skills, I will not allow myself to stay in constant desperate preparation mode for all imaginable disasters. If a better solution than homeschooling comes up, I will take it. If there is a school with educators I trust to love Black children, I am open to it. If my fiance is a better teacher, I will let him take the lead.
If I know anything from my experience as a Black child being homeschooled, it’s that no one person has all the answers to everything this world throws at us, not even my mother. I am slowly learning to allow myself not to have them all either.
*Editor’s Note: This month at BYP, we will be exploring Education & Schooling, and we are interested in publishing works that address these topics. What are the implications of charter and private schools in communities of color? How do we counteract anti-Black textbooks and teachers in our childrens’ education? How did you heal from bullying or other school-based trauma? What tactics are most effective in deconstructing the school to prison pipeline? What role do alternative schooling methods play in Black liberation?
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