Is My Daughter Going To Survive Being The Only Black Student In Her Class?

Actually, that title is a lie and I’ll tell you why I worded it like that intentionally.

Until about three weeks ago, my daughter was one of two black kids at her school. One (a boy) is in the grade above her. And then it’s her.

The school is fantastic in every area…except diversity. To be fair, it’s a private school located in an “excellent” public school district (as rated by the state) so why would parents even pay to send their kids to a private school in the first place? (I chose the school because my daughter was a bit timid and I wanted a school with smaller class sizes and more one-on-one attention during her transition to school.)

For all of kindergarten and the first month of first grade, she was the only black student in her class. She was quiet (much more than she usually was in daycare and preschool), very smart but timid. All of her teachers would remark on how shy she was.

Then three weeks ago, another black student transferred to her school (to her class) and it has been like night and day. I chaperoned on a field trip and had the two of them in my car and they giggled together in the backseat like they had been friends since birth. It was amazing. My daughter had confidence that I had never seen before.

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So of course I start over-analyzing everything. Ugh, am I screwing her up because she doesn’t get any reflection of herself in any of the people she’s coming in contact with every day? Does she have a negative self-image? I was hoping that this wouldn’t be an issue because she’s so young, but maybe it doesn’t matter? Maybe everyone, even babies, like to see themselves reflected in the world they live in? 

While I’m going all Psych 101 on myself, I switch gears. Maybe they’ve just bonded because she’s “the new girl” and SHE’S the one gravitating to my daughter? 

So now I’m trying to make sure she’s okay. That she can thrive in any environment and she knows how special she is. So far we haven’t had any problems with her wanting to look different or having her ask me questions where she’s questioning why her skin is brown and her classmates are a “peachy-color” (her brother’s words). So the best I can do at this point is to continue to talk to her and assess what environment might be best for her. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’m not.

Have you ever dealt with this, feeling like your child might not be fitting in somewhere as well as you’d like? 

 

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Written by Tara

Tara Pringle Jefferson is the founder and editor of TheYoungMommyLife.com.

Comments

  1. I feel like that all the time when we get together with our families. Language barriers, as well as complexion, it’s a whole can of worms. I’m hoping and waiting for the day where she can be around a more diverse group of kids, but I know she will never really get to the point of seeing kids that look like her since she’s blasian.

  2. This is interesting. My kids also go to a predominately white school. Actually, aside from a Kindergarten teacher who has brown skin, they’re the only black students in the school. Now let me say, they go to a public school and it is fantastic, as are most schools in New York! My daughter is in 1st grade and about a month ago she really started begging for me to make her hair “flat” like the white girls in her class. I’ve been styling her hair in ways that allow her to wear it “down” so she can fit in a little more. I made it straight, I was hesitant about doing so, but I obliged her anyways. I would definitely prefer my kids to be in a more diverse environment because I think it’s hard for kids to accept themselves when the standards of beauty around them seem to be the opposite of what they are.

    It’s tough….

    • I went through that stage with my daughter in Tx. She wanted to wear her hair down and show the white girls that she had long pretty hair too. Now that we are in Pa she wears it curly and every now and then wants it straight. The white girls are trying to get curly hair like her’s. They are asking their moms to make their her like my daughters:) It’ll change when she gets older. She’ll become who she is and they’ll be following her hair styles like my daughter!

  3. Great topic… my hubby & son (8 yrs old) just moved to a town outside of NYC, considered “affluent” (hate that word)… and our family is pretty much it in terms of chocolate folks. Everyone is very nice, although I am still apprehensive (I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago & the N-word rolled off many a tongue-my horrible horrible introduction at 11 yrs-17 yrs of racism). Son will still be going to his pvt school in NYC, but I am hoping we can find boys his age and his experience will be much different than mine. Thankfully he doesn’t mind going up to people and introducing himself, asking them if they have kids and if they are married… definitely an 8 yr old ice-breaker!

  4. Yes! We moved from Texas to Pennsylvania last year, to an area that has little diversity. My daughter (11yrs) is the only black (with the exception of a couple of bi-racial kids) in her 6th grade class which is over 300 students. She fits in because of her personality. She has become a chameleon before my eyes. She talks white amongst her friends but talks normal at home. Last night she called her friend from Texas and her mother answered the phone. She later told me that she had to tell herself to change her tone since she was talking to a black parent not a white one. I set her down and we talked about her feelings and she’s ok. She loves her school, her teachers and her friends. She told me that she just changes when she gets around them, it’s automatic. She has great self esteem.
    My son (14yrs) loves it as well. He fits in more he says. The guys in Texas never accepted him as the guys in Pa do. I am a little apprehensive as well since he is the only black athlete and “black cool kid” at his high school. I’m not ready to let him go hang out yet because you just never know if there is any hidden racism. I hope your daughter opens up over the year. Maybe her new friend will help her come out of her shell and be more confident within herself and skin. I think my kids are more confident than I am :) It’s a little hard for me to go to a football or basketball game and we’re the only blacks in the whole stadium or gym, but it doesn’t bother them!

    • Megan you hit the nail on the head… I’m way more uncomfortable around a bunch of folks and hubby and I are the only black people. So far my son seems to have no problem with it. He’s just happy & smiling all the time. We were at a neighbor’s house with some other neighbors, while the kids were playing upstairs and one of the wives says “OHMYGOD I can’t believe they are now letting people vote with library cards. LIBRARY CARDS! that means any old immigrant can vote illegally” … I knew had we not been sitting there … the N-word just may have flown out of her mouth.

      • Faith I can relate. I was at my son’s football game and a parent asked what was his number……….I paused and politely said 76. She looked weird because she probably realized that she put her foot in her mouth because my son is the only black on the field. DUH!!

  5. I don’t think you are over reacting at all just being an observant mother. As people of color I don’t think their is anything wrong with observing these type of things.

    I do it all the time and my daughter can pass for *peachy*. <– Love that by way.

  6. This is a difficult subject for me because I grew up in a largely white area in PA, but the few blacks that I went to school with were not accepting of me. The people in my area are largely middle class and the public school I went to had both wealthy and poor students. The white students at my school where more accepting of me than the black students. And many of my white friends from grade school are still my friends now. From the first day of second grade when I moved into the area, I had the most bullying from other black girls. I grew up in a family of educators, engineers, musicians and artists, so education and the arts were very important in my family. Therefore, as grew up I ended up being the only black student in honors classes, band, orchestra, and choir. Among the other black students in my school, it was not cool to be smart and black. I guess I wasn’t cool enough because I wasn’t on the track team, basketball team or drill team. Also, I grew up in a very religious household so I didn’t know all the words to the latest rap or hip-hop songs. I tried so hard to fit in with them, but I was never accepted. It was hard identifying myself as a black girl only to be rejected by other black girls. They made me feel more insecure about myself than the students of other races. I wish I had a more diverse school experience with other black girls like me or who were at least more accepting of me and willing to get to know me and relate to me in other ways.

    That experience helped me to understand that a true “sistah” isn’t always defined by race. While race is often the common bond that brings blacks together, true friendship and acceptance comes from those who see past that. I have close black, white, hispanic and asian friends. I don’t have to talk more white or more black to fit in with them. As parents we must teach our children to be comfortable in their own skin, hair, intelligence, and personalities. If they are not finding meaningful friendship in their school, make sure they are involved in other activities where they can meet other children with whom they can form bonds. My parents help me get out there and just meet people. They put me in the girl scouts (only black girl), summer day camps (only black girl), church activities (yea other black girls!), community orchestra (only black girl), and made me play with other kids in the neighborhood (only black girl). I had to learn at a young age how to meet people, become approachable and less shy, and relate to others who are not like me. My true diverse school experience didn’t come until college, but until then, I survived, and so will your children. And the experience will equip them to be able to handle any social or professional situation.

  7. Honey the only thing screwing your daughter up is you. If she was feeling a funny kind of way, it’s probably because you projected those ideas on her. My daughter on many occasions have been the only girl of color. It was never an issue for her. LOL I am a grown women who has been in that situation countless times. In elementary I was frequently the only person of color generally, (much as I hate to say it) because I was usually in honors or gifted classes. I had PE on occasion when girls of color. I actually felt more out of place in that class because I had less in common with those girl. Honey, you are making much too do about nothing. I think you need to look in the mirror and ask who really is having the problem.

    • Well, I would have to say I disagree with you on many points. We live in a society where sadly (sometimes, FORTUNATELY) our parents are NOT the only people who influence the way we see ourselves, how the world interacts with us, or the world sees us.

      I applaud Tara’s efforts to empathize with her daughter and to remain AWARE of the many challenges children of color (and children of other minority groups) face simply BECAUSE of their difference. Those issues are then magnified when said children are in an environment where they are alone, even the child with the highest self esteem is impacted by a world that oftentimes fails to address their unique and worthy existence. Sadly, the imprints of society can not be willed away by a confident attitude, or even by an individual’s experience of feeling this has “never been THEIR problem” or that they refuse to see it as a problem.

      Tara, I recently just wrote about this very issue on my blog (http://enchantedroots.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/clutch-we-hear-you-new-study-links-healthy-racial-pride-to-academic-achievement/). Do you mind if I write about this blog post in the future? I would love to feature it in future posts.

      I think more parents should ask the very important, authentic, and hard-truth questions you ask in this very post. In talking with my mother from a young age about these issues, you are not the only parent to address these questions. In fact, I am glad you are using this blog as an outlet to get other parents to look in the mirror. We adults all have a hand in shaping a child’s self-esteem and identity, and I hope we all do what we can to contribute positively to the large task ahead of us.

      Good luck with your daughter and children! I’m sure you will do an amazing job to buffer the VERY REAL issues that can come up from being one of the few people who look like her in the classroom. :) This post leads me to believe you already are doing great!

      • @Najat – Thanks! I feel like I must be observant for the sake of my daughter. Wherever there is potentially an issue, I want to be there to monitor it. And yes, you can write about this post! :)

  8. Those concerns are certainly expected. But, to ease your frustration, from elementary-high school, I was often the only african american or african american female in class. It only made me stronger and wiser. I am now a confident african american husband with a little african american son and daughter and facing an entire set of new challenges.

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