Educating Our Children & The Myth of Black Inadequacy

Examining the common "belief" that Black parents aren't equipped or able to educate our children.

In the Twi language of Ghana, there’s an Adinkra symbol of a mythical heron bird. Its feet are pointed forward while its head is looking backwards. This symbol is called Sankofa and is known to mean “Go back and fetch it”. A belief that means, amongst various interpretations, that the key for what you need moving forward can be found if you look back at where you’ve been. Or as I’ve come to understand it: Learn from the triumphs of your past to guide you through a challenge today. 

I like Sankofa. For many reasons. As a writer, a very intentional and self-reflective person, and conscious parent, I’m always looking back. Always reflecting. Trying to understand how I’ve gotten here. As a mother, hoping to heal herself in hopes of healing my own mother and daughter, looking back is essential. To see how we became who we are. But Sankofa isn’t only for self-reflection and healing generational trauma. 

When it comes to homeschooling, this idea that Black people can take our education into our own hands, there’s a resistance. The white resistance in which I’ve been able to name as our audacity, but also there’s our own. And while it often--though not always--comes from a different place, it still manifests in the same way. A disbelief or an uncertainty in our ability to  do it. 

In conversations I’ve had with many Black folk close to me curious about homeschooling or how our family homeschools, there’s a common thread that implies we (parents or caregivers in general, but specifically Black parents and caregivers) need school in its current form. We need teachers, whether or not those teachers are interested in or supportive of Black children, to facilitate education. It’s not unusual to hear parents lamenting that they could never homeschool because they don’t know how, they can’t teach, or any other number of things. And I get it. 

This doubt isn’t simply born from our own internal feelings. Though there’s room for that as well. But these messages about our inadequacies, our deficits are constantly embedded and thrown onto us. From the media, our school curriculums, and the constant barrage of studies that promote Black inferiority, Black inadequacy is heavily promoted. Everywhere you turn there is something or someone telling you how we are not equipped. 

Where does this come from? Well, Black inferiority can only be rooted in white supremacy. And yes, because of the way that works, and how we’ve been colonized and continue to be through our media and schools, we often internalize those messages as well. 

It’s tough, to be sure. A battle I know far more intimately than I’d like. But whenever I face this particular form of doubt, I think about Sankofa. Go back and fetch it. When Black parents feel like they can’t or don’t know how, I remind them that we have and we can. Before conventional schools, we were teaching our children. Before the messages of inferiority and inadequacies, or as N. K. Jemisin put it so beautifully in her forward to Parable of the Sower, “dire predictions” for Black people permeated our mindsets, we had education. We only have to look back. To return. To remember what we’ve always done. 

In this remembering, I ask that you reframe your current idea of “homeschool” and think instead about the ways our ancestors came together to educate themselves and their children. In particular, when I consider Sankofa, I’m reminded of their community and commitment to both education and liberation. As we return back, remember we have all the tools and the guidance to do this. You can, we can, together. 

“Without community, there is no liberation” ~ Audre Lorde

Continue exploring with African American and Education During Reconstruction.

Something to Watch

  • America to Me - On the heels of the election, somehow I came across this 10 episode documentary that followed a group of students attending a racially and culturally diverse school in Chicago’s Oak Park suburb. Over the 10 episodes we get an intimate look inside a school that is often considered a beacon for Black families who want better education and white families who crave “diversity”. But what does that actually mean in reality to the Black students that attend it? Low expectations of Black students, the stark segregation within the school itself, a school board that refuses to seriously address racism, white teachers who berate the emotions of their Black students, and the emotional distress the students inevitably face.

    “We sit in a country that really hasn’t decided yet that it wants students of color to achieve at a high level.” ~ Glenn E. Singleton, Founder Pacific Education Group

    To be transparent, I went to a high school exactly like Oak Park and I’ve experienced all of the aggressions and nuances that the young people faced in this documentary. But what couldn’t fit inside 10 hour long episodes over the course of a year in filming, is how an environment like that can affect Black children long after they leave school. How it can encourage feelings of less than, unworthiness, and lack of cultural and self-awareness. Which often morphs into negative and limiting beliefs about themselves. In one of my very first essays on Black homeschooling I wrote about (re)discovering that the “good” schools aren't good for us. In exchange for a “better education”--which I completely understand--we may not understand what we lose in its place.

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