Nice White Parents is a 5-part podcast uncovering an overlooked but powerful obstacle in the fight for public school reform and desegregation in America – white parents. This podcast explores the influence of white parents on parent councils that shape largely racialized schools. It looks into the limits of diversity as an end, rather than as a means, to bridging the racial education gap and follows the history of one Brooklyn school shaped by the awkward and harmful efforts of its upper middle class, white parents.
I started this podcast series because I am beginning to understand my own experiences studying in an all-white Gifted elementary school program. I have been thinking a lot about the internalized shame I had towards my identity and most sadly, towards my immigrant parents. If I had an understanding of why I felt so desperate to set aside my racial and religious identity then perhaps I would have been rewarded with a healthier school experience. I wanted to understand what could have shaped this experience but the type of racial reckoning happening in America is not happening in Canada. The work of Canadian activists, academics, and communities is largely dismissed under a form of Canadian exceptionalism, as if to say Racism only exists in the States. Therefore, American sources are one way to supplement a person’s understanding of how racism manifests in our systems.
If you are like me and have become used to understanding systemic racism as face-less, unshakeable institutions, read the rest of my reflection and give this podcast a listen. After all, to understand a racist system, you need to know its complicit players.
Who joins parent councils?
Because so much of the podcast follows one parent council, it is important to acknowledge the barriers to joining an unpaid school advisory group. These councils structurally exclude parents without caregiving support, time, and money. I asked my mother whether she ever considered joining or if she knew any other Immigrants who did and she laughed saying she was busy raising me and my siblings. Would my Gifted classes have been more diverse if the teachers who recommended students were more representative of the students in my city? I cannot answer this question, but I have suspicions about the impacts of white parent groups and admins on my life as an elementary student.
White saviours in our schools
This podcast explores the harmful impacts of “well meaning” white people on one Brooklyn, NY school. Its white parents were saviours who thought their mere presence and money would elevate a community out of its problems. Their whiteness and access to wealth also intrinsically made them experts on progress and development. In their zeal to be seen as allies, white parents took over the administration of racialized schools. Worst of all, their good intentions absolved them from any accountability since – if their intentions were good then surely any harm that came was accidental rather than systemic.
In its desire to be seen as virtuous, white saviourism uses the bodies and problems of racialized communities to execute its own power and developmental vision. It is interventionism without the army and voluntourism without the building of wells. But replace army with money and wells with literal schools and you get the same result – a project rendered dependent on white approval and resources for survival.
Nice White Parents reminded me of something Malcolm X once said:
[White conservatives] are like wolves; they show their teeth in a snarl that keeps the Negro always aware of where he stands with them. But the white liberals are foxes, who also show their teeth to the Negro but pretend that they are smiling. … One is the wolf, the other is a fox. No matter what, they’ll both eat you.Malcolm X
While one group is actively hostile to efforts to decrease the racial education gap, the other is, on the outside, an ally. But this desire to be seen as an ally and a leader, means there is no desire to defer to the wisdom and expertise of racialized communities themselves. Often times the voices and sensitivities of white advocates will be taken above the interests of racialized organizers and communities who would benefit from mainstream attention or resources. Instead, as happened in the podcast, resources are confined to the limited and privileged interests of these so-called advocates.
This podcast (or this reflection) are neither indictments on acts of service or charity. Far from it. Instead, both are calls to reflect on our intentions when serving others and act upon those reflections. If our desire is to be seen as good or we cannot pinpoint why exactly we see ourselves as experts on the issues impacting a different community, we need to stop and restructure our efforts. If we have resources to share, we cannot just consult a “target” community. We need to actively work with and form our conclusions around the interests of these communities we wish to serve.
We as students can also not consider ourselves above this harm. Start by reflecting on how many privileged students with “good intentions” rally other students to “give voice to the voiceless” or voluntour to the Global South? How many privileged students continue to treat the houseless populations in their cities as fodder for their awareness raising campaigns without any sustainable form of reciprocity?
There are many lessons to take away from learning about the barriers other communities face in advancing justice. But the lessons we take away may also be reflections on the state of our own communities and hearts. If we decide that these problems only impact the States or just one school, then we haven’t really learned from our collective histories. If however, we learn from each others’ mistakes then there is hope to rectify, rather than repeat, history.