My Kids Learn Black History All Year Long At Home, Because They Certainly Won't At School

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
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Almost thirteen years ago, we became a multiracial family after my husband and I adopted our first child. We were chosen by our daughter’s birth mother to adopt our daughter, a Black baby girl. Everywhere we went, we drew attention. Our family’s adoption status was glaringly obvious. We adopted another Black daughter two years later, and then two years after that, a Black son. (Yes, we had three children under the age of four.) We attracted stares, comments, compliments, and insults.

As white parents, we had done some pre-adoption education, but it was when our family became multiracial that we realized just how white-favoring the world was (and still is). I looked at everything through a lens of racial diversity and wokeness. What I learned was that if my children were going to grow up confident and proud in their Blackness, we certainly wouldn’t be able to rely on the education system to help them.

From the get-go, we noticed the lack of representation for our babies. The preschools we toured had one or no Black dolls and a single board book on Dr. King. Store shelves featured a single racially ambiguous doll and action figure, the one high out of reach and on clearance. The white toys were front and center, and there were plenty of options. When we shopped for clothing, cartoon characters printed on the fronts of tee shirts were almost always white. Books that focused on a Black person were almost always on turmoil, mostly on slavery and Civil Rights.

We did our best in those days. We stocked up on every book, toy, art piece, CD (back then), and anything else we could find to help our children see themselves and learn about Black history. In addition, we found them a mentor, expanded our friend circle, found a Black hair braider and barber to help us with the kids’ hair. We continued throughout the years, switching to a majority-Black church, honoring Juneteenth, and finding all the Black Santa Christmas décor we could. We wanted our lives to be representative of our family—racially diverse.


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Fast forward to today, and Blackness is still treated as a bonus assignment or special rather than the norm. Remember, separate isn’t equal. To ignore history in its totality, instead focusing on the greatness of whiteness, doesn’t benefit any student of any grade level. Yes, I want my kids to see themselves accurately represented in academia, but their white peers need to see this as much, perhaps if not more, than my kids. Shielding children from the truth only perpetuates supremacy and harms the children who will grow up to be adults, adults who sit in board rooms, who own companies, who run all of the things.

When Blackness is treated as a bonus assignment and not a norm, it’s not beneficial to any. Yes, my kids need to see themselves accurately represented in academia, but their white peers need to see this just as much, perhaps if not more.

Relegating Black history lessons to February, the shortest month of the year, is hardly what children (or adults) need. There’s just so much to learn, and arguably, even more to unlearn. None of us have been untouched by supremacy.

I’m so thankful I haven’t waited or relied on public school systems to teach my kids what they need to know about race. Here we are, thirteen years after becoming a family, and I’m wholly unimpressed. Yes, there have been great strides, but some of them are simply the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Some attempts completely miss the mark or are superficial at best.

I am glad to see progress in the forms of activism and awareness. There are positive policy changes happening across the country, such as ditching racist dress code policies that discriminate against Black students’ hair. Juneteenth is now a national holiday. Critical Race Theory is passionately debated, and I’m glad this issue is on the table. We have a Black woman in the White House. However, we have a long way to go.

Parents can’t afford to wait on other people and systems to get on board and get it right. My family doesn’t have time for that. So we read the books, watch the documentaries, listen to music and podcasts, and discuss, discuss, discuss. My children are learning the history behind Juneteenth and Black Wall Street, what code switching and white fragility means, amazing Black inventors, listening to Black artists in all sorts of music genres. They’ve learned that Memorial Day used to be Decoration Day, a holiday created by Black Civil War soldiers to honor their fallen.

I’m all for Critical Race Theory, real history, Juneteenth, and all of the things I never got as a kid in public school. However, I’m not going to wait around for politicians to create laws and policies to mandate these be taught and observed. Progress takes time, time that is precious.

I also don’t trust white teachers to teach accurate history to my kids. I just don’t. These same teachers who would only teach about MLK in January and a sprinkling of Black history in March are now suddenly supposed to be woke? No, just no. Now listen, before you DM me, I love teachers. They are overworked, underpaid, and are freaking saints. But they are not immune to supremacy and racism in America. Many teachers were brought up in the same public school system I was, the one where race was taboo and Black history was limited to slavery and bus boycotts.

We can fight for racial equity while not waiting on it to catch up with our children’s needs. Teachers often say, and it’s true, that parents are their children’s first teachers. Parents, it’s up to us to teach our kids. That means we have to be educated ourselves and be willing to learn alongside our children. We will make mistakes—and that’s OK. However, I’d rather screw up and keep going than wait on any system to decide that my kids’ race is important enough to be included.

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