Gentrifying the ‘Hood: Don’t Just Talk About It BE About It.

My friend Elita, of the incredible breastfeeding blog Blacktating, is a passionate sistah who has a voice and isn’t afraid to use it. She’s also particularly skilled at finding internet ignorance she knows will get me worked up. All she has to do is drop a link in my Twitter feed or on my FaceBook page with a, “this is unbelievable” or “this makes my head hurt” comment and, dangit, Bobby, I’m whipping up posts to counter the ignorance.

Such was the case this week when Elita hipped me to this Babble.com blog, Public Schools in Gentrifying Hoods: Who Wants to Go First? In it, a white mother wrangles over whether to let her youngest child go to the neighborhood school near the “urban” home she “adopted” five years ago, or whether she should send her kid to private school or get permission to transfer her into a richer public school with higher test scores.

To be fair, the writer does say she feels awful about embracing city life and moving into the funky houses and talking the talk about “diversity,” but, in the same breath, suggesting her kid is too good to sit next to the children of the people who’ve long lived there. The irony and elitist thought process apparently isn’t lost on her. But then she goes on and on about how ALL of her friends are fellow transplants to the neighborhood and NOT ONE sends their kid to the neighborhood public school, with their not-so-great test scores and not-great facilities.

As earnest as the writer is, as desperate she is to sound like the good guy who just wants the best for her child, I can’t help but feel a little dirty after reading her piece. Like she’s suggesting that the natives in her “urban” neighborhood are boogymen she’s either too scared or too good to talk to to ask what they think about the schools their children attend and the teachers who teach them and the parents who run the PTAs and genuinely want the best for their children and are trying hard to get a good education for their kids from the very schools the transplants turn up their noses at.

Ironically, I get this mother. Because I thought the same thing when I moved into a predominately white, conservative neighborhood in the South, where trailer parks are a mere two miles from my new home. The difference, though, is that Nick and I stopped going by what the transplants had to say and actually investigated our neighborhood, Title 1, not-so-great test scores school for ourselves. And I wrote a post about what we found over on The Parenting Post, called “In Defense of Poor Public Schools.”

Check it out if you’re so inclined.

And have a fantastic weekend!

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

4 Comments

  1. I’m a white mama of two brown girls (through adoption). We do not live in a “good” public school district. The plus side is that our district is racially diverse—white, black, and Hispanic. BUT, our schools are on acadmic probation by the state and there are many racial fights. There are gangs, too.

    It’s so important to me that my children aren’t the only black kids in their class, yet, I do not want them in a failing school district that also entertains racially-motivated violence.

    The alternatives are 1: private school. 2: moving to a different school district. The downside of #1 is no racial diversity, which isn’t an option for us, not to mention the expense of private school. The downside to #2 is that the surrounding districts are less racially diverse but (upside) the schools are much much less violent and they are better academically.

    As an educator, I know the power of a good education. It can propel my daughters into a life of passion for their jobs (what do you want to be when you grow up?), financial stability, and options.

    I think all moms work hard to do what is best for their children—as women, we should challenge each other with new ideas, but at the end of the day, support one another trusting that each parent knows her child best.

    • I find it surprising and disturbing (while, unfortunately understandable) that most people feel like they only “choices” they have are the ones listed above.

      What about organizing? What about making it so that EVERY child gets a great education, not just your own? What about creating community sponsored alternatives by convening ALL parents in the neighborhood to envision what a REAL, WORKING, DIVERSE, SUCCESSFUL, school would look like, and making that happen? Why do we cheat ourselves out of the BEST by thinking that things must be the way they are, simply because that’s how they’ve been?

  2. I am a black mother. I received my elementary, junior and senior high school education in a failing school district almost identical to the one in the post from Babble.com. Because of my experience, if presented with a choice between sending my daughter to a private school or failing school district, I would send her to a private school WITHOUT HESITATION!!!!!

  3. I wanted to add that we plan on adopting a sibling group from the foster care system—probably a minority sibling group since they are considered the least adoptable (sadly). So, those kids will be older than my current two kids (a toddler and an infant)—-and it’s so important that we “pick and park.” Kids in foster care have been shuffled around so much. It’s not fair to them to move them from school to school. We’re going to have to do a ton of research and make the best choice we can.

    Additionally, it’s unrealistic to send that many children to private school. It’s just too costly. I’d rather spend that money on a nicer/bigger home, vacations, and giving back. So, we’ll move to a better school district, even if it is less diverse, to avoid violence and failing school districts. Education is too important to hope that a failing school will get it together.

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