If it Takes a Village, Does it Matter Which Village?

Around 1973, when my white adoptive parents attempted to adopt another black child so that I would not be the only one in the family, they were rejected. Between 1968 and 1972 approximately 50,000 black children were adopted by white families. In 1972 the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) called transracial adoption “cultural genocide” because they believed that black children growing up in white homes would lose their racial and cultural identities. They argued that in order to fully develop a strong and positive racial and cultural identity, a child must be raised in a home with people who are of he same racial and cultural group. While I did often have to make a deliberate attempt to expose myself to Black culture, I developed a stronger sense of my identity as a Black woman than many of my friends who grew up in Black homes. This same argument has been made for education. White women make up the majority of teachers for black and brown children. Is it possible for white teachers to teach minoritized children using culturally relative teaching? Is it possible for white men to be effective mentors and role models for African American and Latino men who are considered “at risk”?

I did not have a single Black teacher from kindergarten through my senior year at high school. I do remember there were three Black teachers at my high school, but I was not enrolled in any of their classes. My first exposure to African American teachers was in college. It may be what compelled me to change my major to African American studies. I have never really reflected on why I did that; however, it would make sense that as a Black woman with no Black role models at home nor in my community, I would be inspired by learning about Black history from Black professors. In a sense, these professors became part of my village and helped to shape my Black identity development. However, the one professor who had (and still has) the most profound and lifelong effect on me happens to be a white woman. In my defense, she is more woke than anyone I know, so… it is interesting psychologically that the person I align myself with the most mirrors the community I grew up in and not my skin color. Would I have been more connected to one of my black professors had I been raised in a black home? As an administrator it was uber important for me to make sure that I had teachers in my building who represented the students we were serving. I considered that the race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, economic background, etc. of my students would be diverse and I wanted each child to be able to relate to at least one adult in the building. As a result, I hired a staff that was well-rounded and diverse. It made us stronger as a team and shaped a school culture of inclusivity. When I became a teacher many of my friends assumed that I would teach in an urban area. I’m black with a degree in African American studies. It makes sense.

My goal, as a teacher was to be the representative that I didn’t have for kiddos like me. I wanted to connect with kids of color who were living in predominantly White communities. That was where I related and where I knew I could make the most impact. So, what about white folk who teach in minoritized communities? Can they be effective? If their goal is to be effective teachers and proactively use proven culturally relative pedagogy, then they will be as effective as my parents were at raising me. There are parts of me that my White parents will never be able to understand and connect to, but they were successful at raising me to value kindness, diversity, education, and family. So, the question to ask is what is the role of the teacher? In my experience that role varies from school-to-school and must be defined by the school leader and embraced by the school community. Only when answering that question can we truly consider the whether race plays a role. In addition, we have to consider the background and culture of the individual. If we were to choose who better would relate to Black and Brown students in an urban, high-poverty school, and the choices were me, who grew up surrounded by affluence and in predominantly White schools and neighborhoods, or a Caucasian teacher who grew up in a very diverse, low-income neighborhood, the answer may not be the person with the matching skin color.

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