This West Suburban Black Mom Skipped “America to Me.” Here’s Why

Our community has been captivated by the Starz docu-series, “America to Me.” But I haven’t watched the show myself.

Not because it isn’t interesting; rather, I didn’t watch it because racism and racial achievement gaps in Oak Park are topics I have been writing, talking, and fighting about since my husband and I decided not to place our children in the schools there five years ago. Not only were Oak Park schools racist, but, it was painfully obvious that they had no real desire to fix the racism.

Don’t get me wrong. Oak Park had committees, boards, and community meetings, that talked about the racial achievement gap. There were and are lots of community meetings about racism and the racial achievement gap. Oak Park has even written some good reports about the racial achievement gap.

But while Oak Park education leadership and community leadership has excelled at meetings and writing reports, they have failed over and over to actually implement any measurable success that actually fixed the racial achievement gap. Somewhere between the meetings, the committees, the plans, and the writing of the reports, actually implementing anti-racist policy in the schools has fallen by the wayside.

Oak Park’s historic inability to actually implement any anti-racist policies or programs that address the root cause of the racial achievement gap leaves me skeptical that anything will change now. So the idea of engaging in any well-meaning but time-sucking meetings, discussions, or creation of plans to close the racial achievement gap that take place now, thanks to the momentum of “America To Me, ” would be frustrating and a waste of my very limited energy.

There is only ONE REPORT I WANT TO READ ON RACISM AND THE RACIAL ACHIEVEMENT GAP AT OPRF: a report that lists all the policies, programs, and initiatives that have been previously attempted and an accurate, honest analysis of why they failed. Since that report has yet to be written or proposed, I continue rolling my eyes inward, while smiling and nodding, about “plans for reform.”

The hard part about being friends with White Oak Parkers who call themselves anti-racist is, that while they are sincerely well-meaning, they lack either the ability or the community support to make real change. I don’t believe anyone currently employed with or associated with the Oak Park Public schools truly has the skills or tools to bring about real racial equity or even to fix the racial achievement gap.

Many Oak Park residents would gladly come to a #BlackLivesMatter rally. Yet these same people will fight any reforms to the gifted and talented program, especially any that could possibly mean– gasp– loss of resources for their White children.

So, other Black folks in the west suburbs and I continue to smile and nod while White liberals vow that this time, they will do something, really, this time, to fix the “racial achievement gap.” Meanwhile, we Black parents with options and resources enroll our children in other schools. We’re tired of hearing talk about the “deficits” of Black children while nothing changes to address the structures that continue to hold our kids down.

I’ll keep smiling and nodding until I see a plan that addresses the racism of White Oak Park residents, schools, and institutions. I’m waiting for a plan that centers on reducing the individual racism of white people. I’ll sit up and take notice when a group White people demonstrates they are willing to voluntarily give up the aspects of White privilege that benefit their children. Until then, I’ll keep smiling and nodding.

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ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson is the mother of two free-spirited, strong-willed girls and has a husband who should be appointed a saint for co-existing in the madness that is their life. She writes on politics, education, current events and social justice. She is also a taco enthusiast, a proud member of the Bey-hive, and truly believes that she will be receiving her letter from Hogwarts any day now. Find her on Twitter at @S_KnottDawson.