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Monday, December 13, 2021

Institutional Racism

 Originally posted 2/13/2020 to Hellobee.com.

My son has, and has always had, an abundance of energy. From the moment he wakes up until the moment he falls asleep, he’s talking, jumping, moving, playing, and generally not being still. I remember joking with someone once that he would climb over a table before he ever walked around it.

When he started school, it was a bit of a concern for me, but he was only four, so surely he would be fine.

Isaiah attends a private religious-oriented school. My family is not of the same beliefs as the school, but my husband and I enrolled him there believing that a private education would equal a better education for him. The cost was a burden, but we discussed that he will likely be our only child, and if we have to skip out on a few things to ensure he gets the best education, so be it.

And it was fine, for a while. Preschool was difficult for all of us, because of the initial shock for him of going to full day school, and then the added challenges of my diagnosis and our life changes. Kindergarten was more normal, and he did very well. Each conference was met with an overall positive experience, but it was always noted that Isaiah had a lot of energy.

Then first grade started, and this is where I feel our significant troubles began.

As far as demographics go, Isaiah’s current school is 4% African-American. There are 20 children in his class, and he is one of two students of color. He is the only child who doesn’t look like at least one parent.

By pointing this out, I already feel like I’m betraying white people. And I hope that no one who knows his teacher or the administration reads this. Because I truly don’t think they’re bad people, but I think Isaiah has fallen victim to institutionalized racism.

“Institutional racism is a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. It is reflected in disparities regarding wealth, income, criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education, among other factors.” 1.

To show how difficult this is to even put into words, I had to step away from this post for a week, and my thoughts are still not completely gathered.

We were in a meeting at the beginning of the year because it was brought to my attention that Isaiah was being bullied. That issue was quickly addressed and seems to be resolved. But the main issue that Isaiah was reporting to me is that the student kept repeatedly asking him why he doesn’t look like his parents. And that’s a natural question, because we are different, and we were expecting this. However, the subject wasn’t being dropped when the question was answered. We have always been very open with Isaiah about his adoption and our differences, but I feel extremely bad for him at school because he has to carry the burden of our choice to adopt.

The ongoing issue is more complex. At the first conference, the principal and teacher expressed concern that Isaiah has a higher than normal level of energy, and suggested we contact his pediatrician for evaluation for ADHD. I have some experience with ADHD, and along with reading more about it, decided almost immediately that the symptoms don’t fit my child. But, like most parents, I think my child is perfect, so I contacted his pediatrician. We had a long discussion about behaviors and symptoms. Isaiah has had the same pediatrician since birth, and I think the world of him, and trust his medical opinion without question. When he told me that ADHD has never been a concern for him with Isaiah, I took his opinion, and not only because I agreed. But well, that does help, doesn’t it?

Without a diagnosis, Isaiah was placed on a modified behavior chart to closer identify behavioral issues. Which bothered me, but it isn’t my classroom, and if it’s what they need to do to get through the day, okay.

In December, a note came home that we should schedule a time to discuss Isaiah’s behavior, which was a shock because I thought the issues had been settled. After Christmas, we went in for another conference, and ADHD came up again. At this point, there had also been another significant issue at the school where a staff member was removed, and I didn’t completely appreciate how there was a lag in communication with parents of students. So going into this conference, my husband and I had essentially already decided that we were going to switch schools for next year.

When ADHD was brought up again, I said, “I spoke with his pediatrician and this isn’t a concern for him or for us. Isaiah doesn’t have any memory issues, no questionable moods, in fact, his grades have gone up since last semester. His pediatrician says he just has a high level of energy.” The principal responded, “Well, maybe he’s saying that because of his age.”

And I shut down. Because at that point, I had nothing else to say. I have no problem with a medical diagnosis and medication when it’s required. But when it isn’t required, why is it being pushed? My child has energy. He has a personality. And I will never dull that to make someone else more comfortable.

My thought, and by no means is this proven fact, is that Isaiah is experiencing institutional racism because he is being targeted by his behavior as being atypical, when in fact, he’s a bubbly, carefree, six-year-old boy. He loves life and he lives large. As he should.

So we’re going to visit a new school this week to see how he feels about it. We have done research into the demographics around us, and want him to feel comfortable. The school we’re going to visit is 25% African-American, and as you know, representation is important. I was encouraged to see that they have black staff members as well.

It’s disappointing for me and my husband, because we thought we were doing the right thing by putting him in this school. However, I hope that Isaiah will see our willingness to accept when we’re wrong and our attempts to change situations for him for what they are. Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we’re always right. And that isn’t just us, it goes for everyone.

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