As a sociologist, I am trained to focus on broad trends and large generalizations. As a mother, I am trained to focus on my children and their well-being. As a black sociologist and mother, I try to do both simultaneously in order to protect my children and the systems they are embedded within. This means I must also think about others’ children too. But after volunteering in my children schools for a few years now (how I attempt to do both), I’ve learned I am in a minority in this approach. Even those who know the research see to put themselves about it when it comes to their own. And it is absolutely infuriating to me.
Early this summer, I sort of subtweeted some of my anger– about how parents in my local district use unspoken privilege to navigate the gifted and talented program, and about how the NY specialized public school system totally failed black students, which is symbolic of larger trends. I didn’t think much of this until an editor at The Atlantic reached out and asked me to write about my tweets.
My first thought was “who me?” Despite the fact that I am a sociologist and a mother, my imposter syndrome told me that I didn’t have the expertise.
But then, some other training kicked in – most specifically the workshop I did with the OpEd Project where I learned about the underrepresentation of people of color and women in media, and where I was reminded of the importance of experimental knowledge. I talked myself up and I agreed – but on two conditions:
- I would cite as many women and scholars of color that I could that have done important work on the topic, and
- I would use my experiential knowledge to write about us and for us
So, with the help of my expert friends (Yasmiyn Irizarry and Ebony Duncan-Shippy) and Atlantic editors (Rebecca Rosen, Amal Ahmed, and Julie Beck):
I wrote and published my piece: The Other Segregation.
It seems mixing the personal with the professional was a good bet. The reception I got was amazing. Messages of encouragement from students and advocates of racial justice in schools, emails of support and queries from superintendents and school principals, invitations to moderate national panels and call in for public radio. Even emails from academic press editors asking if I might write a book on the topic (well, maybe I should?)
It was a powerful lesson for me & I am sharing because maybe it could be a lesson for you:
USE YOUR TRAINING AND SHARE YOUR VOICE.