I feel very strongly that one of our sole purposes as humans is to be in a near constant state of growth – learning and adapting to new situations and people that we encounter.

It is very hard to do this when we live in incredibly segregated neighborhoods surrounded by people who look like us, think like us, and live like us.

This way of being lulls us into a state of complacency because we only hear and see experiences that are pretty much the same as ours. We have very little opportunity to understand that our way of living is not the norm for a large number of children and families who live in our city.

As a mother of three boys who lives in a predominantly white middle-class area of town, I struggle. We moved to Charlotte almost 10 years ago.

At that time, I was emotionally unhealthy and doing everything I could to avoid dealing with my own wounds; had two young boys with another on the way, and had moved to the Queen City pretty much kicking and screaming. We moved into this house, in this neighborhood because I honestly didn’t know any better.

“I don’t want my boys growing up thinking that white is the norm.”

We just wanted to find a place to live that semi-replicated our existence in Chapel Hill – lots of kids, a pond, and a nearby school that had a great letter grade. At that time, I didn’t fully understand the significance of those letter grades and their role in perpetuating segregation.

And, honestly, I was so caught up in my own whiteness that I didn’t care that I was becoming part of the problem too.

After I went through a couple of years of emotional upheaval and healing, I was a different person. I began to see the world in a new way. I began to look at Charlotte through an alternative lens as well.

I wanted to get more involved in the community, but not in a superficial “donate food or supplies” kind of way. I wanted to get meaningfully involved, particularly related to the educational system.

The focus of my work changed during this time as well. I began working on issues related to disproportionality in suspensions and expulsions, and the role of implicit bias and systemic racism in perpetuating the disparities in educational outcomes.

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I began looking at my children’s schools in a different way too. I never bought into the “race to nowhere” mentality, but I saw it playing out before my very eyes – especially when my oldest son entered middle school.

That oldest son is now a freshman in a high school at a high income, grade A school. As we look at his course selections for next year, applying to college is now on the horizon. It is no longer something in the distant future. It is coming. Fast.

I’ve learned that kids from this high school who are getting into schools like Carolina are taking 7 to 8 AP classes. I’ve tried to live in a bubble (i.e., inside my house) as much as possible because I don’t want to get caught up in the maelstrom of pressure and achievement that is rampant within this area.

I don’t want my son to get caught up in it either.

As I reflect on all of this, I realize that if I had to do it all over again, I would have been more thoughtful about where we lived and the schools our children attended. It’s not just the laser focus on extreme achievement, it’s the fact that I am trying really hard to raise three male feminists.

I’m finding myself fighting against the toxic masculinity and entitlement that I can no longer shelter them from. I’ve fought so hard to raise boys who understand that their skin color allows them to wear their hoods up in public without fear.

I’m mad about the Savannah Guthrie interview because it sends the message to white teenage boys everywhere that they can do whatever they want, and get away with it as long as they apologize and act contrite.

I know from my experiences in west Charlotte schools, and the deaths of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and so many others that black and brown boys are not afforded the same grace and presumption of innocence as my three blond-haired, blue-eyed sons.

The fight against white privilege is near constant, and sometimes I feel like I’m losing the battle. Will my boys grow into men who are committed to acknowledging and affirming the dignity and worth of each person and their unique experiences? God, I hope so.

I want them to understand that their purpose on this earth is not where they go to school or their social status, but that they understand the nuances of our country’s past and their role in disrupting current inequities and privilege.

If we are to move towards equity within our community, white affluent families are going to need to get on board. Conversations about the role of racism within our city need to happen.

This will be difficult for many of us because white people don’t like to talk about race. It makes us uncomfortable. Our fear of saying something wrong or coming off as a racist prevent us from having a meaningful dialogue about the very real disparities in our city, and our role in ensuring that they are maintained.

Because here’s the other thing. To have equity, white people are going to have to relinquish some of their privilege and power. We’re going to have to commit to more affordable housing – not just in west or east Charlotte, but in south Charlotte too.

Community integration will lead to school integration, and that’s a good thing for everyone.

We also will need to grapple with what makes us so uncomfortable about school redistricting. This will take a great deal of self-reflection and honesty.

Is it that we don’t want our kids on a bus for an hour every day, or is it that we don’t want our kids in the same schools with low-income black and brown peers? What is driving the resistance to equity?

White people need to confront their resistance because it’s time for us to join the voices of others in this city who are committed to fighting for equity and justice. As more people enter the fight, the drumbeat will get louder and harder to ignore.

We must follow the lead of and join hands with those who are most affected by continued segregation and racism. We must move beyond superficial nods towards equity into more active engagement in the cause that is not driven by white saviorism or guilt.

I’ve been in many schools throughout the city, including in east and west Charlotte. If I had my way now, my kids would be in those schools not in the ones that they currently attend.

“Conversations about the role of racism within our city need to happen.”

I don’t want my boys growing up thinking that white is the norm. I want them to have meaningful relationships with kids who don’t look like them and have lived different lives.

When we are hyper-segregated, we are more likely to rely upon stereotypes and what we see and hear in the media. This perpetuates an us/them mentality that is rampant in our city and country.

I truly hope in the coming years that more white people become committed to the cause. I include myself here.

I’m in a near constant state of reflection about my values and how I live them out each day, and how to raise my kids with these same values even in the face of competing belief systems they encounter at their schools.

Read. Educate yourselves. Go into situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Listen. Let go. That is the only way that humanity will continue to evolve. Now is not the time for the status quo. It’s time to work towards a more equitable society.

Click here for more content by Jen Neitzel, Ph.D.!

Jen Neitzel, Ph.D.
Jen started her career in early childhood education over 20 years ago in the classroom teaching young children with significant behavioral challenges.


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