White mom suing school over anti-racism curriculum after Black son refuses to do chores
OPINION: Virginia woman thought it would be a good idea to go on Fox News to explain how she is making it harder for her son to grow up as a Black man and understand who he is.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Melissa Riley is a white single mom and the mother of a Black eighth-grader. She’s also this week’s Fox News’ Useful Idiot of the Week. This white woman from Virginia went on Fox and thoroughly embarrassed herself by complaining that critical race theory was ruining her son’s life because, after learning about anti-racism at school, he’s now becoming aware of himself as a Black person. She Amber Hearded the bed.
The host did not ask her what was wrong with her son being aware of his Black identity or identifying as a Black male. (That would not have fit with their agenda.) Riley claimed that because her son now sees himself as a Black man, he has begun refusing to clean up around the house because of racism. If this is true, it could be that he’s refusing to perform free labor at the direction of a white person because, to him, it’s giving slavery. I’m not mad at the young brother. Establishing a connection with his ancestors is more important than doing the dishes. What I don’t understand is why his mother is publicly getting in the way of him growing up.
Riley is typical of so many right-wing white parents who have recently decided that critical race theory could be the ruination of their children specifically and the country in general. To them, CRT is some sort of bogeyman that’s out to destroy their children’s minds and must be stopped. All they need to do is utter the phrase or the letters and their white blood gets a-boiling. But don’t ask them to define what CRT is because then their tongue will get all tied. Her son’s school’s curriculum taught middle schoolers that “racism is the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed hierarchy that privileges white people.” That’s accurate. Students were encouraged to be “anti-racists.” Nothing wrong with that. If they did not make anti-racist choices, they were upholding “aspects of white supremacy.” Sounds like someone’s been reading my Twitter feed. Or Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s work. Or Nikole Hannah-Jones’ work. Or…
All of this while wailing about CRT is bad enough when it’s white parents trying to keep their white children from growing into people who know about America’s horrific history around race and understand how deeply racism is embedded in American life. But for a white parent to fight to keep her Black son from knowing the truth about America is criminally bad parenting. On Fox, Riley said that her eighth-grade son never cared about race before the school brought it up, but your early teens are often a time when Black and brown kids become more aware of who they are as racialized beings in the world. Should everyone around the boy be silent about race and pretend it doesn’t exist?
Riley going to war with her son’s school over him actively thinking about race will stigmatize his inevitable questions about what it means to be Black in America. This white woman is making it harder for this boy to grow up as a Black man and understand who he is. She is actively standing in his way as he tries to develop as a person. But he’s got to grow up and understand what race means to him and how it shapes his world. One day, he’ll come home with The Autobiography of Malcolm X or The 1619 Project or he’ll watch Ava DuVernay’s 13th documentary or When They See Us. Or he’ll listen to some hip-hop and he’ll have thoughts about what it means to be Black. Maybe one day, he’ll be stopped by police or he’ll see a video of a Black teenager being mistreated by police or something racist will happen to him. Will she be there to criticize him for thinking there’s racism in the world? Will she be there to confuse him? Sounds like she’s trying to infantilize him, but no matter what she does, he will be exploring how society perceives him as a Black person, and she can’t stop that. I’d like to volunteer to be his mentor. Reach out to me, young brother.
Riley has told reporters, “I will not let them [the school] be the parent. They are there to teach my child academics.” This idea that schools should not be talking about race is central to the anti-CRT movement, even though the idea that schools should not educate the entire human is absurd. Schools have long understood that they exist to enhance the whole child—they try to be thoughtful about what they feed kids. They give them physical education and teach them art and music. It’s always been about more than just academics. And their mission must include talking about what it means to be a person in the world—it’s useless to graduate people who can add but don’t know how to be good to other people.
When I was in seventh grade, it was mandatory for everyone to take a class on ethics where we talked about what it means to be a person in the world. Now, my kids come home from school talking about not assuming someone’s pronouns and what it means to be an LGBTQ ally and the importance of having Black pride because their schools are discussing more than science, as they should. This is not about schools taking over parenting. It’s about schools doing more than just pouring facts into our kids’ heads. Good schools mold good human beings.
What Riley—and Fox—are fighting against are schools having an anti-racism program. Think about that—she wants to shield her Black child and his peers from anti-racism. If she’s standing up against anti-racism, then she is…for racism? She’s a fool, but Fox is not foolish. This is part of its ongoing imperative to stoke white outrage, but my God, for Fox to engage in this conversation right now is frighteningly tone-deaf programming. This is a moment when most networks are talking endlessly about what happened in Buffalo, where a white teenager killed 10 Black people because he was filled with the racist ideology he had learned online. He’s a clear example of why schools should be talking to students about anti-racism. But, over on Fox, they’re continuing their crusade against schools teaching kids to be anti-racist.
Now, as we mourn the dead in Buffalo, it’s particularly insensitive to continue this fight. Fox has been a central purveyor of the great replacement theory that animated the Buffalo shooter, yet they continue telling their white viewers that the real problem is critical race theory. We know of zero young people who attacked white people because of critical race theory, but we know of many young white men who’ve attacked Black bodies because of racism they’ve picked up on the internet. Fox News has blood on its hands. They are part of why the Buffalo murderer killed Black people. They are already indoctrinating the next white racist serial killer.
Touré hosts the podcast “Touré Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.
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