The very first episode of the Integrated Schools Podcast featured a conversation between our late founder, Courtney Mykytyn, and two mothers who were early in their journeys toward anti-racist school integration. Since then, Anna and Sarah have continued to be influential members of the Integrated Schools community, and both found themselves moving over the past 18 months. While both of their families had moved and purchased homes in the past, this was the first time they engaged in that process with a deep commitment to anti-racist school integration. They discovered that living into their values wasn’t always easy.
They share their process, and the challenges they faced, as they grappled with what it means to be White, and what it means to have racial and economic privilege in a world where they want to show up better and create a more just place.
- Maggie Hagerman –White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America
- Richard Rothstein – Color of Law
- The Intro to the Integrated Schools Podcast
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The Integrated Schools Podcast was created by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits.
This episode was produced by Andrew Lefkowits and Val Brown. It was edited, and mixed by Andrew Lefkowits.
Music by Kevin Casey.
Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools Podcast. I'm Andrew, a White dad from Denver.
Val: I'm Val, a Black mom from North Carolina.
Andrew: This is Moving and Choosing a School. And Val, I am very excited to share this conversation today, but I'm mostly excited that you agreed to come back for more.
Val: Absolutely! Like, it was a lot of fun. I want to know how you felt about that first episode.
Andrew: It felt, it felt good. Yeah. I thought it turned out great. It is always a bit terrifying to put out an episode. And I think particularly with such a big change, I didn't really sleep a whole lot the night before it came out. But it's out, and people seem to have liked it. What did you think?
Val: I think I was pleasantly surprised by such a positive reception. Like, I got several emails and tweets tagging me and just being excited that I was on the podcast with you. So that was super encouraging. And, I think it really nailed the tone that we're trying to create together.
Andrew: Yeah. Yes. And definitely heard lots of positive feedback. I think the listeners really like you, I think, you know, maybe it's just, ‘cause we haven't really dug into the hard stuff yet, you know. I guess the question will be: Can you keep the fan base happy while also dropping the hard truths?
Val: You know, I feel like I've done that - my career in this area. So hopefully I think people respect authenticity even if it's difficult to hear sometimes. And I don't know how we get better without being honest with one another. So, you know, we have promised authenticity. We promised tough conversations. We might as well just jump right in, because we are going to talk about moving, gentrification, and choosing a school.
Andrew: Yes. The conversation we're going to share today touches on so many of the places where segregation gets recreated in our society today, you know, where we choose to live, where we choose to buy a house, where we choose to send our kids to school and places where we so often pretend that there isn’t inherent racism.
Val: Mmm, is that one of those White secrets? Cause we know, we know, right? At least as a Black woman, I know there's no pretending.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, yes. That is a, that is a very fair point. I think we, White folks, definitely pretend that there isn't inherent racism, which is something that you probably don't have the privilege to pretend.
Val: Well, you know, I really like Lord of the Rings, like it's one of my jams, right? I like kind of epic battle things. And that used to be my escape from racism until I was like, man, I want to be an elf. Why are there no Black elves? And here we go, we're back.
Andrew: Yep. I definitely had not thought about that.
Val: I got you. I got you.
Andrew: Good point. Thanks for that.
Val: And so I love that today's conversation is between two parents, not academics or experts in that way, just folks trying to know better and do better.
Andrew: Yeah. I think that's another thing we've heard from listeners that definitely has been missing over the past couple of seasons is those parent conversations. Experts are great. We'll definitely keep doing that. It's important, but we also need just, you know, parents trying to figure out how it goes.
Val: And I really love that Anna and Sarah, our guests today, share so openly and that we get a peek inside their process. They both just recently moved and have been a part of the Integrated Schools community for several years. So they really had a chance to lean into the values they built in this community.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, it's so often I think folks find Integrated Schools and, you know, their kid is in third grade or they chose to live where they do before they had a kid, and so they never really, like, had a chance to make a choice about where to move, about where to send their kids to school, with all this sort of context.
And so both Sarah and Anna moved, bought new homes, picked new schools, and really had a chance to kind of think about that in the context of their commitment to anti-racist school integration.
Val: I'm looking forward to that.
Andrew: And I am not in this conversation. It's just the two of them, a bit of a throwback to the very first episode ever of the podcast, Anna and Sarah were joined by the late founder of Integrated Schools, Courtney, to talk about why any of them care about this. And now it's just the two of them to talk about choosing and moving.
Val: So we should listen.
Andrew: Yes. And I will meet you on the other side for some take-aways.
Anna: Hi Sarah.
Sarah: Hi Anna.
Anna: I want to acknowledge that you and I are both from episode one of the podcast.
Sarah: And we’re, we're feeling very nostalgic and tender, shall we say. Missing our beloved friend, Courtney Mykytyn. I still can't fully articulate what Courtney's friendship meant to me, so I won't even try. But we hold space for her in this moment just because certainly there is an absence that Anna and I both notice.
Anna: Yeah, that's absolutely right. And her imprint on our lives is permanent and felt all the time.
Sarah: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, that's a good way really to start the conversation because Anna and I met and recorded the first podcast really early in our journeys. Anna, your oldest was starting kindergarten and my family, I have three kids, and, at the time, we had started Montessori magnet school, in our district. And I was increasingly unhappy and Courtney came along and said, you don't have to do it anymore. You can change. And we did. And so for her first grade year, we moved. So we both had kids of a similar age, starting in new integrating spaces.
Anna: That's right. We had left a private preschool through eighth grade to attend our local neighborhood elementary that was predominantly Latinx and now I have a rising fourth grader and a rising kindergartner. When we recorded the first episode, I had a rising kindergarten and a little baby.
Sarah: Time flies when you're having fun.
Anna: That's right.
Sarah: Yeah. So I have a rising fifth grader and rising third grader and a rising first grader. We did pandemic kindergarten last year and everybody was all virtual in my house. Last year, we were in a big city in the south.
But one of the great things about our friendship is that Anna and I are continually finding ourselves, even though we're in completely different parts of the country, in the same spaces at the same time.
And so our families both just made big moves this past summer. With Integrated Schools that topic has seemed to rise to the surface a lot. And so we thought we would record this podcast and talk a little bit about the process of picking a school and trying to move and think through all of those questions as you do it, because we know buying a house and picking a school are very interrelated.
Anna: And I think it might be a good place for us to give our disclaimers of we are not experts. We are merely walking a path trying to live better in our spaces and grapple with what it means to be White, what it means to have racial and economic privilege in a world where we want to do better and show up better and create a more just place.
And it's so nice to be your friend Sarah, because we've been living a parallel life, especially very recently. So yeah, so you've moved and I have moved over the past year. I moved from a large West coast city to a medium size city in the Southwest.
Sarah: And I moved from a big giant city in the South to a medium to small size city in the Northeast. So big change for us and for you too.
Anna: Totally. And I think we're being purposefully vague about where we came from and where we ended up mostly because our stories are our stories, but they are not uncommon stories and they could be relevant anywhere. White supremacy and anti-Black racism have their strongholds in all places. These issues and things we're talking about and grappling with are prevalent everywhere. And there are people, as Courtney Mykytyn used to say, there are people like us, who do things like this, in every city, all over the place.
Anna: Ok, so you go first, you decided to move. You've made the move. Let's talk big, and then small.
Sarah: Yeah sure. One thing that I really wanted to say is I think as White people, whatever way we get there, when we find ourselves on a journey of racial justice work, I think so many White people wake up and are like, oh, why is my life so White?And how did it get, how did it get this way? And it feels almost like it just happened, that it wasn't a set of conscious choices.
And I know everyone's story is different and not everyone can move whenever they want to, but I feel like I had the luxury of space and time to be thinking about some of these things before we moved, and really saw moving as an opportunity to push our family and to challenge what had been well established patterns.
Anna: Looking back on the past four years of walking the walk of trying to practice anti-racist school integration. We had an overall, like incredibly positive experience at our school. And so it was with an incredibly heavy heart that we left as a part of our relocation. My kids were great. They were happy. You know, distance learning was not awesome, but we had a very successful educational experience thus far. Not perfect and not without challenges, but our experience was a positive one.
Sarah: I feel a little bit different about our experience. Overwhelmingly I would do it again. I would make the same decisions, but I do feel that being in a city in the south and, in general, in a climate where public education is not valued by the leaders. I feel like as a White mom enrolling my kids in a school where they were some of the only White kids came face-to-face with a lot of the systemic racism. And it's just sitting with that was really hard. I mean, we had five principals in three years, you know. What's a good school and what's a bad school is a really difficult question, but there were definitely things that made me bristle. It was also a really excellent opportunity for me to sit with: What do I actually need to hold on to here that's really bothering me? What do I need to speak up about? What can I let go? And doing that within the context of the Integrated Schools community has been a real gift.
And I will say, unequivocally, my kids were thriving and learning. So it's a different story, but a very similar place and similar feelings. And we're really grateful for the time that we had in the community that we had.
Anna: So here we are. We have moved. You're in your new location and I am in my new location. And we had to decide on locations, right? And neighborhoods. And I want to talk a little bit about what that looks like. And I don't think we can talk about that without talking about capitalism, colonialism, the real estate market in general.
Sarah: Right. This'll be our third time to move, and this is the first time that I feel like I had all these bigger questions within myself about what's the ethical way to do this and I will give a lot of credit to Integrated Schools because I feel like it was a doorway in my life where once I walked through with my kids, I could translate that to other areas.
Anna: When I was in college, I took an urban planning class and there was a whole section on gentrification and I grew up in an entirely White, suburban bubble. And I remember thinking at the beginning of the course, like, oh, gentrification, like, that's a good thing. And the professor spent a lot of time quantifying and qualifying the harms of gentrification.
And because I have the benefit of this experience being in the Integrated Schools community and learning alongside other folks that are thinking about these things, I can see that harm. And I was very aware of it when we were choosing a neighborhood. You know, what is the harm I cause? And I think it's such an antithetical way of thinking about how we move and operate in the world. Something that I'm totally not used to. And something that I'm trying to get better at and consciously thinking about the space I take up, what that means for other people in a way that, you know, we're just kinda not taught to do, we're taught to be individualistic.
Sarah: Well, and just get the best for yourself, I mean, and your family and that's that. No deeper thought required.
Anna: That's right. And so a lot of that is tied up in this stymied, complicated, and what I see now as being a super problematic real estate market, real estate
Anna: Boondoggle. That’s right. And the schools obviously play a huge role in that, just in terms of how neighborhoods are quantified. And I feel like The Color of Law is a great book, if anyone hasn't read it, to get a better understanding of that history. But in a sense, you know, every real estate transaction that occurs has racism built in.
Sarah: So then it's like, how do you navigate that as a White person, who's trying to be ethical. It's, yeah. I mean, for us, I feel like if I'm really honest, the question a lot was like, where is the line of enough? How much is enough? Which I don't know if that's the right question, but that's where we were to be very real. Like I don't want to be in an all White neighborhood. We had done that and I was, I just was increasingly uncomfortable and I knew I didn't want to do that again. But then does that mean you move into an all Black neighborhood? I mean that didn’t feel right to us either. Not because there’s anything wrong with Black neighborhoods, other than being ravaged by systemic racism. But because I know our presence as a White family isn’t necessarily a positive thing for Black folks who already live there. And I really don’t want to disrupt a safe space.
I think so many of the same questions about what neighborhood you're living in are the same questions about what school. It's just that buying a home, if you're buying a home, can be even more of a permanent thing.
Anna: Yeah. And I think for us, it was a lot about like, in these highly gentrifying areas, where can I push back? And right, like the big picture is in this colonialist system where we find ourselves, like, we're all on stolen land, right? Like, like we, we can't get much further without acknowledging that wherever we live, right, the land was not ethically obtained.
And so like, I spend a lot of time thinking about that and remaining curious so, you know, we need to find a place to live. And when we look at neighborhoods, I think it's always important to look at: What's the racially coded language? Hearing people talk about neighborhoods in certain ways, like, well, you would never go to the park in that neighborhood, or, that neighborhood's fun, but since you all have kids, or hearing things about safety. And the river of racism is flowing and I can just sit still and I'm still going along with it. And so I thought a lot through this process of like what it means to push back against that.
And I knew whatever we were doing, wherever we ended up, we would most likely go to our neighborhood school. And I'll just be really practical because I think sometimes I can get too theoretical and wanting it to sound good, but I want to be honest about what I did. I basically took the greater urban area, and I just started going school district by school district because we entered a city that a lot of districts had been annexed and separated, and there were a lot of smaller districts.
So I just started, straight up. I want to know what the racial demographics are, district by district. And went to the state department of education website. What are the district demographic data, and what schools match that data and what schools don't? And what I was looking for first, because it is a very diverse urban area and White folks are not in the majority. And so I wanted to know, okay, where is Whiteness concentrated? And I just basically started striking out neighborhoods that felt like they were concentrating Whiteness and privilege.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean your process and my process are remarkably the same. The thing that I wanted to do really was get my hands on demographic data, and then, this is where I feel like there was some tension between my husband and myself a little bit because it's very clear the path that most people take, if you're White and affluent, is that you go out to the suburbs, but they're sitting at 80 or 90% White, some of them, which kind of blew my mind. And within the city proper, it's a lot lower, single digit, I couldn't tell you the percentage White, 8%, 5%, something like that. And so I think if we had followed what quote unquote, the market was telling us, or if we wanted a sure financial bet. Yeah, we probably would have gone out to the suburbs. And that's where some of the tension was, quite frankly, between us. And I was like, that's not what I want. I think if I actually believe White spaces are dangerous for my kids and I can't put my kids in an eighty percent White school district, I just can't.
Anna: Yep. I think that's such a great thing to discuss this idea of predominantly White spaces actually being unsafe, dangerous spaces. And of course, you know, when you and I say that I do mean not safe for my kids. I do not mean it in the same way that a Black or a Latinx parent would say it is unsafe for their children. And I want to make sure that I qualify that. I'm not trying to say that is the same for us at all. That safety is different.
And I really think when we're talking about, as we like to talk about, generational change and this change is slow, but it depends on the dismantling of structures, systems and internal ways of thinking that actually change from generation to generation. And so no amount of, you know, everybody's welcome book club, no amount of Black Barbie dolls, no amount of that is sufficient in my mind to neutralize the racial charge in an all White space and that kind of impact that has, and the messaging that gives my White kids.
Sarah: And they see it. I mean our kids are listening to what we say and they're watching what we do. And if those things aren't matching, they see that too. And so I think that's the challenge as a parent. I don't know. I've always felt really convicted by that. I don't need to teach my kids to do better. I need to do my best to live into my own values and my body right now. And then they can see the model and I don't, you know, but it's hard.
Anna: That's absolutely right. And I think what is hard about it is, I just want to know what to do. I called Courtney Mykytyn years ago, because I just wanted to know what to do, because I came to this understanding that I was not living well in my space and I wanted to live better and I want the answers and I just want someone to tell us, and sometimes they're just aren’t easy answers.
Sarah: There's no right answers.
Anna: That's right. But that every day I can make choices that dismantle a system or, at the very least, my family can participate in a way that questions the way things are done, that questions White supremacy, culture, that questions White normed values.
So in the end, you know, as we're trying to decide which neighborhood and looking at houses and where we want to grow and plant roots and be a part of a community, and, you know, a huge part of it is school, obviously. But it was also for us, like a huge part of it was public spaces. You know, what public spaces are accessible. And in Maggie Hagerman's book, White Kids, you know, she talks a lot about the extracurriculars, the vacations, the, you know, where our kids are growing up, that racial socialization, and I wanted to make sure that there were public spaces, and, you know, for us, it was parks and rec departments that offered things accessible to the public, not just, you know, club soccer or synchronized swimming.
Sarah: Private gymnastics classes.
Anna: Right. That like they could play soccer at a park for $40 a season and be one of many. So I think that was another thing about the neighborhood we ended up in that felt important.
Oh, and I don't think either of us mentioned, but I was also looking for a school that was under enrolled, that was looking for more students. And I think I did call the school to ask. I didn't want to enter a school community taking a spot from someone else. And so that played into it, in our choice as well.
Anna: And you and I were both in really interesting spots this year, because there were no school tours.
Sarah: That's right.
Anna: So this thing that I think a lot of times, especially four years ago or five years ago now, that school tour, man, was really important. I wanted to see it. I wanted to know it. I wanted to really imagine my kids there and I feel hugely lucky because that didn't feel as important. And maybe it's because I have a fourth grader.
Sarah: I just think it's hard to tease out what is easier just because our kids are older. But I also don't want to ignore that we've both been at this and been working on ourselves. It’s both things, right? And what our expectations are and what we're asking of a school community to give us right out the gate.
I think if we are advocating for not looking at school as a consumer, then I don't think we can tour like other peer parents might tour, especially if we're White. How our other fellow White parents might go on a tour that seems, again, it's coming from a consumer basis. This is my checklist and do you meet it.
Anna: It’s like shopping mentality that I need to make sure that my school has all of the products that will give my kid. And, you know, one of my favorite Courtney Mykytyn-isms was, you know, the idea of putting my children in to play a dirty game. The system's rigged for them to be fine. And this whole idea of, like, needing them to win.
Sarah: Yeah. And grab all the things I can grab. Like what are the things and how can I acquire them.
Anna: Starting our children's resume at five.
Sarah: That’s right. If you're not questioning it, then that's what everyone around you is doing, right?
Anna: And it seems like that's what good parents do, right? I think that's the other socialization piece is that this is what good parents do. And we can go along with it or we can question it and push back against it, because I think a lot of that narrative that we've built over the past 60 years, the parenting narrative, the culture narrative, you know. I would go so far to say that it came from a place of trying to reproduce segregation, post Brown v Board of Education, right.
So we made segregation illegal, but then we really set up a culture to keep it going. And parents with racial and economic privilege can continue that every day, in every way, without even thinking about it, flowing down the river, just on an inner tube, like psshht, going.
Sarah: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Anna: So we didn't tour. Here we are.
Sarah: Yeah. I do understand, especially people with incoming kindergartners or pre-K. I can certainly respect wanting to lay eyes on the place where your kid is going to be eight hours a day, and envisioning, and being able to describe it to them or let them see it.
And I think our kids are a little bit older. We've been in the school systems long enough and I would have enjoyed a tour, had it been there, but it wasn't going to be possible. And that was okay. I didn't, it wasn't a prerequisite to me.
Anna: Yeah. What we don't know feels really scary. And what's interesting to me, thinking back on it, is like when I went on a tour of our daughter's school where we used to live, she didn't come with me. The tour was for adults, right?
And so we have this idea that, like, we need to see it, but like they can just go for it, they'll be fine, once I know it's okay. And so one of the things we did do with my fourth grader who was really worried about switching schools was it just so happened that the principal of our new school had been doing some Facebook live videos during the pandemic for students. And they happen to be online and we got to watch them and, you know, got to say this is the principal at your new school and they're going to be there your first day and you'll see them around. And you know, their job is to support the school so your teachers can teach and care for you.
And so like I think there are things we can do to familiarize ourselves with the school. It may not look like a tour and it may look like a tour. I will say, I think if tours are available, it has a lot to do with exactly what you said, Sarah, how we show up on them, right? Do we show up wanting to know more about the school community, so we can imagine ourselves there as whole people with the people around us also being whole people.
Sarah: I guess I also know too, now having been a part of two different school communities, I think it's incredibly hard to see the culture of a school from a tour. The stuff that you really want to know, you're not going to get from a tour or a classroom observation. You're going to know from living in it day in and day out. And I mean that's not a, like, comfortable answer.
Anna: That's exactly right. And when I think about where we ended up geographically, I feel really fortunate in that we found the right place for us. But I want to be straight with you and everyone listening that like the micro neighborhood that we're in is predominantly White.
But what's so interesting is even with that, our school that is our zoned neighborhood school you know, is a global majority school. It is predominantly Latinx and Black and very few White kids and it is predominantly low income.
So I think there are folks in this work who will say you can't tackle school segregation until you tackle residential segregation. And while I do appreciate that residential segregation is a huge problem and it is a compounding factor, I think there are way too many neighborhoods like mine. Like our new neighborhood and our old neighborhood was the same way where you could have an integrated neighborhood with an incredibly segregated school.
Sarah: It’s interesting because our city and district have a lottery where they’re assigning kids on the basis of combating segregation. This was part of what drew us to the city. There was a state level court case brought by a Black mother that forced a lot of public conversation and change on segregation. And now that’s a part of the legacy of the city. So there is a lottery today where fighting segregation is the goal.
And the neighborhood that we wanted to be in, the quote unquote neighborhood school has a complicated process that I don't even understand, but I do know that in order to get in, you have to go to the lottery. There's no map of school zones.
Sarah: So I didn't think we were going to get a spot in this neighborhood school. But now that I've done a little bit more reading, it's like, oh, well, yes, we were. But maybe because we were White and that is, I have really, I have complicated and conflicting feelings about that.
But the school that my kids are enrolling is only like 11% White. And I think even then it skews White in the younger grades, so I think my kid's experience is going to be a lot different, cause they're a little bit older.
Anna: That’s really interesting. There are systemic attempts to address equity in our education system. And there are really hardworking people who are committed to this issue and some of it has to do with the social appetite for it. And so, you know, your new home is a great example of there being actually a social appetite to prioritize desegregation and part of your participation in a system is about affirming that that is a priority for you too.
And I think, you know, when I look around our new city, which is so different in that way, that there is very little social appetite amongst people with racial and economic privilege, amongst White people specifically, to support our public institutions like education. That you know, just being a vote for that has been interesting when I meet other people in our neighborhood.
Because I'm sure as many people can relate. Like the first question you get asked if you have kids and they have kids, is where are your kids going to school?
Sarah: Yeah, I was out in a White suburb at a lovely little independent bookstore and one of the people that worked there chatted me up and it was right after we had moved. Oh, you just moved here. You know, why did you move and where did you move? Oh, you moved to the city.
Anna: Oh, Wow. Yeah.
Sarah: Wow. And my brain went to: I know how to have this conversation. This is the exact same conversation I've been having for the last four years about schools. Yeah, people like me can choose to not live in the White suburbs. And I don't know what she was thinking, clearly it was a surprise.
So it's the conversation that people don't know they're going to get when they ask for it. But there it is, nonetheless, there it is. And so, and I know how to do that because I've been doing it about schools, right, for four years now.
Anna: Yeah, the house we live in now was owned by the same people for like 60 years before we bought the house and they grew up in the house and they went to our zoned school now. And they were so tickled and thrilled that we were going there and that felt really good. And, you know, they're lovely people and blah, blah, blah.
And then I met another neighbor that grew up in this neighborhood. And he went there and they were, you know, both lovely and heartwarming conversations about the support of our public institutions. And we were really in line.
And then it was really interesting because one of them said, you know, it's so great and you might want to think about private school for high school and there it is. And it’s like they're wonderful people. And one of them said, you know, it's tricky because nowadays you really need to go to the private elementary in order to get into the private high school. That then we need to go to the you know,
Sarah: Private preschool. Yeah.
Anna: Private preschool. Yeah. “The Wind in the Willows School for Exceptional Three-Year-Olds,” the “Our Lady of Reluctant Integration” for elementary school, you know. And I think the bottom line is those narratives are really embedded in our culture, but the origin of them is racial segregation. And so it may not feel good. And I can say it in a way that doesn't, hopefully, that doesn't start a fight, but that like, I don't want to participate in a caste system like that.
Sarah: We're having a racialized conversation without acknowledging it, right?
Anna: So let’s acknowledge it.
Sarah: That’s right.
Anna: Yeah. Yeah. So here we are, we're going to go into our schools. And I want to keep qualifying this ‘cause I'm trying to live into it. This is my school community. I am a parent at that school, but this is my children's school. And I really want to be clear because I can see how my social identity is wrapped up in the socialization of parents in schools. And I just want to acknowledge one of the things I'm trying to do is to not expect instant, deep meaningful relationships with other parents at our new school. When we went into our school in our old city, we went in like, like I was on a dating app, right? I was like, I need friends. I need numbers. I want to know people. And I think I made some mistakes. I think I caught some people off guard, but I still have very meaningful relationships that were born out of that community.
Anna: And I think you know, COVID is one thing that has made things different now is that there's I'm pretty sure we're doing the valet pickup and drop off.
Anna: Parents aren’t really entering the building right now. And so I want to remind myself that it's not a sprint to who can collect the most numbers, right? And I need that reminder because one of the things we talk about is like, be in community. And that is really important. But for me as a newcomer into a community during this time where, you know, parents aren't really on campus right now is exercising patience. And knowing that like those relationships take time to build and for trust to be built.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean, I think that's really true and we probably don't do enough in Integrated Schools talking about how long it takes. We do a lot of emphasizing community, which is right, but that also that happens over time, right? A piece of that is consistency and trust over time.
And I was thinking about this the other day. I do think that is a big shift of mine. And again, maybe it has to do with my kids getting older. I don't have that urgency. I also think it's some of me getting older, of just, and some of COVID of like us being so isolated, I will survive without seeing people every day. And it felt important to my identity when my kids were younger to walk in and have friends on campus and to know other parents. And all of that stuff is important and I'm not saying it's not worth working towards, of course it is, but I think I have a much more realistic understanding of how long it takes and also that not all parents see it that way.
School may not be the center of their lives in a way that I think it is, or is encouraged to be, in White parenting culture. Like that's sort of part of the mark of a good parent, right. Is that you know your school inside and out. And so I want to be an uplifting part of that community and a supporter, but I do not feel the urgency that I felt before. That's definitely been a shift of mine. And like I said, I think it's for lots of reasons.
Anna: I share that sentiment. So that relationship building piece can take years. And that can be okay.
Sarah: And that it's your kid's space first.
Anna: Yes. And reminding myself that my kids are going to build relationships. They are.
Sarah: Without us doing anything.
Anna: Without us doing anything! And so, you know, I feel like that's a really helpful reminder is like to let our kids lead us in that.
Sarah: That's right. And make sure that we're getting our own needs met, that we aren't putting a disproportionate amount of weight on the other parents or whatever to meet our own needs, right? I think we all have needs to be in community and to be with people.
Anna: Yeah. That's right.
Sarah: Yeah, I say we circle back and see how it's going.
Anna: I think we should. And who knows what the future holds, but my hope for myself and for you is that, as Courtney would say, we enroll humbly, joyfully, and intentionally. And know that we're learners on a path, just like our kids are.
Sarah: Well, I'm just so grateful that I get to do it with you.
Sarah: It's been one of the many great gifts of my life and certainly of the Integrated Schools community. And I hope for all of our listeners out there that we can help connect you if that's what you need or if you haven't found your own community, that we can be a part of it.
Anna: Yeah, definitely.
Andrew: So Val, what did you think?
Val: Yeah, they gave us a lot in that episode, and as someone who just recently moved in the pandemic, there was so much I was connecting with in terms of the questions that they were asking,
Andrew: Right, because you also just happened to move and choose a new city, a new neighborhood, a new school during the pandemic. So how did your process match up to theirs?
Val: Specifically when they talked about looking at demographic data and where Whiteness is concentrated, I find myself doing the same process. Which, I think that may have surprised me a little bit, right?
Andrew: When you were looking for a school, you also kind of looked, okay, where are the schools where Whiteness is concentrated?
Val: It's broader than that, it's the city, it's the state. So not even like just the neighborhood. Like, do we have safe havens in the city itself? Are we going to see other people of color in the city itself, even if we can't get a perfect mix in our neighborhood?
So, really spent about a year researching cities. And so it starts with the city and then it goes to the neighborhood and you know, I'm looking around, I'm looking at the demographic data, we're doing drive throughs, to kind of check out the neighborhood. And honestly that is where it stops.
Val: The neighborhood dictates the school for us.
Andrew: So you ended up in a neighborhood that felt like it had as good a balance of people as possible, and then you were going to send your kids to the neighborhood school.
Val: Absolutely. And so interestingly enough, we have, what I think is a really multi-racial neighborhood, lots of different people that we see everywhere, right? Feel like this is utopia and the neighborhood school is primarily Black and Brown. And I'm wondering where my White neighbors send their kids.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, to Anna's point in the episode, her neighborhood is predominantly White, like the little micro neighborhood where she lives, and yet the school is almost entirely Black and Brown kids. And I think we see that everywhere, the White folks find a way to get their kids out, whether it's private schools or charters or inter-district transfers or whatever it is, like, you know, manipulate the system so they can live in the cool, diverse neighborhood with the good food and the, the good music and the fun cultural things, but then also not have to send their kids to the quote unquote bad schools.
Val: Yeah. And that was, that was disappointing to me to realize that, right. Because I spent so much time picking what I thought was an awesome neighborhood for my kids to grow up in and see all different types of people, but then to not have that transferred to the school, which again makes no sense to me. Like you make this wonderful neighborhood, you have this wonderful school right here, two miles down the road. Like, what is the problem? You know, I think, I think it’s just disappointing. I think I expected more given the neighborhood.
So, you know, my kids are happy. I don't think they're missing out. I don't think they're missing out culturally, any of that, but I have no idea. Are there other things happening at these other schools? Like, I actually don't know what they're missing in terms of resources and that's just what it is.
Andrew: Did you get to tour the school before you went there?
Val: So, while listening to this episode, and I gave a sneak peek to my husband who was also listening with me, and we're looking at each other during the conversation about school tours, and we're like, is that a White thing? Because I have never been on a school tour. It wasn't even a thought, right? But to actually tour a school and pretend like I am on a recruiting trip for a university never crossed my mind until listening to this episode.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, it’s a thing. I mean I remember doing this before my oldest started elementary school and, I don't know, I probably toured 10 schools.
Val: Like you went in the school?
Andrew: Like went in, they like give tours and like, some of them it's the principal who's giving the tour. And at the time I was like, oh, this is great. And now I'm like, why was the principal spending precious time?
Val: Principals have time to give tours?
Val: I'm thinking about what Sarah said with, you know, one of the schools that she went to that had multiple principals and I'm imagining that principal having time to give tours to the school, like it just does not happen.
Andrew: Yeah. How do you think about, maybe this is, I may be letting my Whiteness slip again here, but like I thought it was interesting, Sarah in particular talked about the ways that kind of her social justice, racial justice in education, the like awareness that Integrated Schools brought to her and kind of her involvement with the organization that helped her start thinking about education, that as she started thinking about moving and buying a house and moving to a neighborhood that that really kind of influenced those choices as well, that sort of like Integrated Schools with like the gateway drug.
And now, now it's like in all aspects of her life, she's starting to like, oh geez, you know, I can't really just stop with the schools I got to think of, or Anna talking about, you know, I want to be near a place where my kids can play soccer with all the other kids in the neighborhood. Like it starts to seep out into the rest of your life.
Val: Yeah, I will say there was one thing that Sarah said that was a gut punch when I listened to it. She asked the question, how much is enough?
Val: How much is enough in picking the right integrated space, right? And I had heard that as, you know, if I am doing it, you know, a little bit in my neighborhood, like I have a neighborhood that's 10% Black is that enough or, and that really like stops me in my tracks, because it felt like a checkboxy thing, right? Like I want to make sure I'm doing it right. So I want to make sure I am doing it enough to be committed to the work. And I just I don't know how to, I don't know how to think that way.
Andrew: Yeah, that, yeah, that's interesting. I didn't, and you know, it's possibly also like I know Sarah, it didn't feel checkboxy to me, but, I mean, this is something I feel like I ask myself all the time. It's like, how hard do you want to swim upstream? Like the easiest thing to do is to just float down the river and move into the suburbs and go to the all White school.And if you put no energy in, the like river of racism just takes you down. And so like, how hard do you want to swim upstream?
I think particularly, you know, if maybe two people in a marriage are not necessarily perfectly aligned on how hard you want to swim? You know, that's where that's like, is this doing enough? I don't like, I mean, on some level it's never doing enough, right? Like no one person is going to do enough to solve systemic racism. And so it's all these sort of questions of like how much pushing back is enough, how much swimming upstream is enough? How hard do I need to be going against it? But that doesn't, that doesn't land with you.
Val: I mean, I just can't ask myself that question because it becomes a question of life and death for me quite honestly. So even though we live in a racially integrated neighborhood. We have beautiful trails, like close - maybe a three minute walk away and my son is a runner and he was like, I'm, you know, I'm ready to run by myself. He's five- nine. So he's taller than me. And little thin guy, 13.
And, I said, you know, it's never about you running. It's about my fear that a White person in the neighborhood will see a Black kid running and assume that something's not right. And so to be able to be in a place where I can ask a question, like, how hard do I want to work today? You know, how hard do I want to swim upstream?
Andrew: How much do I want to protect my son from dying?
Val: Like that's my option, right? So, and I've been terrified of him turning 12 since Tamir Rice was killed. He was, I think he was five when that happened. And so 12 was like a nightmare year for him. And the fact that he's 13, I'm just forever grateful. And the fact that he's taller than me is making me nervous, right?
So, so, yeah, I think, I mean, I understand it. I logically understand the question, right? I have a choice to not have to make this as difficult as it is. And I would personally love to choose a life where it is not as difficult as it is. And as a Black woman, it's still kind of hurt to hear that I'm like, oh, okay. All right. Well.
Andrew: Yeah. So. Yeah. I don’t know like how we get ourselves out of that. Because part of it is like, you know, individuals making decisions in a system that like we can't single-handedly overthrow the system. And no amount of my commitment to racial justice puts my kids at risk in the same way that your kids are at risk.
Val: Right. I think one way that we have to do it is that we have to be mirrors for one another, like being able to have this conversation with you and saying like, this really hurt for this reason, it seems like completely missing the point. I think is important. You know, just for us to be each other's reflection. Cause we, we don't know, right?
So in the conversation, she's talking to another White woman, it probably doesn't land in the same way it lands with me, you know? And so it wouldn't be strange that if I was the only Black woman in a local chapter and I heard a White woman say, well, how much is enough, that I feel like, okay, well.
Andrew: I’m out of here.
Val: Let me go do something else. And I think, unless we are honest with ourselves about that, then we're, we're not going to be able to maintain these integrated spaces that we're working so hard to create.
Andrew: Yeah, it's a, it's a tall order for sure. I think there is also value in having that space to discuss it. ‘Cause that's like a real experience and like she needs to be able to say that out loud and be able to process through that and deal with that. Like that tension that there is, there is no amount of commitment that changes my privilege.
You know, I can do everything in my power to try to minimize the impact of my privilege. I can do everything in my power to try to redistribute resources and not take up space and try to de-center myself, and all those things. But none of it actually puts me at risk in the same way that you are at risk and nothing puts my kids at risk in the way that your kids are at risk.
Val: Yeah. And is it, I feel like it sucks that, you know, we have a real person, a real name as, as the example right now, because we, I know, like this is something that many White people think, like it's not just one person. And so, Sarah, sorry. Thank you so much for being honest and I think we need these spaces of honesty and some of these conversations are going to hurt me. They're going to hurt you. And we have to be committed to still having them. And it might mean like, after this, I'm like, I need a break. You know, I need to go get a Shirley Temple and like chill out.
Andrew: You did not just say a Shirley Temple.
Val: Well, currently we have some butter beer in our, um, from Harry Potter. Like they sell it in the bottle. So I might go get a butter beer. And just be like, whew.
And then we come back again and try again. And I think that conversation will happen between our kids, right? So how do we, as the adults, model what this looks like, you know, our, it's it's gonna happen.
Andrew: Well, I mean, I guess I don't know, like, I would like for it to happen. How do we set our kids up to be able to do it, to be able to step away if they need to and come back to it, to be able to actually engage in it, but they've gotta be able to see it in the first place.
And I feel like how do I prepare my kids, if they can't see it themselves initially, at least be able to hear it when you bring it up and be like, okay, let me hear that. Let me sit with that. Let me feel that in my body. Okay. That doesn't feel good, but that doesn't mean that I need to flee. That doesn't mean that I need to, you know, write you off. And that doesn't mean that like something is broken. That means that we are doing the work.
Val: Yeah, I'm thinking about the ways I just began developing my kids' critical consciousness and it was typically with like whatever we were watching, right? So I'm watching Lord of the Rings and I'm like, wait a minute. Why aren’t there any Black elves, you know?
Andrew: Where are the Black elves?
Val: And so you, as a parent, just asking that question, like, why are all the elves White?
Like I don't know if this is a comedy story or a tragic story. But my son was in kindergarten and we were approaching February and we wanted to prepare him for the conversation around either MLK, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, right? Top three, right? We knew one of those was going to happen and we needed to give him some context, and I was struggling with how to bring this up because, I can speak for Black parents, we also desperately want to keep our child's innocence, like having to sit down and talk about racism is nothing that we want to do. It feels unfair that it happens right out the gate. I hate doing it. I don't want to do it.
And and so we're, we're driving and I know this is coming up and I can't think of another way to start the conversation. So I just yell in the backseat. What does it mean to be Black in America? And my kids are like, my kid's five, five and three, five and three. And he's like, what? You know, I'm like. He's like, I don't kind of understand the question. And it, for me, it broke the ice. I wouldn't recommend necessarily that parenting style, like, you know, I've shared, I only taught secondary, so I didn't know what to do with the kid before they turned 10. No clue.
But what it did is it forced the conversation to open up. And so I'm wondering how many White parents say, what does it mean to be White in America to start that critical conversation, that critical lens, because it means something, right? And so not being shy about what that means, I think helps them to develop the eye and to start to see things. But if we never talk about it, they're not, they're not going to see it until they're forced to.
Andrew: And, and, and here we are at the same conundrum Val, right? Like how much is enough? Right. Like I also want to maintain my kids innocence, but like, I can. I could maintain their innocence, many people who show up at Integrated Schools are like, I didn't think about race one second until I was in college.
So like, again, you don't have a choice and I do have a choice. And I wish that that wasn't the world we lived in. But I do. And so, yeah. I mean, I think we have to, as White parents, not view it as an option, not view it as a choice and have those conversations with our kids.
Val: You know, I will say it used to frustrate me when I would hear someone say, I never thought about race, but then I've talked to enough White people at this point in my life where they really mean it, right?
Andrew: Right. Yeah.
Val: Like they really mean it. They are being genuine. I've never had this conversation. I've never even identified myself as White. And so, that has given me, that's just expanded how much grace I have, right?
I always try to think of situations with race in terms of my own areas of privilege, right? We never had an explicit conversation about ableism in my home. My parents are heterosexual. We never had explicit conversations about that. I can say like, in my whole, until I got to college, I never talked about it. And that feels, you know. That is super true. And it also hurts the person of that other marginalized identity, right?
Andrew: Hmm. I love that. Yeah.
Val: And so I, yeah, so I really try to, I really try to put myself in that, like, it's true and it still hurts, right? So how do I learn as quickly as I can without being too much of a burden on whatever the marginalized group is, is something that I'm constantly working out too, right?
Val: We all show up in our areas of privilege in that way. And I think we can be honest about that.
Andrew: Totally. Yeah, I love, I love that point and I feel like in some ways, you know, I was, you know, one of a small handful of White kids in my elementary school, I came in with some awareness about race, because of that experience. And so I definitely did not get to college and all of a sudden was like, oh my God, I'm White. That was part of my identity for a long time.
But like gender - never thought about, ableism certainly never thought about you know, there's all these other areas, all these other places where privilege shows up and where kind of this hierarchy of human value starts to infect our lives.
Val: And then we have to be super intentional about addressing that. So one of my favorite things my son does occasionally, randomly is he'll be sitting there and we'll be watching something completely unrelated. And he's like, you know what makes me mad? That the WNBA players don't get us paid as much as the NBA players.
I'm like, that's right, son. That is right. You know? And so, and he's caught himself several times. He was like, wait, was what I just said sexist? And I'm like, it kind of was. Right? And so that's us being intentional about our own areas of privilege. Because I think that we have to be intentional about it. Like we can't assume they're going to get it without having those conversations.
Andrew: I mean, they're going to get something, right? And I mean, I think this is how you end up with folks who have never thought about race is that we have this idea in the nineties and the eighties that like we're past race now, colorblind, you know, just treat everybody with love and everything will be fine. If you're thinking about race, you’re the problem. And I mean, we are certainly not past that mindset in this country right now.
Our kids see racial differences. Our kids see gender differences. Our kids see ableism, you know, all those things are visible to them. They are finally attuned. I mean, my kids are finely attuned to injustice between the two of them. You know, like if somebody got one extra fruit snack, it's like world war three. So like they know about fairness.
Val: They know, they feel it, they feel it.
Andrew: But if we don't talk about it, then they don't have the context to actually make sense out of it. But you have like clearly done enough talking about inequity in your family, that your son can then say, hang on a second. Not only do I see this, but I can talk about it. I can say it out loud. Hey, was that, and that doesn't mean that I'm canceled. That doesn't mean that I'm like thrown out of the family. That just means like, we need to talk about it more.
Val: Yeah. And I always respond with that is an excellent question or I'm so proud you noticed that, because I do want to encourage that self-reflection that catching yourself in the middle of it, and then it'll become part of you and you know, that’ll be dope.
Andrew: Yeah. Kids surprise. My kids surprise me all the time. Last night, we just, we just recently finished all of the Harry Potter books. We like read them all over a couple of years.
Val: Get some butter beer.
Andrew: It was, it was very nice, but we finished that and we're like, all right, well, what are we going to read next? And I was like, I think we need to read a book with a lead character who's not White. And I just sort of said it and was like, and they were like, oh yeah, that makes sense.
Val: Because it does.
Andrew: There was no other there, there wasn't, we didn't have to have any more conversation about it. They're like, oh yeah, sure.
Val: That's it, that's it. And because they love us and they value what we bring to their lives. Our children will listen to us and they are, they have, my children, especially have been super graceful with me whenever I mess up, you know, just about any parenting thing, right? And so to be able to say, I used to think this and now I think this. Man, if I could get my parents to say that to me sometimes...
Andrew: Maybe they’re listening.
Val: ...that would be dope. You know, we've, we've touched on a lot of different things, just in this conversation. None of them that feel settled, right? And I think something that we want to convey to listeners is that picking a school and a neighborhood is not things that you can check on a box.
I want to encourage folks that even if your neighborhood is all right now, and you're grappling with this, as we talked about with the conversations that we have with our children, that doesn't mean that you can't still have these conversations.
So yes, your school is all White. Yes, your neighborhood is all White. You can't afford to move. That doesn't mean that you stop being anti-racist.
Andrew: Yes, that is true. That is true. Listeners, we'd love to hear what you think. Send us an email: [email protected] Hit us up on social media @IntegratedSchools. Join the Patreon patreon.com/integratedschools. You can support the work. You can join discussion groups. We've got a monthly podcast happy hour where we chat about all things podcast. So would really be grateful for your support.
Val: Let's hope they come back now.
Andrew: That's right. We'll see. We'll see if the fan base is still on board with Val after this one. I am still on board with you, Val, and really grateful for you being in this with me as I try to know better and do better.
Val: And I'm very excited to be here with you too, Andrew. Until next time!