Gentrification is Fine, Until You Have to be the Only White Student in the Classroom

I never thought I would feel so disappointed in gentrification in a city like Washington, DC until I overheard a conversation recently where one white mother was questioning another white mother’s decision to send her child to a predominately black school. I was sitting in a restaurant on U Street having lunch when I became an unknown listener to this conversation. Or as we used to say, I was “ear hustling.”

I heard Mom A ask Mom B how could she be comfortable with her daughter being the only white student in her class because surely the students in the class didn’t have anything in common with Daughter B. I watch Mom B’s expression as she carefully thought about her answer. And instead of responding right away, she pondered for a minute and said, “I’m happy that she’s in a true learning environment with people who care about her and want her to succeed. We didn’t even consider the racial makeup of the school or her class when we made the decision. We sent her to the school that was the best option for us.”

At that point it became clear to me that although white people are moving into this, once predominately black city, they are fine with being your neighbor but they are not so okay with playing in the sandbox with you. Or better yet, allowing their children to.

Gentrification is fine, until you have to be the only white student in the classroom.

Studies show that diverse schools are linked to many positive outcomes for white students in particular. Diversity in the classroom allows for robust conversations, promotion of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and higher academic achievement. As a father, I want that for my children. I want them to understand that the world we live in is far more diverse than it has ever been. So why not learn in an environment that looks much like the world? Why not allow your children to attend a school as the “first” or “only” so that you can help inspire others to do the same or to join you

Listen, as a parent I know we want the best for our children. When it comes to having a high-quality education it’s a non-negotiable for most of us. It’s why we work hard everyday. It’s where the buck stops. But does it have to be a decision that’s made at the expense of diversity? Is it those types of decisions that can lead us back to segregation? Is gentrification to blame or is it our own doing? I wonder how many white families have looked at my children and decided that while it may be okay to share together in the same dance class or soccer team, it’s not okay to learn together? I think this is making me angry.

My point is I find it very alarming that there are scores of people (studies have shown) who are completely fine with gentrifying a neighborhood, but flat-out refuse to allow their white children to attend a predominately black school. I think it’s troubling that “U.S. employers spend roughly $200 to $300 million dollars each year providing diversity training because too few of their employees are prepared to work with people who come from different racial, economic, or cultural backgrounds,” according to the Washington Post. In fact, I think we should all find it troubling.

I may not have all of the answers but one thing I can say for sure is diversity is here to stay. And its time that we embrace it and add to our parental list of right and wrongs that it is wrong to deny a child an education simply because of the color of their skin.