Our community has been captivated by the Starz docu-series, America to Me. I haven’t watched the show myself. Not because it isn’t interesting; rather, I don’t watch it because racism and racial achievement gaps in Oak Park are topics I have been writing, talking, and fighting about since my husband and I decided not to place our children in the schools there five years ago. Not only were Oak Park schools racist, but it was painfully obvious they had no real desire to fix the racism.
Don’t get me wrong. Oak Park had committees, boards, and community meetings that talked about the racial achievement gap. There were, and are, lots of community meetings about racism and the racial achievement gap. Oak Park has even written some good reports about the racial achievement gap. But while Oak Park education leadership and community leadership has excelled at meetings and writing reports, they have failed over and over to actually implement anything with measurable success that actually fixed the racial achievement gap. Somewhere between the meetings, the committees, the plans, and the writing of the reports, anti-racist policy in the schools has fallen by the wayside.
Oak Park’s historic inability to implement anti-racist policies or programs that address the root cause of the racial achievement gap leave me skeptical that anything will change now. So the idea of engaging in any well-meaning but time-sucking meetings, discussions, or creation of plans to close the racial achievement gap that take place now, thanks to the momentum of America To Me, would be frustrating and a waste of my very limited energy.
There is only one report I want to read on racism and racial achievement gap at OPRF: a report that lists all the policies, programs, and initiatives that have been attempted before and an accurate, honest analysis of why their multiple attempts to end the racial achievement gap failed to achieved the desired results. Since that report has yet to be written or proposed, I continue rolling my eyes inward, even while smiling and nodding about “plans for reform.”
The hard part about being friends with white Oak Parkers who call themselves anti-racist, is that, while they are sincerely well-meaning, they lack either the ability, or the community support, needed to make real change. I don’t believe anyone currently employed with or associated with the Oak Park public schools truly has the skills or tools to bring real racial equity or even fix the racial achievement gap.
Many Oak Park residents would gladly come to a #BlackLivesMatter rally. Yet these same people will fight any reforms to the gifted and talented program, especially any that could possibly mean — gasp! — loss of resources for their white children.
So I and other black folks in the community continue to smile and nod while white liberal Oak Parkers vow at meetings that this time, they will do something, really, this time, to fix the “racial achievement gap.” Meanwhile, we black parents with options and resources enroll our children in other schools. We’re tired of hearing talk about the “deficits” of black children while nothing changes to address the structures that continue to hold our kids down.
Until there is a plan to address the racism of white Oak Park residents, schools, and institutions, and a plan that centers on reducing the individual racism of white people, or have a group of white people who are willing to voluntarily give up the aspects of white privilege that benefit their children, I’ll keep smiling and nodding.
ShaRhonda Knott Dawson, a former Oak Park resident writes for the educationpost.org.