Did You Opt Out of Black History Month Lessons? That’s White Privilege

Did You Opt Out of Black History Month Lessons? That’s White Privilege

Imagine the scene: It’s the first day of school, and Cynthia Robinson, an 8-year old black child, walks up to her white teacher, Ms. Jones.

“This is from my mother,” she explains as she hands the teacher a small folded-over note.

“Thank you so much,” replies Ms. Jones, smiling warmly at the presence of this seemingly happy and ready-to-learn third grader.

The teacher unfolds the paper to find the following:

Dear Ms. Jones,

Please excuse Cynthia Robinson from all history lessons or discussions involving the “founding fathers,” the American Revolution, or any history before the Civil Rights Movement, since it was only after that movement that families like ours were remotely free to enjoy the “blessings of liberty.”

I trust this will not be a problem.


Kimberly Robinson

Now ask yourself, how is this note going to be received? This request?

How is this teacher likely to feel about the Black child whose mother is asking to exempt her from learning some of the basic historical material that all students explore?

How is she likely to respond to the parent? What will she likely say to the principal?

You needn’t bother pondering the query because, honestly, it’s a trick question.

Frankly, there are few if any Black parents who would feel sufficiently empowered to send their child to school with such a note or even to demand such a thing directly, without the intercession of their 8-year-old.

Because Black folks know they don’t get to make the rules in this country or decide what their children will and will not be exposed to.

They know that if their kids are to get a decent sense of who they are as Black people, they — the parents — will have to be the ones to ensure that.

White folks suffer from no such lack of confidence and entitlement.

We expect the schools to bend to our needs, and we make damned sure they do. Whether it’s banning so-called critical race theory or expressing such hostility to the concept of racial equity and historical truth that schools feel compelled to allow us to opt-out of conversations about racism if it makes us uncomfortable.

To wit, the recent letter sent to parents at an elementary school in Nineveh, Indiana, by the school counselor, informing them that they can opt their children out of conversations during Black History Month if they are uncomfortable with them.

And what are those conversations to be about? Is it the inherent evil of white people? The fundamentally racist nature of the American republic? The depravity of the nation’s founders?


According to the school counselor, he will be delivering lessons in class concerning “equity, caring, and understanding difference.”

That’s it.

The counselor mentioned studies indicating that a greater appreciation for diversity is correlated with better learning outcomes for all students, meaning that these conversations have a purpose central to the mission of schooling.

But despite that, he informed parents that if they would like to “opt their child out” of the lessons, they can.

Think about that. Parents being allowed to:

  • Opt-out of Black History programming;
  • Opt-out of lessons on “equity, caring and difference;” and
  • Opt-out of lessons that professional educators have shown further the very purpose of education itself.

In what other realm of schooling (or the imagination) would something like this even be possible? Algebra? Chemistry? Of course not.

We allow these kinds of opt-outs only for persons triggered by conversations that challenge their political or religious beliefs — sex ed, discussions about LGBTQ equality (or simply identity), and now, racism.

And in each case, those opt-outs are the product of privilege: white, Christian, straight and cisgender, all demanding the right to “protect” the ears of their precious offspring from social, scientific, and historical reality. To insulate their kids from perspectives that might challenge those of the parents.

As I’ve said before, these are the actions of people who view their children as their property rather than as unique moral beings with a right to develop their own values.

Only those with the privilege of expecting such requests — demands really — to be taken seriously would even attempt them, let alone have school counselors groveling for the right to teach their children what those children need to know.

Imagine the level of entitlement at work here.

Imagine what it must take to think that you have the right to opt your kids out of lessons that teachers — professional educators — have decided are important.

And imagine how beholden to that sense of entitlement a school must be, or an entire district, to kowtow to those who manifest it.

How craven must educators be to say that if white folks would rather not learn about Black people, or be introduced to concepts like inclusion and equity, so be it. They can be allowed to skip that day or work on an alternative lesson — maybe write yet another book report about little George Washington and the cherry tree. Or Paul Revere. Or Davy Crockett.

In Darien, Connecticut, parents are flexing their privilege too, which is fitting.

Darien, after all, is a place so known for its racial homogeneity and closed-mindedness that Mame Dennis (the lead character in the film Auntie Mame) insisted her nephew never become an “Aryan from Darien,” married to a girl with “braces on her brains.”

Rather than fight the stereotype, the fine folks of Darien have clearly decided to keep the brand alive.

There, a “parents’ rights” group has sent a letter to the school district, demanding the right to review any materials involving culturally responsive teaching, ethnic studies, systematic racism, diversity, equity and inclusion, and social-emotional learning, among other things.

Then, they insist on the right to opt their children out of any such instruction if they find it objectionable.

They also note their opposition to any advertisement of any group or activity that would discuss sexual orientation or gender identity, even under the guise of anti-bullying programs.

Because why restrict one’s bigotry to racism when you can add heterosexism and transphobia into the mix too?

These are people so committed to maintaining total control over their children’s learning that they are essentially demanding the right to make teachers homeschool their kids for them.

They want the closed-mindedness of the home school without having to put in the work.

And when they don’t get their way, we see what they do — threatening violence and even death to educators and school board members who they accuse of indoctrinating their kids.

Like the letter sent to the adult child of Brenda Sheridan, a Loudoun County, Virginia school board member, which threatened to kill them both unless she resigned her position.

“It is too bad that your mother is an ugly communist whore,” said the note. “If she doesn’t quit or resign before the end of the year, we will kill her, but first, we will kill you!”

That, too, of course, is an act of privilege. Knowing that you can threaten to kill elected officials and suffer no consequences — something no Black people in America have ever suspected they had the luxury of doing, even were they so inclined.

Once again, what all these parents demonstrate, literally every time they speak, is that they carry around not only immense privilege but also the very fragility they so militantly deny possessing.

They insist that the accusation of white fragility is itself racist because it casts aspersions on white people as a group.

But those aren’t aspersions, honey — those are observations.

And as Ben Shapiro says, facts don’t care about your feelings.


Previously Published on Medium

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