Dear Dr. Comer:
My 8-year-old daughter is being bused to a mostly white school this year. I have not heard a complaint about racial problems, and her teacher is friendly and fair. But I am still worried.
Many black adults have grew up in integrated situations have a large dose of self-hatred compared to blacks who grew up in all-black situations. I call these people the victims of integration. What can be done to protect my daughter from such an outcome? W. S. Dear W. S.;
Before discussing ways to help your daughter, let's examine your belief that low self-concept on the part of blacks is a direct and inevitable consequence of integration.
There are probably integrated school situations that decrease the positive self-concept or racial concept of black students, but there are also schools where this is not the case.
Also, all students are not affected by a school situation in the same way.
Some will develop a positive racial concept in the most racist situation and vice-versa.
The old segregated black schools were enmeshed in a positive social network of family, nieghborhood and church. This network was lost with school integration. On the other hand, several studies show that blacks who attended integrated primary and secondary schools are better able to manage in predominantly white colleges and job and social situations.
Most of the better jobs and opportunities today are in racially integrated situations. Knowledge of opportunities, skills and people in education, government and business can best be gained in integrated school situations. Thus, there are benefits and undesirable outcomes possible; and on balance, integration is worth the risks. The task is to reduce the undesirable outcomes.
School integration should make it necessary for black and white students to give up immature ways of feeling good about themselves -- for example, by scapegoating others. This should enable them to develop more healthy ways of doing so.
Unfortunately, school integration has not been handled well from the beginning. The notion that we could just put kids together and everything would be okay is contrary to the most basic things we know about human behavior.
All human institutions -- marriage, family, schools -- require the use of certain skills in getting along and hard work in order to function well.
School staffs and involved families must have the necessary skills and must work hard to make any program successful and must work even harder to make school integration successful. It has worked best in areas where community leaders, school staff members, parent and students have tried to understand the problems and worked hard to prevent and overcome them.
It's good if your daughter is in such a school. But if not, the experience need not give her a low radical self-concept.
A youngster's feeling about herself and her race grows first and most out of the way she is treated by parents and emotionally important people in the social network of family, neighborhood, church and eventually school.
Parents and others can help children learn that he or she is okay and how to understand and handle racial antagonisms -- that they are the attacker's weakness, immaturities and shortcomings.
Finally, exposing a child to the positive aspects of her group's history or culture reinforces and individual's positive self and racial concept. Because this is less possible in an integrated school situation with few black teachers and adminstrators and little curriculum content designed to address this issue, black parents must be more active in exposing their children to positive aspects of their culture than in the past.
Finding and being a part of a positive black social network such as church, civil rights groups and other achieveing and contributing organizations can be helpful. Participating in, monitoring and helping to shape the school program can also be beneficial. Dr. Comer