DURING THE PUBLIC COMMENT PART OF A meeting in June of the school board of Perrysburg, a suburb of Toledo, Ohio, speakers could raise any subject they wanted. Some spoke about efforts in the schools to combat racism. One white student passionately argued that more needed to be done. Another dismissed a particular anti-racism initiative as an intellectual fad. Others worried that such things could be camouflage for anti-white propaganda.
Tawiona Brown, the mother of 17-year-old student Josiah, says she hadn’t planned on speaking. Nonetheless, she stood up. To represent her son before and after a day at high school “from a parent’s perspective,” she said, she held two sheets of paper.
“Josiah, you like watermelon?” she said and crumpled one sheet. “You’re an n-word with a hard R,” she said and crumpled the paper some more, finally crushing it into a wad.
Then she held up the second, unwrinkled sheet. “When your babies come home to you, mentally, this is what they should look like,” she said.” Nice, even, smooth, nothing wrong.” Unfurling the crushed sheet, she continued. “When my baby—and he’s a big boy, and I still call him my baby—when he comes home to me, mentally, this is what I have to clean up with my son.”
The culture war skirmishes that have been raging in American schools over “critical race theory” and race-based programs and curricula are only likely to get more intense as kids across the country return to classrooms. So far, the loudest voices in those fights have tended to be those of white parents and students arguing about history and ideology. Often buried are the voices of Black kids and parents talking about lived experience.
Tawiona Brown tells Newsweek that Josiah is now entering his senior year at Perrysburg High School following racially motivated torment throughout his freshman and sophomore years that she only learned about after the fact. “It hurts me to know that for an entire year, my son didn’t tell me anything about people calling him the n-word and slapping his books out of his hands,” Brown says. “No parent wants their child to go through things like that.”
Brown says her son was called a monkey on the same day a social studies class covered racial slurs toward African Americans. When a parent brought watermelon for the football team, she says, Josiah, a 5’11” fullback and offensive lineman for the Perrysburg Yellow Jackets, became the target of mockery by his teammates.
Brown says Josiah once confronted teammates who had told another African American player to sit at the back of the bus for an away game. Following the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing wave of Black Lives Matter protests last summer, another teammate posted a photo of himself online carrying a gun emblazoned with a Confederate flag, along with a caption reading: “Come protest here.” Brown says her son’s coach assured her the matter was being handled, but the student remained on the team until he graduated.
“I don’t think the Caucasian parents—they don’t realize or understand, or even want to understand– that that’s what my child has gone through,” Brown says
Battles in the States
THE PHRASE “CRITICAL RACE THEORY” has lately been used (mainly by critics) as a catch-all for a variety of ideas first developed and debated in law schools in the 1970s. The basic concept is to view racism and inequality as things that are historically ingrained in institutions (like the law, for instance), and not only the results of individuals’ prejudice
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