Claiming Race, Identity and a Right to Education
Mixed Roots Stories
Briellen Griffin, Doctoral Student of sociology in Cultural and Educational Policy Studies
School of Education
Loyola University Chicago
It is my job to think about school. Everyday, I read, write, and speak about education. I ask, and often try to answer, the big questions. Like, why do we have schools? Or, what is the purpose of education? Even more specifically, how do I make sure all kids get the education they deserve? Since I now have my own children, these questions have taken on new meaning in my life. They have become personal. More than I expected, they have become questions that challenge who we are; who I am and who my children will become.
When I think back to my earliest years of schooling, I can’t pinpoint a specific moment when I knew that I was getting a different education that my friends. I grew up in urban public schools, not unlike the one my own kids attend today. I LOVED SCHOOL. I mean, LOVED it. All parts. Carrying the milk crate for snack, practicing handwriting, chasing friends on the playground. Later, the love grew to encompass algebra and writing, student council and more writing… I was good at school and that made every moment satisfying and fulfilling.
At some point, I began to realize that I got more credit than I deserved. It wasn’t just that I was good at what I did. Maybe, I thought, it wasn’t even that I was better than anyone else at school, at all. It did have something to do with having blond hair and blue eyes. It had to do with feeling free in a place that didn’t criminalize me. It had to do with looking white.
I am, perhaps, one of the more stereotypical American multiracial blends, one that connotes the taboo of race-mixing specific to slavery in this country. My mother is white and my father is Black, though his heritage includes European & American Indian and is evidenced by a “high yellow” complexion and wavy black hair. What is less stereotypical about my multiracial identity is that I look white, especially to most white people. And the result is that I benefit from white privilege…
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