Race in Place: Black Parents, Family–School Relations, and Multispatial Microaggressions in a Predominantly White Suburb
by Linn Posey — 2017
Background: Research has demonstrated the importance of understanding the multiple factors that shape parents’ relationships with schools, including the resources parents have at their disposal, their own educational histories, and the influence of school cultures and policies. Less is known, however, about how parents’ engagement relates to their everyday experiences across school and community spaces, particularly for Black parents in nonurban, predominantly White settings.
Purpose: The purpose of this study is to examine Black parents’ school and community experiences in a predominantly White suburb and how their experiences and engagement may vary based on social class and gender (and their intersections).
Participants: A socioeconomically mixed sample of 56 Black parents (16 men, 40 women) with children in Grades K–7 participated in the study, as well as 2 longtime residents whose children attended district schools.
Research Design: The findings are based on an ethnographic study of Black family–school relationships in a predominantly White Wisconsin suburb. The data include semistructured parent interviews; field notes taken in monthly districtwide African American Parents (AAPO) meetings; an analysis of district and AAPO documents related to district resources, demographics, academics, and family engagement; and an analysis of census and demographic trends in the suburb and the broader county.
Findings: Results reveal that parents supported their children’s education in a variety of ways, and most parents valued the resources and opportunities the suburban district and community context provided their children. Yet parents described experiences with racial microaggressions in their interactions with school officials and community members. These microaggressions were often classed and gendered, and, for a number of parents, relived and reinforced in their children’s schools. The results reveal both the everyday racism Black parents encountered in the predominantly White suburban community and school district, as well as the dynamic ways they navigated, resisted, and sought to change barriers to Black student and family success.
Recommendations: The research findings suggest the utility of educators recognizing the often racialized arenas many Black parents traverse in their everyday lives, legitimating parents’ alternative forms of engagement, and building on what parents are already doing to support their children’s education and well-being. Given the growing number of students of color in suburban districts, educational researchers have both an opportunity and responsibility to engage in studies that interrogate urban-focused frameworks and explore the intersections of race, class, gender, and place in families’ experiences.
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