NIC STONE IS AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN MOTHER of a four-year-old son. She lives in Atlanta and is married to a bi-racial man who is Jewish. Her African-American son attends a Jewish pre-school that he loves.
But on a recent visit with her child to the Martin Luther King Center, as she toured the exhibits including the bus that black people were formerly forced to ride only at the back, she was confronted with the dilemma that mothers of black children consistently face. How do you explain to a child who has only happy thoughts about the world around him, that as he grows up there will be many obstacles in his way because of the color of his skin. At what age should you start to warn him, in Ms. Stone’s words that “the world can be an ugly place, and African-American males seem to bear the brunt of that ugliness more than any other demographic in the nation.”
This dilemma is the subject of a moving article in the February issue of Parents Magazine. Citing examples like the police killing of unarmed black men, including a 15-year-old boy, and the “white nationalists” and self-proclaimed neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, last September, she asks at what age should she start preparing her children for the reality that “there are people who overtly hate (them) and people who will assume the worst about them…. Do I try to shield them for as long as possible and keep them innocent ¾ and ignorant? Do I risk the scales being painfully snatched from their eyes by someone else who may not have their best interests at heart?” She confesses that she doesn’t know the answer but that she will do “what we always do as parents: figure things out as we go.”
Black Families Face Critical Need for Child Care
Related to this is a 22 page study released recently by CLASP, a national, non-partisan organization, dedicated to reducing poverty in America, documenting the particularly critical need for quality affordable early child care for African-American children. “Child care and early education policies are shaped by a history of systemic and structural racism,” the study states in its introduction. “As a result, there are major racial disparities in children’s access to quality child care” that meets the needs of their working parents. “Early care and education workers are overwhelmingly in low-quality jobs with inadequate compensation. And workers of color are often relegated to the lowest paid positions.”
The detailed study, Equity Starts Early: Addressing Racial Inequities in Child Care and Early Education Policies, published online this past December, was compiled by Christine Johnson-Staub. It further documents that parents of African-American children “who often struggle economically, are statistically least likely to be able to afford quality child care and early education programs.” The majority of these children have working parents but “employment is no guarantee of a living wage.” They often have to work at jobs where there are erratic and unpredictable hours without benefits like paid time off. “Nearly half of women who work in industries with a median wage of less than $10.50 an hour, such as the retail and restaurant industries, are women of color.” They often have work schedules outside the normal Monday to Friday work week that interfere with their ability to use regular child care that operate during normal working hours.
Cost is another factor with very few free or affordable child care programs available. Families living in poverty spend on average almost a third of their income on child care compared with seven percent for those living at three times the poverty level.
The study calls for undertaking a massive commitment to child care and early education that includes increased investment in child care at the state and national levels, as well as the adoption of policies that address the low level of wages for millions of workers.
The report may be obtained in its entirety from clasp.org.