Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Before my son could speak, I told him he would go to university because that’s what we do! I was determined to instill in him the importance of education, studying, working hard and doing your best, as they were non-negotiable.
I would take him to campus from time to time and made sure he attended all four of my graduation ceremonies. He was 4 years old when he attended his first graduation ceremony.
I wanted my son to understand the symbolic importance of not just completing the qualification, but walking across the stage, receiving the handshake and having the achievement publically recognised.
For him to get to this point, it took a lot of hard work on both our parts. My son had to complete his assignments, pass his exams and live on campus. For me, I had to support him emotionally to endure the racial isolation he would experience and prepare him mentally to endure the challenges and barriers created by institutional racism. But it was not just our efforts. Family and friends supported him too, with words of encouragement, prayers, and laughter.
I strongly believed it was important for my son to recognise that this institution was a place he would travel through on his life journey. He had every right to be there, regardless of whether others of his reflection chose to opt-out, or not attend at all.
The odds were stacked against him. He almost dropped out of university in year one because of the negative gender racial stereotypes bestowed upon him because of his Caribbean heritage. Read my blog post entitled Insights from my son, 12th February 2019 and Mother of a black man, 16th July 2018. Every time my son returned from the holiday break, he was welcomed by shock and astonishment from his white peers and lecturers because he had not quit.
My son shared stories about racism, racial isolation, racial-microaggressions, racial ignorance, etc, etc. What was particularly sad was time and time again he was made to feel as though he was an outsider and an intruder in a space that was clearly dominated by white patriarchal ways of thinking and functioning, which welcomed only ‘certain’ non-white ethnic groups. A surprise for some as ethnic data in its current format does not capture the gender/racial difference in experience between ethnic groups. This is the reason why I constantly campaign for the application of intersectional analysis of gender/racial differences between groups. This would provide an in-depth view of the experience of all and capture the nuances that exist, rather than creating the assumption that a monolithic experience exists shared by all non-white ethnic individuals.
My son’s graduation was a very special moment because it signified completion. He had not succumbed to the negative labels given to him in his early years in education. He had traveled through and achieved a degree with honours.
That’s my boy!