Our ten-year-old black daughter spent seven of the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency at a private school in Brooklyn, New York. Academically the school is without doubt one of the best in the city and when she graduates it will give her access to the best colleges in the country, to the old boys and girls support networks and to the most interesting and often best paying jobs. Our daughter has a fine and creative mind, is pretty fearless and developed a for her age surprisingly deep empathy for others. My husband and I are both white and do not claim any of her qualities and can't do that because she has the genes from her mother and her third father: we adopted her. Her mother who is in her life, shows a lot of what her daughter defines as well. She is a powerhouse, who could have been if brought up in a less cruel world the CEO of the company she works for now as a low paid employee.
Race relations in the US are cruel. I see it in the school of our daughter. I see the cruelty in the oppressive white décor of our venerable old school: portraits of bearded men adorn the walls, expressing the uncontested 'glorious' history of white America in the 19th and 20th century. And I see the cruelty in the lack of black and brown kids in the lower and middle school. These few represent the diversity for the white kids, while they themselves hardly have any person in the school who looks like them and they can relate to: the majority of the teachers is white, the leadership of the school is white. Yes, the lowest paid jobs are mostly filled with black and brown people. How will that all shape not only my daughter's mind, but even worse, also the minds of her white classmates.
I see the cruelty at pick up, when the black nannies stand outside waiting for the white children they care for, often leaving their own black children in the hands of others. Cruelty is in the history curriculum, where the white colonial experience still stands central in the birth of our nation, relegating Native American genocide and African American slavery to the sidelines. And cruelty is to be found in the instability of the succession of four diversity directors in seven years and in the failed efforts to retain teachers of color. And sometimes cruelty can be found in unrecognized, ignored or mishandled racist incidents.
In the seven years at our school I have not seen measurable and for our daughter visible and meaningful change. Eight years of an accessible, reasonable and inspirational black president didn't help to change the course of our white and highly privileged school and - I am pretty sure - other schools like ours. The high minded, left leaning, loudly equality supporting white liberals who make up for most of the leadership, the faculty and the parents of these schools, were not able to evaluate their own ways and traditions, to look into their own cruel ways and traditions, and bring the change we need to become a just and more perfect union. It is definitely not Barack Obama's fault, that change hasn't come, and that we ended up with the opposite of what we needed, an extremely white president we are stuck with for the coming four years.
The lack of white leadership to see and then fight the mostly unacknowledged cruelty that defines the human relations in the schools of privilege and by extension in all other white institutions is to blame for the racial no-man's-land in which we are now living. White leaders have to wake up and take their responsibility. And if Obama's example and the Black Lives Matters movement weren't able to do that, maybe the shock of the result of this election will wake up these white leaders. Their task will be first and foremost to get rid of white leadership, that means to get rid of themselves. Looking back on the last eight years, I am not hopeful this will happen.