Albert, a Taiwanese American father of three, found himself in crisis. Honoring his parents and the ways they sacrificed to get him a "good" education, while also honoring the way his faith called him to justice seemed impossible. He shares his story.
Albert is a Taiwanese American father of three from Oakland, CA. His parents immigrated to the United States to give him "best" education they could. As he came to terms with the school options his privilege afforded him, he found himself in crisis. How to honor his family and all they sacrificed, while also honoring the ways his faith called him to justice - called him to do something about the broken systems we live in.
He shares his journey through a broadening definition of family, a conviction that love comes close, that kids are resilient, and that all communities have gifts to share.
Join our Patreon to support this work, and connect with us and other listeners to discuss these issues even further.
Dr. John M Perkins
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Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools Podcast. I’m Andrew, a white dad from Denver.
Courtney: And I’m Courtney, a white mom from Los Angeles
Andrew: This is Gifts We Didn’t Expect: Family, Faith, and Integration. This isn’t a conversation with an expert or scholar. It’s a conversation with a dad. He is thoughtful and kind and his story touches on a few areas that have been on our list to address on the podcast, and we are happy to be able to dig in with him on some of these....
Courtney: That’s right. For one, we often lump white and privileged together on the podcast, because they often go together, but not always. And today we have the story of Albert - a Taiwanese American - who doesn’t identify as white, but does identify as privileged, and Albert’s story gives us a chance to think a bit more deeply about where privilege and whiteness overlap and where they don’t.
Andrew: It’s also a chance to talk about family in a way we haven’t so much yet. You know, I think as you’ll hear, family- how it's defined, who it includes, and what it asks of us, are all crucial questions in Albert’s journey. From the expectations of his parents, to his wife’s support, to who he feels this familial connection to, family and love are at the root of many of his decisions.
Courtney: And we also talk about faith in this episode. Albert, like many in the Integrated Schools community, comes to his commitment to integration through his faith. Ideas of love, service, community are all shaped by how he understands his faith, and how it calls him, and pushes him toward justice.
Andrew: He’s remarkably thoughtful and intentional about the choices his family has made, and I’m just really grateful he was willing to share with us so openly and honestly, and I’m excited to share this conversation and dig in deeper on the Patreon page. Huge thanks to those of you who have joined us. If you’re not familiar, Patreon is a platform that allows you to support his work, while also engaging with us and other listeners more directly. Head to Patreon.com/integratedschools - any amount you can contribute to support not only this podcast, but the entire Integrated Schools network, is deeply appreciated.
Courtney: Yes yes - now, let’s hear the episode.
Courtney: We're super glad to have you with us today. Why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself.
Albert: Yeah, thanks for having me. I'm Albert. I'm a dad of three children. Taiwanese American, with a mixture of other stuff in there, but, I mostly claim Taiwanese. Living in Oakland, California, kids are in one in eighth grade, one in sixth grade, and one in fourth grade.
We moved into this neighborhood about 1998, so almost 21 years ago, when I was just out of college and, we raised our kids here. The neighborhood is primarily Latino, and then Southeast Asian and African-American, but with some, gentrification that's been happening. The schools that our kids go to reflect that. So the, the elementary school is about 90% Latinx, with the remainder being African American, maybe 4% Asian, and then other different folks from Yemen or Afghanistan. So that's the elementary school.
We just started, in middle school for our son who's in sixth grade. And his school is, it's 99% Latinx, and then my daughter goes to a school that's more mixed, maybe like 30 to 40% white and then a mixture in the rest of this school.
Courtney: And you know, socio economically, where are your schools sitting?
Albert: The middle school and elementary school are at 95% qualify for free and reduced lunches.
Andrew: I would guess that the reputation of the schools in a sort of white or privileged community are probably not, like, “great” schools. You don't have white people driving from across the city to come to these schools.
Albert: Yeah. No, these are, these are not the schools that folks are fighting over to get into. Either they've never heard of them because they're not in the neighborhood, or they just assume that they're not quality schools because of the demographics.
Courtney: So, how did you choose to go to those schools?
Albert: Yeah. I grew up in the suburbs in Cupertino, which is kind of the prime public schools in the country, never having experienced, very much poverty. I'm the child of immigrants, so my mom is from the Philippines, Chinese from the Philippines, and my father's from Taiwan. They both came to the States to give us a great education. So I went to college, and that was the first time where I started to consider that there was maybe folks that were not as resourced and not as privileged as I was. And that's when I started to volunteer in a tutoring program in Oakland. I realized that, their educational experience was extremely different from mine.
And during that time I was influenced by this guy, a leader in faith based community development named John Perkins. And one of his main ideas was that love does not love from a distance. That in order for love to fully kind of be the fullness of love it comes close and it becomes proximate. And so, out of that, there was a community of people that we were wondering what it would mean to live it out. And, a few folks decided to move into the actual apartments where the kids that were being tutored lived. And living in that space was kind of a decision that was motivated by the desire to figure out what does love do if it, if love comes close.
And we got to experience beyond just being the tutor and the students. We got to experience the families that we were becoming neighbors with as a kind of fully formed human people. And that felt important in terms of beginning to form a relationship that was beyond just a server and a recipient of our service. So that's how I ended up in the neighborhood. And you know, fast forward to getting married, having kids, the next choice was just schools. And so, the local school, that's actually the school that the same kids that I tutored go. It wasn't an obvious choice for me, in terms of, that sending our kids to school
Andrew: So this, this school that was in the community that you had chosen to live in, that served the population that you had decided to be close to, right. That this wasn't the type of school that people with privilege choosing for their kids, or even really the type of school that your parents chose for you.
Albert: Yeah, my parents, they sacrificed a lot. They left their families so that both they could get an education, and also they could hand down the best education they can think of for me. But it was that moment when it started to get real, was when, I wondered if the things I’d chosen for myself and my partner, we'd chosen, could I also choose that for my children? Which is, just a different choice. And I had a moment of crisis, of thinking, am I failing as a parent? If the way that my parents showed me love was to give the best education they could give to me, what did it mean that I was not giving what I could obtain for my for my kids to them? We could live in a different neighborhood. We could send them to a different school. If love is giving your child the best education, then what did that mean for the decision I was about to make for my kids? So I sat with that crisis for awhile. And it did feel like there was a choice for me between choosing for my family or choosing the values that I believe in.
Andrew: Yeah. Making the choice for yourself feel somehow different than making the choice for your kids, especially given the choices that your parents made.
Albert: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Education in East Asian families is one of those things that you don't mess around with. Because the reality of the immigrant experience, at least the East Asian experience, is that our parents deliberately chose to come here so that we could get a fantastic education. So that we could have something that they never had when they were growing up. It's the thing that everybody's committed to. In making a different decision than what they made, there's this fear that I am, by my life, criticizing the choices that they made for me, and I actually don't want to do that at all. I have been thinking about this a bit, is that my parents weren't wrong to give me the best education they could give me. They weren't wrong in the sense of, believing that family sacrifices so that the rest of our family can thrive.
Courtney: Your parents were giving you the best education they could.
Courtney: I think there's something in how that got defined.
Albert: Yeah. So honestly, I feel like that is as much as they understood of the American dream, this is what they are pursuing. So my parents, they understood that in order for them as people of color that weren't going to be respected because of the color of their skin, they needed a piece of paper, some documentation, to prove that they were qualified for the work that they were doing. So they went all the way. Both my parents have PhDs, and they lived out the American dream, that if you get the highest education you can, you can achieve anything. But yeah, I do think there's something that they also inherited, which is, that it was all infused with a kind of a level of white supremacy. They chose neighborhoods that were all white. They saw that as the pinnacle of what it means to have “made it” is when you can live in a neighborhood that white people also choose. And so there are some things that I don't want to inherit either. So yeah, I think they recognize it as, that's just the game that you play. They knew it, and they weren't wrong in recognizing that that's how the system works. And then there's just the question of that as we've kind of opened our eyes to the people that it doesn't work for. I think for me, there's something that they didn't have the privilege to look at, which is, what then do we do for those who are left out of that system?
Courtney: So Albert, how did you make sense of the crisis that you're talking about between this relationship you have with your family and them very intentionally putting you in “the best” possible schools that they can and also your feeling of being called to living in space in a different kind of community?
Albert: Yeah. So the way I've come to understand is that part of the dynamic that happens in making the school choices is that I was choosing between, how do I love my family and how do I honor this call to justice that recognizes that the systems that we live in are broken and that I think we're called to do something about that. But the question was, am I willing to sacrifice family for the sake of this call to justice? And, that honestly there wasn't an easy way for me to resolve that.
Courtney: Like you had to choose one or the other.
Albert: Right. I mean, this was one place where it felt like it was coming right up against each other. It's like I could either choose a “good school”, like a resourced school for my children, or I could choose one that was less resourced for the sake of justice. And I mean, there wasn't a way to choose a resourced school and an unresourced school at the same time. So what I came to was that the way that my faith kind of informs me is that there's this idea of family, and that the family of God includes everyone. And so there was this idea that, I'd been going at it with a sense of how do I protect my particular family, how do I, kind of nurture and make sure my daughter gets everything she needs? And so the natural desire then was to go and move and try to send her to a different resourced school. But then what my faith informs me of is that our family actually extends beyond just our blood family. And so the call then for me was to recognize that, as I'm thinking about family, the reality that I was convicted of was that my family isn't just my blood family, but that there are actual family that we have befriended and that we have fallen in love with. That family is bigger and that part of investing in this school and part of choosing the school is because they’re our family members. And so that's how I resolved the family/justice thing was just that this is my family. I'm not the, you know, it's not like I'm the father of all these children but they're siblings. There's a sense of connection there.
Andrew: So really this, this conflict between faith and family or faith and justice was really resolved by broadening your sense of family, of who counts as family.
Albert: Yeah my faith background, which is Christian, kind of led me to this idea that love comes close. It also has this idea, and this isn't just my tradition, this is, multiple faith traditions and biology, genetics, that all point to the idea that sense of family doesn't extend just to our blood family that actually this relationship between myself and the neighborhood that I became part of, my neighbors, was actually extended to them as well. That family is bigger than blood, family is bigger than just the people who share my last name. And that, that was actually an invitation to think about it differently. One way to think about it was am I willing to sacrifice my family, my kids for the sake of my values? And instead, I like what Nicole Hannah-Jones said, “Well then, whose kids do we sacrifice?” And if there is a sense that other kids belong to my family, then there is actually a real, ethical choice of saying that if I leave a school for a better one, what does that mean about the family that I'm leaving behind? Is there an abandonment of family that I'm willing to accept as a way to receive all the advantages that my children can get? Because, if we left that school, it didn't mean just, making a kind of a choice for my kids, it meant leaving Carmen and Natalia and JuanCarlos and Brian. And, that was the point where I felt that invitation to embrace family as something bigger was what ultimately led me to choose this school.
Courtney: Maybe I guess the next question would be: was this school that you ended up sending your daughter to, was it the sacrifice that you expected?
Albert: I would say it wasn't actually. I am happily discovering that schools that people often overlook or don't choose because the demographics don't look like they're privileged, or they don’t look like they are resourced are actually abundant in terms of different kinds of resources. Like the families that are at this school are the families that I happily want my children to be growing up next to. That the reality is that, as I move into these spaces, I'm realizing that. Yep, there are mothers and fathers that love their children just as much as I love my children and they're willing to do anything for their kids. Just the way I'm willing to do anything for my kids. And I love being around that. I love that my children get to grow up knowing those families. That feels significant to me. And so, level of sacrifice... I wouldn't call it sacrifice. I would just say that we've been exposed to gifts that we didn't expect we would find, the generosity that's present has been surprising and really beautiful. Just how much folks are willing to offer, even from within limited means. So it's been a, yeah, it's been beautiful on that level. And, I'm actually really grateful for it and the education has been solid.
Andrew: What do your parents think?
Albert: That's a good question. My parents initially, weren't super excited about it. The positive has been that ultimately they've come and they've visited and it's been, they've been pleasantly surprised by the level of education. My parents took a little while to come around to accepting it, but now they, I think, they feel really good about it. They're actually some of the biggest supporters of our school.
I think, what made sense to my parents, was when I told them that you always taught me that growing up, my family was bigger than just our family . That we had aunts, we had uncles. And we had grandmas and grandpas that were, that I grew up with and everybody called everybody Auntie or called everybody Uncle. And my faith is teaching me that, actually, that extends even further so that the thing you started teaching me about, which is family is bigger than just our family, my faith is teaching me that it extends really wide to to the rest of the world. And so they've actually really embraced these new classmates and friends and family that are part of this school. So, my mom was volunteering in the classrooms. My wife's parents were volunteering and helping teach reading and math in the classrooms as well.
There's this sense that, if folks make the kind of shift from realizing that the family that we have isn't just the folks that look like us, but actually can extend beyond that, there's actually this huge kind of willingness and generosity that we can tap into that that has enormous power to change how we think about stuff.
Andrew: If we can redefine who is our family, who we should be fighting for? And sort of harness that deep desire to help family and go to bat for our family.
Albert: Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that, I think family is so powerful in terms of the visceral desire, just like you were saying, to fight for family and then, and if there's a shift to extend that power and that protectiveness to a larger body, I've seen it to be really powerful,
Andrew: Mmm. And maybe that's why love can't happen from a distance. I mean that's, that's why proximity is so important. Cause otherwise, how does your family see any connection to the Latinx kid down the block if you're not there in community.
Albert: Exactly, and I feel like I'm living out their values. the way they would want, the fullness of their values, which is the idea that family doesn't give up on family. And I just have a different, a little broader picture of family these days. And I hope that I'm making them proud, because the fullness of what they taught me is what I'm trying to live out, by not abandoning the family that I've made out here in my neighborhood.
Courtney: So Albert, do you feel like your kids are getting different kinds of things than you did growing up?
Albert: Oh, yeah, yeah. They're getting, they are super comfortable interacting with folks regardless of race or class. I often talk to my other friends who run in different, more, kind of affluent circles, and they worry about the materialism that is present with their kids. Our kids are very used to being around families where everything that they get are hand me downs. So they've all received, kind of similarly, they just get their clothes from whoever at wore them last. And they've never complained about it. I love that about my kids. I love that they don't look at someone and compare based on what level of material goods they have. So I think those are values that you can't put a measure on, but I just think they're really beautiful. And, you know, they're picking up Spanish, little by little, here and there. So they're used to people speaking different languages. So, yeah, ultimately I think it's just that sense that, they have a sense of appreciation
Andrew: And it's almost like this sense of appreciation might've been harder for you to instill in your daughter in a more homogeneous or more privileged environment.
Albert: Right. If every person's house she went to, it was like, oh, you've got your own bedroom, and you've got all this stuff, I think she would probably feel more inclined to expect that as that as her lifestyle as well. It just makes me realize that there's a level of gratitude that you get isn't based on the amount of money that you spend, there's the simple things that you can be grateful for and I think that this neighborhood has taught us that.
Andrew: How has the experience been for your kids? They don't have a lot of other points of comparison it sounds like, but how has this been for them?
Albert: Yes. yeah. They don't have a lot of points of comparison, so, for the most part, they love it. They're content. They've adjusted pretty well. The one thing I will say is that, there was a moment where I actually thought I'd screwed up completely, which was, when my daughter was in second grade, for whatever reason, I asked her what she did during lunchtime. And she said to me, “oh, I just go stand by the flagpole and I wait for a recess or lunch to be over. And then I go back to class.” And I said, was that just today? And then she says, “no, that's every day.” And what I realized at that moment was that this is what she's been doing -this was in second grade, and this had been her way of managing her recess and free time since she was in kindergarten. And I had no idea that this is what was going on because I'd been in the classrooms, and she's fine in the classrooms where there's some structure, but as soon as it was unstructured and there was time to just play, she had no friends. And it was in that moment in second grade, where I just pictured her everyday for the last three years, I realized. Going to the flag pole and just waiting out that time when she didn't have any friends to play with before she could go back to class. That just broke my heart. It was in that moment where I said, Uh Oh. Yeah, that's one place where I said, I think I fucked up. I think the thing I feared the most about what this would do to my children, it is happening and she has no friends. And I didn't know if it was just her personality type, but there was this part of me that wondered, if I'd done it differently, if I had sent her to a school where everybody looked like her or there more people that looked like her, would she not have to go to recess and stand by the flagpole and wait till it was over? So, that was my second crisis moment where I thought, crap, this might not be working out.
Courtney: Yeah. That's a really big one.
Albert: Yeah. Yeah. Cause I think that it's one thing to feel like you can supplement for academics or things like that. But it's a hard thing to supplement for friendships.
Courtney: So, what did you do?
Albert: So I had about a week of, just . . .
Courtney: Not sleeping?
Albert: Yeah, not sleeping. I was just holding it. I was holding it every day as I sent her off. I just thought, this is another day where this is what she'll do to pass the time in recess and at lunch again. And I told my wife at that time, thankfully my wife she doesn't get as emotional as I get. She doesn't get as flustered as I do around these things. She just said, “she'll be all right.” Yeah, since I grew up in a particular educational experience of high achieving public schools, that was my only experience. So I assume that if anything goes wrong, it's because I'm not sending my kids to those same high achieving, public schools. But she'd gone to a public schools in a more, kind of low income area, and so she wasn't as flustered by it. I mean, she was concerned. But she felt like it would be something that she would be able to get through. And throughout this whole process, it's been my wife who's kind of steadied the ship. Every time I get a little freaked out by what's going on. And so we made it through second grade, and still without having a friend. But we stuck with it. And then in third grade, she made one friend, and that made all the difference. It finally felt like she had someone to be with, someone to hang out with during recess. But yeah, it was a long, long year that one, and a long, long sense of questioning and doubting our decisions during that moment.
Courtney: And it's hard to know in that moment, how much of this is “my kid.” Right? Who, you know, might prefer to be alone. Would my kid behave this way if she were in a privileged, segregated school? Right? How much is the school? How much is my kid? How much is just this moment in time? How much is it maybe just this cohort of kids that she's just not bonding with or, it's very hard to tease those things out. But I think we're really quick to say it's just a bad fit for my kid. This whole school is a bad fit for my kid.
Albert: Yeah. Especially when it feels like everyone else is making different choices. If everyone else is there, there is that sense of like a, oh, what was that gameshow where you can call a friend, or you can survey the audience on it. And if you're…
Andrew: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Albert: Who Wants to be a Millionaire, right. So if you survey the audience around this question, there's a certain, there's a whole movement that's going to say it's the school. It's the school. It's the school. because they're all sending their kids to, to the “best schools,” the most resourced schools that they can find. And so in that moment when something goes wrong with my kid and I've chosen something that's different from everybody else. There is a strong sense of “Oh, maybe they were right.” “Maybe we should have just done what everybody else was doing and that would have fixed this.”
Andrew: But it's not like those well-resourced schools don't have the kid sitting by the flagpole...
Albert: Right, right. Yes. Yeah, it's true. And yet, it's those moments. That's it. To choose something that is going against the flow whenever something goes wrong, you can assume that it's because you're doing what nobody else is doing.
Andrew: Right, right. When if you're doing what everybody else is doing, when something goes wrong, then you, you've got to find some other explanation for it.
Albert: Yeah. I mean, you still have those moments of doubt where you think, why are we heading this direction? And it feels like everybody else's is running the other direction. And it's like if it was a scary movie and everybody's running one direction and you happen to be going the other direction, you're usually the one that's going to get eaten probably.
Albert: So there's those moments where you wonder if I am I the guy that's going down in this movie.
Courtney: Yeah. Albert will check the basement!
Albert: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, so there are moments.
Courtney: Yeah. So your daughter's in eighth grade now. Is she still at the flagpole?
Albert: No, she's no longer at the flagpole. Third grade was a game changer. First with the one friend that she made by fourth grade, became like five friends and by fifth grade became 10 friends. And the demographics of the school didn't change, you know, so all her friends in that school at least were largely, Latinx, and a few, there actually were a few Asian folks there. And the demographics didn’t change but her maturity or confidence that came from having one friend, seemed to make a difference for her. So she's got a ton of friends now, and she fits in really well socially and we're not concerned about that anymore. So thankfully, we stuck around and we were able to recognize that it wasn't the demographics that kept her from being able to learn how to make friends. Those didn't change. And she's matured into someone who can make friends. That was a nice thing to realize. Which is often true with a lot of the stuff with our kids, right? They're pretty resilient and they're able to kind of figure things out. I think the parental instinct is to go in and change everything as soon as you see something that feels not perfect for them. But I was grateful that I have a partner who's willing to say yeah, they're more resilient than you think and stuck with it.
Andrew: Yeah. I feel like every couple needs one of those.. Wait wait wait, take a deep breath...
Albert: Yeah. You need one - one needs to freak out and one needs to calm down.
Courtney: You know, I think what's interesting about this part of your story too, is that you're framing it in terms of resilience. And I've certainly done that a lot with some of the struggles my kids have had, right? But I'm wondering also if she learned something about herself during this flagpole time. Like if she might have gained something from this difficult period of time like that this would ultimately be a better thing. Not just, Oh, but she'll be all right.
Albert: Yeah. Right. Yeah, I hope so. I hope so.
Courtney: I mean, you'll find out when she writes you those horrible letters from high school, like you’ve ruined everything dad (laughter).
Albert: That's right. That's right. That's right. Yeah. we've talked about more in the sense of I used to be shy and now you’ve grown a lot of confidence. I haven't asked her why. I don't know that she would be able to articulate why there's a difference there. But yeah, it's actually one lesson that I think is true for me too, is that hard things don't last forever. You know that you can overcome things, if you stay with them, and she has actually had an experience of that. So if I had taken her out, at that point, she would never have learned that lesson. So I'm grateful for that.
Andrew: Yeah. You said, you sort of felt called to expand your definition of family and called to be close to your community. So one of the things that I struggle a lot with, in the conversation around what choices I'm making in where I send my kids is recognizing that my presence is not sort of, instantly solving the world issues that - I don't have the capacity to save my school or undo this huge systemic wave of oppression, but feel like there's some part for me to do. How do you sort balance that?
Albert: Yeah. No, I think that's a really good question. Before I had kids, when we were married and had this calling to live in solidarity with our community and to kind of explore that as a call for justice, I think that was an individual call, kind of a personal call, and in some ways a kind of a very idealistic like, I want to do good in the world. But a big shift has happened with me in terms of humbling experiences of lots of failure, where I've tried to do good and realized that I wasn't the best person for it.
So early on, when we started helping out in school, it was my first year, my daughter had just started kindergarten, and we decided we're gonna go in and we're gonna kind of bring all our resources to bear to support this school. I went into one of the first PTA meetings and made an announcement saying, “Hey, we're going to do this for the teachers. We're going to repaint their work space. We're going to get some food and we're gonna treat them to this really fantastic lunch.” And then all the parents who were there, who'd clearly been there for years, and they all looked at me and signaled to me that they hadn't been waiting for me to come and save the day. There was actually quite a bit of other stuff going on. And so there was a good amount of displeasure that I was experiencing as I was making this grand announcement by folks who rightly felt like they were the ones who had invested in this school, had invested their blood, sweat, and tears, and then who was this guy to come in and say that “things are gonna change around here.”
And so, one, I failed a lot, and two, I haven't recognized the gifts and the resources that are already present in the community. There are enormous resources, and that has been humbling on my end to recognize that I'm not the one who brings them. At the same time, I do feel like there's a level of responsibility for folks who have been given a little bit more, or a lot more, in terms of education, financial, economics, to share that. Yeah, I just feel like those of us who have a lot, don't have a lot just because we worked hard for it. There were systems in place that have made it easier for folks who have a lot to keep what they have and to grow what they have a lot easier than folks who have less than that. And so, if I've benefited from structures that are inherently unjust, then it's not a work of charity to do giving and to do donations, but it's a work of reparations and restitution receiving that just feels like it's an appropriate response to injustice.
Courtney: Yeah. That’s interesting, reparations vs charity is an interesting framework for thinking about this. I do worry though that it could sound a bit like saviorism. How is this not saviorism?
Albert: Yeah. No, that's a great, great question because I think there's a framing of it that's appealing on one level. I grew up with a lot of movies that were super inspiring about the teacher that would just come in and save the school. Like Dangerous Minds or Stand and Deliver or, yeah, so all of them. There's a narrative that's really appealing about feeling like, oh, I could be that, that person who comes in and does good and transforms everything. So I think that's really seductive. But it does kind of remove power and dignity from the folks who are present, who are actually struggling for their own selves and maybe not looking for a savior.
So saviorism would be the idea, I guess, that I have all the answers and I'll come in and I'll fix things and somehow my choices then are kind of what ultimately heals everything. Add too, that that there's no existing resources here that anyone can draw from. And so, I feel like on one level that the word saviorism is appropriate, and it's used to kind of call out folks, and I’ve been guilty of this and probably continue to be guilty of this at some points, feeling an arrogant attitude of not acknowledging the gifts that are already present there, and feeling like I have all the things that are needed to save everything. So I think that clearly that's a broken way of thinking and I think part partly what's dispelled that notion for me is as I've come in, I've seen gifts that are already there, that are present, that are in these spaces where I previously thought there weren't gifts or resources. And I clearly haven’t had all the answers either.
But I would say that the accusation of saviorism can be thrown around a little bit too easily, to kind of excuse other folks from feeling like, well, then there's no point at all in trying to move into this space or trying to do what one is able to do to contribute. So, saviorism actually feels like it's a way to say that what's most important is us to feel good about ourselves for what we're doing. And I think one corrective to saviorism for me is the idea that it's not about charity, and it's not about what makes us or myself feel good, and this is where family feels like the appropriate metaphor for me because in family, you don't care for them to be a savior, you care for them because there's a responsibility that you have towards somebody. And I feel like that is more the call is that, do we have a responsibility to one another that recognizes both the resources that we've been given and the resources that are existing. So as opposed to saviorism, what family feels like, it's something where there are points where I'm going to have something that you need and I'll offer that. And there'll be times when you have something that I need that you'll offer it to me. And the blessing and the gift of family is a sense of mutuality. And I think that the accusation of saviorism, I think it taints it by saying that any effort to be responsible for somebody can become saviorism. And I don't think that's accurate.
Andrew: Yeah, so it’s like the fear of the accusation of saviorism can be a way to avoid or excuse inaction and disengage. So I think we should definitely all be fearful about saviorism because it’s real, but the corrective can’t be just to back into your own space and hunker down out of fear of doing it wrong.
Albert: So for me, what's been significant or helpful is this quote by Howard Thurman, I'm going to butcher it, but it's something like, I cannot be who I'm meant to be until you are who you are meant to be. That there is an interconnection between the wellbeing of others and my own wellbeing. I find that to be really convicting - that it's part of how I get healed, part of how I become more whole is that I invest in other people. I am more in touch with my best self when I am giving, or taking what has been given to me and not hoarding it for myself like that for whatever reason, like the selfish desire to kind of hold onto stuff or to even hold on to stuff for my children, you get more twisted, or I get less grateful. I feel less than who I'm supposed to be. And then in the giving process, there's this recovering of my own self, this, this healing or myself that happens that I find is necessary. So there's this idea of being connected to one another, that I can't be who I'm meant to be until you're who you're meant to be feels like a framework that helps me think about this.
Courtney: Yeah. Except that we don't often actually give up that much either. In many ways it’s about re-prioritization, but not actually the giving up of things either. It's complicated. It feels really complicated.
Albert: It's, no, it's totally complicated. ‘Cause there is so much that our families have gained from being in the spaces where they're at. And I was just having this conversation with some folks yesterday about saying that, under-resourced feels like the wrong term to talk about our communities because they're abundantly resourced on one level. It's just, they don't have a lot of money.
Andrew: Differently resourced.
Albert: Differently resourced. Yeah. And so I get to be the recipient of all those beautiful resources and all those gifts that are parts of these communities. And at the same time, Yeah. How do you talk about it? Because sometimes it does feel like sacrifice. Just the other day, we decided to keep our son in the school that he's currently at, even though a space opened up at this other school, that was his first choice, that is a little bit more higher achieving academically. And so there's that moment where we feel that pain of not . . . Every time you don't choose for the thing that everybody else wants, you feel that little sense of mm, there's a sense of a loss, a little bit of loss. And the reality is that I'm privileged enough to have the opportunity to say, I could have had that other thing, whereas other people never even have the chance to choose for that. So it's one of those, first world problems, but, there's a little pang of loss.
Courtney: Yeah, that's real.
Andrew: It’s like you have to make this decision over and over again, to choose proximity, to choose to be close. It’s a hard decision and not one that many justice oriented people are making.
Albert: So, we are a super progressive part of the country, with strong values for equity, strong values for education, strong values around anti-racism, and yet the conversations I have with primarily white parents usually revolve around “how do we support other schools and make moves towards equity without having to involve my child in the process?” So that they are removed from the philanthropy or that sacrifice.
As I have been reading about education and all the efforts to fix education, and all the things that have been proposed and all the things that have failed and I wonder sometimes if that why it's so difficult to fix schools from a distance, is that there is this effort to say we’re not going to integrate our schools, but we’ll give those neighborhood schools just as good schools as schools whiter or more resourced areas. But there’s no acceptance of the interconnectedness of students. I sometimes wonder if the only way that schools actually do get better, that education improves is when our goals are fully aligned. When there is no difference between those kids and our kids. That our kids and those kids are all literally in the same environment - in the same schools. That the idea of sending content without sending relationships actually ends up being why we end up never fixing schools. We invested resources that didn't include ourselves. We didn’t have skin in the game. For something as significant as education, as significant as the development of our children, we need to have skin in the game. I wonder if actually that disconnect between where I send my kids and where other kids go is insurmountable, or I don't know if it's insurmountable, but it's not fully, I dunno. It's an obstacle. Yeah. It's an obstacle ‘cause there's still a distance. And because of that distance, there will always be a slight difference and maybe a really significant difference between what we offer to our own children and what we want to give to other other kids
Andrew: Yeah. Well, we can't thank you enough for, for sharing so openly and honestly your experience in your little window on it.
Albert: No, I'm super grateful. I'm grateful that you're having these conversations. What integrated schools is about speaks to my heart.
Andrew: We're really, really grateful that you came on and shared with us.
Courtney: I’m really grateful for Albert sharing his experiences… What stood out to you, Andrew?
Andrew: Well, so you know, it was just a little thing, but it’s really stuck with me - his issue with framing his kids’ school as “under-resourced”, and how that isn’t really accurate.
Courtney: Right, that families have a lot to offer, just maybe not in cold, hard cash.
Andrew: Yeah, I think it ties nicely into this idea of family, that we all may have different gifts we bring to one another. And I think too often when white &/or privileged families, when we enter integrating spaces, we have a tendency to only ‘count’ certain things as gifts, and then to view the lack of those specific things as indicative of some sort of deficit - as a sign of a problem.
Courtney: Yeah, and this is really a central piece of colonization, of taking over a school. The ways that we value certain offerings and certain aesthetics as “good” without valuing others at all. And this is real. But then, you know, it is also real that some schools DO have more material resources and that translates into certain kinds of opportunities. Some schools do have more of those, period. And so, you know, how do we talk about this? It’s important to acknowledge the disparities -- because they’re real -- without undervaluing the gifts. That nuance...
Andrew: Yeah, we are not so good at nuance.
Courtney: We are not good at nuance. But, you know, how do we say “schools that have more stuff that white/privileged people value and that often really jibes with power and opportunity for the kind of success that white/privileged people value even when we say we value other things, too” That’s really a big mouthful. I guess, I don’t know, you know we’re reaching for a nomenclature that is just more sophisticated than where we are right now.
Andrew: Yeah - good school / bad school - resourced school/ under resourced school - desirable school / undesirable school - these sort of broad categories are problematic when we are trying to classify something as important as a school. You know, the idea that you could sort of boil down all of the things you get from going to school into a pass/fail - good / bad - dichotomy, it might feel good, but ignores the complexity of a school. So, you know, there is maybe some value in the discomfort and the struggle to find better language, because at least it makes us more aware of the impact those words can have.
Courtney: I think that’s right, and you know, I think this is why I found Albert’s framing of “family” really helpful. In order to make sense of the tensions he felt between choosing this school for his kids and honoring his parents sacrifice to come to the US ‘for education,’ Albert made his peace by extending his definition of family.
Andrew: Right.. The idea that proximity matters -- that love comes close --this is the part of school integration that feels the most powerful and important to me. We can talk about the redistribution of resources, and we definitely should talk about, I mean, that is key. But until we are together, until we are close, making meaningful change on the resources front just doesn’t feel that likely.
Courtney: I mean… history.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean, yeah, right. Fixing schools “from a distance” hasn’t worked to get black and brown kids equal much less equitable access to the resources and opportunities that relate to power. But also, and even more importantly, fixing schools from a distance doesn’t get us closer to realizing the promise of an integrated society. You know, if we are going to deeply and truly believe in shared humanity, we have to be together, we have to be close.
Courtney: Yeah, yeah. You know, I think the notion of family and saviorism was really interesting. We talk about this a lot -- that school integration is good for our kids AND good for our country. But neither too much. But I think ‘family’ is a really good corrective here....
Andrew: Yeah -- if we can feel responsibility for each other and share what we have to share, then is that saviorism? Right, like I don’t feel like I am saving my kids or my wife when I clean the pantry out and I don’t feel saved if they were to ever, say, clean up the dog poop.
Courtney: Right. We talk in our house about being on a team -- that each team member might be doing different stuff but all toward a shared goal… A goal that we all have both a stake and a responsibility for.
Andrew: Responsibility, service, helping out is possible without being a savior. I guess it’s fundamentally about being a community member, a family member. I appreciate what he said, that the fear of Saviorism can’t be an excuse to not try.
Courtney: Exactly. We are so worried about doing this “right,” about being the “good” “ally” (so many air quotes here!). But, we are so worried about doing this “right,” that sometimes it feels easy to forget that we actually just are all people together… Because when we are talking about actual people with names and stories and likes and dislikes and quirks and personalities, it doesn’t feel like charity. Family -- or team -- isn’t charity work.
Andrew: Yeah, it’s about a deeper commitment to the wellbeing of people you care about, and I appreciate that Albert took this understanding to not just taking care of the family now in the present, but looking at how the past has created the current circumstances. I loved when he said if he has benefited from systems that are inherently unjust, then giving back isn’t about charity, it’s about reparations. And he is not the only one who has linked integration with reparations. In our next episode, we will hear from Professor Justin Hansford who makes a similar argument...
Courtney: It’s a provocative argument Professor Hansford makes.... But lets just leave this as a little tease for next time...
Andrew: Right. I guess the last piece of Albert’s story I stuck with me after our conversation about was where he reflects on his daughter’s resiliency.
Courtney: That flagpole-story… As a parent, my heart broke for his kid and I also just really felt for Albert.... Luckily for him, his wife was able to keep him off the ledge.
Andrew: I think that is always helpful… to have someone able to keep perspective during a difficult time., even if its just to trade off who gets to be the crazy one in a particular moment. Somebody who has the faith and belief that hard things don’t last forever. I think we all need to hear that.
Courtney: And the questioning of whether this was a difficult time because of the fact that it was an integrating school or whether his daughter might have been at the flagpole at a white/privilege-segregated school is one that we don’t easily ask of ourselves. Because we think of this choice to desegregate our kids as a “risk”, everything becomes centered around the school...
Andrew: And the narratives of the privileged parents around us is always one of questioning that choice, and then that choice becomes the target for intervention, whereas at the privileged school, our attention would be on all of the other reasons that might be causing her to be hanging out at the flagpole.
Courtney: Yep. This made me think a lot about the research on intensive parenting that Dr. Calarco shared in the last episode.
Andrew: And Beth, too. When Albert’s son was offered a spot at another school, we are constantly confronted with this - not just a choice for, but a push to get “the best” for our kids and just our kids..
Courtney: It’s never-ending. White supremacy culture is relentless.
Andrew: And, Courtney, do you know what else is relentless? Bills. And that’s why we need your help, listeners. If you appreciate these stories and the work that goes into sharing them for free, please support our podcast by donating on our website, IntegratedSchools.org or becoming a patron at Patreon.com/Integratedschools.
Courtney: That was a very nice segue! And here is Matt Gonzales, an Integrated Schools board member and badass educational justice advocate -- if any of you are listening in NYC, you’ll likely know his name...
Matt Gonzales: My name is Matt Gonzales. I'm director of the integration and innovation initiative at the NYU metropolitan center for research on equity and the transformation of schools. I'm an advocate and educator and policy nerd who's been working towards integrated schools in New York City and across the country for a number of years.
I serve on the board of integrated schools because it is a critical aspect of the broader movement for integration. While much of the policy and advocacy work must be intentionally led by those most directly impacted by segregation , I think it is really critical to acknowledge the role white parents have played in upholding and perpetuating segregation.
Integrated Schools really leans into this history and these tensions and builds a community of parents who ground efforts in anti racism. And it is really powerful to see parents committed to making integration work and live and thrive. I really believe that white folks need to speak to white folks. Understanding that there are limitations on what people of color can say and do to really transform the perspectives of white folks. I do know that white lips to white ears are actually very powerful. And so what I'm committed to doing is advising and supporting and helping shape those conversations that white allies and co-conspirators are going to have with other white people. I don't want to be the one having those conversations, and I don't think it's my job or my work to do that, but I do think I have a responsibility to work with my antiracist white allies to ensure that they have the tools and resources and support to really pull together that 3.5% of white families we need to really support integration.
So, in order to develop a podcast and to sustain this network that has just been rapidly growing requires resources. So what we need is folks to dig deep. Your donation will ensure that we are able to continue moving this work forward to preserve and create a better democracy. I'm not content and refuse to let the system of segregation exist. I refuse to let that be the society that we live in and that future children of mine will grow up in. And I know that there are adults, they are parents, there are educators, there are many young folks who are also committed to that transformation. And we all have to do that together.
Andrew: Thank you, Matt, thank you listeners! Let us know what you thought of the episode, send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Leave us a rating or review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Join us on social media @integratedschools, and please keep sharing this podcast with your friends.
Courtney: Yes. Our reach is all organic, home-grown, locally-sourced but basically it is thanks to you all. We are grateful to be with you as we try to know better and do better.
Andrew: See you next time.