• Allison Lee Pillinger Choi

How This Mama Bear Made Her Voice Heard -- And How You Can, Too


It's intimidating and scary to voice an opinion that runs against what seems to be a majority opinion. Nevertheless, now that I’m a mama with kids no longer in the shelter of my cocoon, I need to -- simply put -- get over it. It’s one thing to hold back at the expense of yourself, but it’s a whole other thing to hold back at the expense of your kids.


If that’s not enough motivation to get over “the fear,” I’m reading to my kids a variety of books that teach the values of being confident, authentic, and speaking up. Never wanting to be labeled a hypocrite, I’ve decided I must practice what I preach to my own kids.


Topping off this personal epiphany, I’ve realized that a “loud and adamant” opinion does not imply a “majority and righteous” opinion (though it may well translate to a self-righteous opinion). Rather, in this age of social shaming, it only means that many others just like me are hesitant to “rock the self-righteous boat.” Further inspired by quite a few dissenting voices of reason (bold "boat-rockers," if you will), I decided to add my sense and concern to the conversation -- in this case, as it applies to the woke, so-called anti-racist ideology influencing my kids’ school district. Echoing the sentiments of another parent (and Columbia University professor) who sees anti-racism for what it really is -- neo-racism: "I am especially dismayed at the idea of this indoctrination infecting my daughters’ sense of self."


Keeping in mind these 5 tips for tackling sticky conversations (thanks to the compassionate wisdom of civil society scholars at the Manhattan Institute), I sent the below letter to my daughter's school superintendent. You, too, can make your voice heard with personal concern, community compassion, and sincere engagement. Hint: opening with a question is a simple way to positively spark discourse and contribute ideas:


*****

Monday, January 25, 2021


Dear [superintendent],


Your note in honor of Dr. King's legacy, including the students' word bubble, was a touching tribute. Thank you for sending out an uplifting note in observance of that day, and all our national holidays.


With regard to the anti-racism statement linked within the letter, I'm hoping you could address a concern of ours:


Per the anti-racism statement, it seems our kids would be grouped by our district's educators into that unnamed "of color” catch-all followed by “lives matter” phrase. These sentiments concern us. Please hear us out, as we’re not simply reaching out for the sake of voicing a diverse opinion (though we do respectfully and purposefully). More so, we reach out to you wondering: how will our kids be viewed, treated, and taught as they grow and develop within the school system you oversee?


For a glimpse of personal context, we left the city in no small part because of the school systems (like most families here). With so much focus on racial, ethnic, and gender identity classifications (e.g. labeling oppressors vs. oppressed, privileged vs. victims), we removed ourselves from that environment so that our bi-racial and multi-ethnic kids could grow up with a healthy and holistic grounded educational experience. “Holistic,” for example, includes civics with all its debatable perspectives; history with all its milestones, struggles, victories, injustices, and celebrations; subjective and objective virtues and values, etc. And “healthy,” for instance, involves instilling a fundamental understanding that each student is a self-determined agent with personal dignity at the individual level, and Americans united among a diverse citizenry at a community/societal level. (As a relevant aside, we are so grateful that our kids are finally given the opportunity to say the Pledge in school each morning — they were not offered this opportunity / civic experience in their city schoolrooms. It’s just not the same to say the Pledge without a group of friends/acquaintances/strangers.)


Returning to the concern: with so many students now hyper-aware of not only race, but also these new anti-racist/critical race theory attributions, how are these students to view our kids? Repugnantly privileged, or oppressively victimized? These identity word plays constructed by anti-racist / critical race theorists are antithetical to Dr. King's vision of a colorblind society, as poignantly explained by a 1776 Unites racial policy scholar. The more our American societal identity is fractured into sub-groups (even when done so with good intentions), the more fractured — less united — we become. Another public policy scholar who is also a local mom of bi-racial kids explains the negative unintended consequences of the dogmatic orthodoxy in her school’s “anti-racist” approach.


We understand that there is a vocal fringe who prefers to view my family’s races and/or religions as being of the victim class, or privileged class, or “white-adjacent” class (a uniquely egregious term we recently learned about... after being labeled as such). Ultimately, all of these “neo-identity“ attributions sabotage themselves. We don’t want our kids to get mixed up in that. Which is why our family has never been more intentionally celebratory of Dr. King, who drew upon America’s founding documents in his call for our country to live up to its founding ideals — that is equality of rights, treatment, and opportunity for Americans of all races, colors, creeds, etc.


Thank you for taking the time to read our concerns and relevant links. Please let us know if you’re open to discussing over the phone or zoom.


Thank you also for your leadership, cautiously optimistic communications, and all the “center-stage” and “behind-the-scenes” work that goes into keeping our schools open and safe this year.


Best,

Alli Choi


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