Shades of the PTA
As PTA president at my daughter’s school, I attend monthly council meetings at our council headquarters nestled comfortably in Southern California suburbia. The wall is decorated with certificates and banners and posters. I gave them a cursory glance on my first meeting there, but there was one picture that filled me with utter delight. It is a photographic portrait that I felt almost rapturous about because it is as I imagined the PTA to be. Three rows of women of the ’50s sit in their suits, be-gloved and be-hatted, looking, each of them, just a little to the left, smiling beatifically. They probably auctioned off hand-sewn quilts and baked the cakes for the cake-walks and made lemonade for the children on hot, summer days.
Perhaps the PTA was never like that. Perhaps I am just projecting on that eighteen-by-twelve black and white framed photograph. But it does make me feel rather wistful because, quite frankly, I find the PTA to be rather complex. My daughter’s school is a magnet school. Other states have their version of the magnet system, but in my city it means that sixty per cent of the students are minorities and the other forty per cent are white. But white doesn’t mean disenfranchised East Coasters, it means Armenians, Iraqis, Persians/Iranians and all manner of other cultures who might not say “Super!” when Christmas rolls around on the twenty-fifth of December. My daughter is one of two blue-eyed blondes in her entire grade. (I’m a black-haired, green-eyed, dirty little Irish girl, so don’t ask me how I pulled that Aryan wonder out of my womb, and then another smaller version to follow.)
However, of the fifteen to twenty people who regularly turn up to our PTA meetings, all of them, bar two, are white. Like whitey-white. True we do have one black lady (and she’s from London, so she doesn’t qualify as African American), two Chosen People ladies and a Latina who doesn’t speak Spanish, but I began to wonder: is the PTA kind of a white thing?
The PTA itself encourages not only diversity, but inclusiveness. It has a diversity self-assessment, with all the dreariness of questions you know how you’re supposed to answer, but with none of the fun of a score like in a women’s magazine where you can find yourself:
Mostly A’s? Congratulations you’re a raging racist and homophobe! to Mostly D’s? Whoo! You may well be the next Secretary General to the United Nations!
With regards to inclusiveness, there are many pamphlets with well-intentioned, though generally asinine, suggestions. An inclusive PTA, says an article entitled “Diversity and Inclusion: What’s the Difference?” from The Communicator
seeks out individuals from under-represented groups and invites them personally by letter, phone call, or face-to-face meeting. Neighborhood coffee shops, banks, and grocery stores are great places to reach out to diverse groups of people.
Really, don’t the under-represented deserve to be left the hell alone when their kids are in school? And really, does the already overwhelmed PTA board have to take on stalking as one of their responsibilities? The sad truth of it is, be they black, white, polka-dotted or striped, the under-represented are so because they are working as many jobs as they can to support their families. They don’t have the time to come to a meeting to discuss painting the play-yard or helping with the prom. And someone from the PTA jumping out at them from behind a grocery aisle shouting “Huzzah!” is not going to afford them that time.
That said, lately I was at a council meeting where a Latina PTA president, whose first language is Spanish, had trouble getting the Anglos to come to meetings as they were the ones who felt awkward and at a language disadvantage. She is a nice lady — a better person than I — and had personally invited said Anglos to help her at school functions. Whether she found her quarry at banks and coffee shops, I don’t know, but it would have warmed the cockles of the heart of whoever wrote all those inclusiveness guidelines.
So diversity? It’s complicated, it’s social, it’s economic, but any kind of functional parent organization is, ultimately, going to rely on, not parents in a multitude of hues, but simply parents with a multitude of time.
Photo by Angie Garrett
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