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There is so much more to being a teacher than the content you teach, especially when you are a Black teacher. My experiences as a Black teacher are heightened even more and undoubtedly shared by many fellow Black educators. When asserting one’s voice is seen as angry, when a desire to be alone is seen as standoffish, when hiding one’s emotions under the guise of a blank stare and a silent tongue is seen as ‘having an attitude,’ when in fact we are just trying our best not to lose our job.
How many times has someone assumed that just because I am Black that we can relate to the experiences of all Black students, and are therefore the ‘go-to’ for all things Black?
All Eyez on Me (Tupac, 1996), or at least that’s how it feels. You see someone trying to casually peek out of the corners of their eyes to catch any reaction they can decipher. You maintain the same blank stare you have perfected for these situations, hiding a range of emotions begging to be released. In a meeting, on Zoom, on social media…it’s all the same. People are anticipating your response. It’s all just so mentally and emotionally draining.
When a neighboring school recently had nooses hung on its playground, it took me back to when our own school had nooses hung on the tree in front of the school. When a student walked around our school with an obvious noose, which he of course later denied was the trauma-inducing symbol of slavery. When our Black History Month Celebration was Zoom bombed with racial epithets and symbols, I tried my best to provide safe spaces for my students to heal, disregarding the healing that needed to take place in my own mind, heart, and spirit.
When our district had Culturally Relevant/Equity training, I was asked to contribute, which I politely declined.
Questions were deafening in my mind, ones I chose not to speak aloud.
- Why do I need to voice how I feel?
- Why do I have to figure out a way to absolve you of the guilt of which you are now miraculously capable?
- Are you just now waking up to what I have been experiencing my entire life?
- Have you not been paying attention to anything at all?
Are you so blinded by your privilege…uh-oh… wait a second. Let me not offend you by using such a heated and polarizing word.
Privilege, privilege, privilege! Spare me! As if your words, or lack thereof, have not held the same triggering power or rage-inducing potential as your precious ‘privilege’!
I always feel a loss for words, but the more I ponder, the more my emotions take on a life of their own. Anger, anxiety, annoyance, amazement at the audacity of it all! Shock? Strangely no…I have become… numb. I want to scream through my self-silence, and let loose the righteous and justified anger! Don’t ask me how I feel because I am not sure you even care. What do my feelings have to do with anything at all?
I am tired of trying to explain, discuss, debate…I cannot change your mindset, only you can. Open your eyes to the reality that is before you in literal and figurative Black and White. Open your eyes to images that can only be described as the manifestation of what has been under the ever-present band-aid over gaping wounds, which is nothing more than the guise of ‘equality’ some claim to embrace. Open your eyes to the stupidity that has far surpassed the lie of ignorance some have claimed to have when it comes to one versus the ‘other.’
Some may wonder who the ‘you’ is that I am referring to.
I direct these words to anyone who chooses to deny their privilege, claim to be ‘color-blind’ (don’t even get me started on that phrase), and to those who continue to turn a blind eye to blatant injustice and discrimination. As a Black teacher, I watched the video of the murder of George Floyd, of U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario being pepper-sprayed, and the images of Haitian immigrants being whipped, feeling these atrocities on an almost unexplainable level of hurt. I see the image of my own son in the face of so many who have been discriminated against, persecuted, and seen as less than.
These are members of my culture, this is my history, and this is my trauma. As the kids say, ‘it hits different’ when it hits home.
And so, as Black teachers, we often hide our personal trauma in our effort to help others deal with theirs. In reality, what you feel is that your emotions are not as important as the ones you vowed to protect. You begin to feel that others have never demonstrated a concern about how you felt unless it fits their own agenda. You get to the point where you no longer desire to be the ‘token educator’ one people can quote…for them to use us as a ‘check mark’ to somehow prove that one completed a mandated ‘check-in.’ ‘I made sure to reach out.’ ‘I made sure to ensure that this is a safe place.’ Yeah right! Safe for whom? I have never felt safe. Instead, I often feel...used.
So no, I will no longer be the ‘go-to educator’.
I will no longer allow you to use my voice for your own benefit.
I will no longer allow you to somehow use my feelings (or apparent lack thereof) to appease your feelings.
Take these words any way you want! I can no longer worry about how it will make you ‘feel.’ I will no longer be the one you can rely on to give you a definition of what is plainly right versus wrong. I teach children, not adults. Don’t ask me to use my mind to waste any more energy on those who cannot seem to identify the blatant difference between justice and injustice. Your television is in color just like mine. Your ears hear the same rhetoric just like mine. You claim to listen, but you can’t hear. Your heart beats just like mine…but my heart is not your concern. My soul is not your concern. My life is not your concern.
Describing the experiences of Black teachers can be a Pandora’s Box indeed. The reality is that we often experience trauma-induced stress, intense scrutiny, and blatant judgment. The denial of privilege only adds to the exasperating nature of being a Black teacher in America. And yes, I purposely call upon the word you dread to hear yet again. Privilege, privilege, privilege! There you go, so you can once again focus on that word, instead of actually opening your eyes, truly listening, and finally hearing all I have to say.
The experiences of being a Black teacher cannot always be understood by those who do not share this title. In the words of WEB DuBois, “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” But in our case, they not only learn from what we are, but who we decide to be at any given time with so many experiences that could break us at any moment.
– Signed, An Anonymous Black Teacher