love, life, and the pursuit of liberation
It’s been a gorgeous week and things are starting to improve for me, despite some serious tests to my patience and tolerance of people. Normally, I’m a silver-lining, benefit of the doubt kind of person, but some recent situations are really testing my resolve. I’ll just rehash one.
My Summer A class is American Politics of Education. We’re beginning the course with an overview of hot-topic contextual issues, including the context of race, poverty, accountability, etc. We also talk extensively how every person brings his or her own values to the table for discussion, whether you are aware of them or not. So our professor really pushes us to become cognizant of our values and to articulate them, especially with the tough issues. Case in point, she started off by asking us to imagine we were school administrators/policymakers and had to decide between focusing on of equity, excellence, or efficiency, which would we choose and which one would we allow to be on the chopping block. That conversation was stimulating even though we all had varying opinions.
Then we got to talking about poverty and she called out the pink elephant of race because we know that the two are interrelated, though because of context and history. At least, I thought that people knew that’s the connection. Why did TWO people (this is a class of 16) actually say more than once that “those people” (yes they meant people of color because they actually clarified that) don’t value education the same as “us” and that’s why they aren’t as successful.
Yeah, I’m going to let that last comment marinate with you for a few moments.
I really, really, REALLY hate having to be the spokesperson for people of color and for people in poverty, but the reality was/is that I’m the only black woman in the class and the other minorities are an Indian girl and 2 Asian men (one of the people that said the disgusting comment was Asian and specified that he was talking about “other” ethnic groups). I specify those ethnicities, because like I said in class, there is no monolithic experience of “minority” in America and the experiences of Asians and South Asians are vastly different than black and Hispanic.
I feel so conflicted in those situations because I know that other people, non-minorities included do not agree with those sentiments but don’t always feel comfortable speaking up for a variety of reasons, but I don’t want to be seen as the “angry black woman” because reality and stereotypes of black women are just that– oftentimes when black women speak up, it’s automatically assumed and denounced as “angry.” Yes, I was actually told that I was “violent” because I was outspoken. I told that man that perhaps he meant “vehement” because I had never made a threat or spoke of anything related to violence and he was like “yeah, whatever”. But, I digress. So, yeah, I had all these thoughts swirling around but I’m not the type of person to sit back and be quiet, so I did speak up about how I thought it was important to understand socio-political historical context of poverty and race, relationships to power and education before one assumes that one’s access to education is a personal choice, or before assuming that all one needs to do is provide free lunch and school materials to remedy the issues of students in poverty. That all of the history impacts not only the opportunities that one has, but one’s trust and relationship to the systems of power. I also went on to say to the young woman that said that she was successful because her mother wanted it badly enough, that I too am a woman who grew up with crack-addicted parents in a city with the highest murder per capita in the country and went on to be successful. But if I believed for a minute that it was all a result of my personal efforts and desire, and not that there were strategic programs and systems in place that aided my success, I would be sadly mistaken and ineffective as an educator. I lastly warned of the dangers of using anecdotes and exceptions as the rule. Perhaps, I should have left that last line out but I didn’t.
What really confused me beyond all of that was the question of how did those students see me because I’m an obviously black woman? How could they physically look around our very small room, see that I was there, and still make such a sweeping general statement about “those” people right in front of me. Did they simply not see me, as in literally ignored me? Did they see me as one of “them” by virtue of my education, even though they were specifically talking about culture and ethnicity? Did they see me as a “different” kind of black? This has been such a constant trend in my life since I was in the 2nd grade and went to a virtually all white school. And it continues to replay to this day. I’m not sure what the solution will be, but I do know that those two students stayed after class to try to explain themselves to the professor (who, by the way, did rip into their asses respectfully and diplomatically about the power of words before I had anything to say). I’m worried that it will effect the dynamic of the class, but who am I if I remain silent?