When We Teach


I cringe when my work assignments are in the heart of suburbia. Where 20 minutes feels like an alternate universe of where I could’ve been if I’d stayed comfortable. I search for a face of color at every stop light. I’m called by the name of a black teacher I’ve never seen, a person I’m sure I look nothing like.

It’s not our fault your skin’s the same color as the only one we know..

As much as I want to blame the neighborhoods with the fewer streetlights and larger yards, some of my worse days are smack dab in the city.

I’m sitting with a group of three year olds during snack. Two girls. One boy. Two blondes. One curly haired, brown girl. The only one in class.

They’re having a back and forth of verbal and body speak. I’m a little pensive in the moment, but become immersed in what feels like a bubble these three made. The curly haired girl pets her friend’s straight blonde head as if she’s entranced. The little blonde doesn’t stop her, as if she’s done it before. I witnessed her try it with another blonde earlier in the day. That one said no about three times before she quit. From there she just sat and stared at her loose locks with such wonder. Her eyes were so soft and mesmerized.

Her snacking friend, however, doesn’t seem to care either way. Then suddenly she turns to her and says “I’m light” with a slight inflection, then points and says “you’re dark..”

She repeats it once more with a slight smirk, her pointed finger touching her brown skinned friend’s hand. They both look to the brown hand for some kind of explanation. The brown girl stops. She doesn’t respond. She just. Stops. The boy, somehow knowing where it pick up the conversation from there, points to me and says “and you’re a black girl” with almost as much conviction as his blonde counterpart. I nod, shrug and say “Yes, I am”, but in that moment I wished I had said more, even though I knew I couldn’t. Backing her up was that right thing to do, and yet, the moment was already lost on them. And that was enough of an answer for him. And enough for the girls, who continue with their snack.

And just like that, the bubble burst, and we were back in an unrecognizing classroom, with unaware teachers, with a new toxicity just brewing.

She might not remember the moment, but she’ll never forget the time(s) she felt unworthy of something she can’t quite grasp.

Her blonde friend may very well forget but that brown girl might never recover.

If I can still feel my scars to this day…what little odds does she have?

Some days, teaching gives me the hardest moments of my life. In this moment, for that school, I want to be there everyday and at the same time, never go back.

Don’t say it isn’t trauma. Don’t think they can’t hear our talk or see our body language or read our faces at our distaste for other human beings. Don’t assume for one moment that she won’t go home with that incident. That it won’t burn in her memory of one in many times she felt inferior.

For those small words where put in our heads to chip strong spirits. They were put there by people who should want better for the next generation, but instead let’s their sick hearts push through. There will come a day when your thoughts, good and bad become theirs. Make them well. PLEASE.

I hate how small my city feels sometimes.

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