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Race Just Got Real for Me

Updated on October 6, 2013

Volume XXVIII

I was 18 years old and in college, when I first encountered racism. A young white male was running around campus barefoot. When he approached me and my friends, he lifted up his foot and commented that the bottom of his feet were almost as black as me. He was an idiot in my opinion. Though I am a black woman, I am brown not black. I discarded his racism, because he was obviously stupid. And it is that ability to compartmentalize racism that has made me completely oblivious to the racism around me for so many years.

As I stepped out into the world, I felt very prepared to deal with the racist in white sheets, the blatant racist simply seeking to find someone he can deem as being less than him. I was not prepared for the racist in suits and ties. I always thought that even the KKK’s Grand Wizard’s hatred of blacks did not exceed his love for the all mighty green dollar. But what I didn't account for is that the only thing that trumps the dollar is power.

Back in October 2012, I was hired as one of the start-up teachers for a project-based learning academy within a school. Some blacks suggested that I was hired to meet a quota. That angered me. That suggested that my abilities were not enough to garner me the position, and I was unwilling to even consider that possibility. I pushed that aside and kept focusing on the daunting task ahead while still completing the tasks of the school term we were already engaged. I ignored that they had placed the only two black teachers together. I ignored that when we met for our monthly meetings, I was the only black talking to the whites and that all the blacks, including myself, sat in the rows surrounding the whites as the whites huddled in and discussed among themselves. I ignored that they practically ignored us. I was in complete denial until recently.

As we traveled together for a week-long conference, it became apparent that I was the only one who didn't get the racial dynamics. The blacks and whites dined separately and conversed almost exclusively among themselves. I tried for several days to fluidly move between the two worlds. For me, it's not about race. It's about having a good time and good conversations with good people. It didn't take long though before the whites seemed to be exhausted with my 'Can't We Just All Get Along' personality. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one getting that impression. As I started to withdraw, the conference trainers came to me to advise me that they were looking to bring me on as a trainer next year. Me? I have never even done the program. They said that they could tell by my questioning that I would be a great trainer. They complimented me on my insight, vision and energy. Before they completed their spill, they reassured me that I didn’t need to worry about how the rest of my white team mates were treating me. Huh? I mean I got the impression that we would not be dining together nightly, but professionally we were fine. Right? Apparently, the trainers noticed that they seemed to shoot down my ideas quite a bit and disregard my concerns. What?

Somebody Should Tell the Teachers

I decided to watch them more intently in the coming days. I noticed the look of exhaustion each time I asked a question or made a comment. I noticed the not so subtle looks they gave one another when the trainers complimented me. The more my light shined, the more withdrawn they became. My principal, a white, female, at one point became so fed up she threw her hand up at me and asked me to chill when I questioned their handling of a protocol. Later we talked, and she apologized. I accepted and meant it whole heartedly. But, within that conversation, she acknowledged that she was bothered that I ask questions and make comments. How can we mend fences with me knowing that?

It seemed that the whites could careless that my insight could perhaps help propel this program from good to great. In their eyes, I am a threat to their power structure. The principal has made it known that she is grooming a white, male teacher to take over after she is done. Honestly, I don’t even want to be the principal. The trainers didn’t suggest that I become the principal either. They suggested trainer, which is a position that would take me out of the classroom and place me on a national stage. Wait a minute! Maybe that’s it. While my counterparts groom themselves for local positions, they forgot that this is a larger network with national opportunities. Perhaps their own lack of vision has been magnified and has brought with it resentment. Let me not speculate too much. Whatever the overarching motivation, one thing is for certain, once they established that I have the trump card, power, race got real.

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