To Be Black in Private School & The Need For Safe Spaces

To Be Black in Private School & The Need For Safe Spaces

If we are to strive for inclusiveness and diversity, we have to be aware of the environment that is being engendered through the Private School setting.

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For decades, students of color have faced scrutiny for wanting to get an education and attend schools with their White counterparts. Education is a right, but often it is seen as a privilege. In the past few months black students across the nation from Yale to Missouri University have demanded changes from the institutions that they attended. They demanded that changes be made to make their school a more inclusive environment and a safe space. Black children in America have never been coddled, they were not asking to be.

Humanity for Black children gets snatched away from them at an early age. The dehumanization of black children begins when they aren't perceived as innocent as their White counterpart at young ages or as worthy of attention and opportunity, of love. The idea of innocence does not exist in many ways because Black children are exposed to harsher realities than their White counterparts. Black children are seen as self-incriminating adults, while at the same time, White aged college adults are being defended for their racist remarks and actions. Many bigoted people claim that they “just don’t know”, but in the age of the internet and social media there is no excuse “not to know”. These young adults who are being racist and then getting defended are the real people that are being coddled.

The idea of a safe space doesn’t pertain to coddling Black Children and students of color, but it means giving them an equal opportunity to perform without having to be under scrutiny and ridicule by those around them. One must examine what constitutes a safe space to understand this. By my definition, a safe space is a space where you define your own individuality, where you don’t have to prove your worth and you don’t feel threatened (emotionally or physically) by those around you. It's a place of mutual civil respect. When a safe space is created, Black students can perform to their highest of levels. The lack of a safe space has never stopped Black students from performing superbly, but it has been another institutionalized obstacle for many of them. The lack of a safe space could hinder the student’s ability to engage socially and academically. Safe spaces should not be seen as optional but necessary for productive work and study environments.

Throughout my school career I could hardly ever find a true safe space. From pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, I attended private school. During private school, I was made hyper aware of my identity pertaining to my Blackness specifically. Throughout those thirteen years the number of black students only fluctuated between five and six in my class level. Due to the lack of exposure that my classmates had, the White students would always ask me questions about the things that separated us: my Blackness as opposed to their own Whiteness. I was asked about my skin and my hair and my ethnic features. In their quest for knowledge, the White students created a binary between us. Because I was different, my peers saw me as a person who had no limitations until proven otherwise. I had to constantly defend myself and my identity. In the comparison of skin tones and hair textures, the creation of a separatist environment was arising, I was being othered by my classmates, and ogled like an exhibition rather than a person. To be candid, my innocence partially was taken away because I was forced to be aware and conscious of my “place” in the world and who I was and what I represented. I was made to be hyper aware of my Blackness, and my role as the face of all Black people in the eyes of my White classmates who had few other examples in their lives.

Anais Nin once said “ Had I not created my own world, I certainly would of died in other’s.” This is an idea that rings true for me. During a parent teacher conference in the sixth grade, my teacher had expressed to my parents that I wasn’t going to last through my entire academic career at the rigorous private school that I attended. In her world, girls and boys like my Black self, were to fall to the wayside in order to make room for our white peers' performances.

Due to the perception of “Blackness”, which is an ideal revolving around Blacks being impoverished, uneducated, loud, and in a way a cash crop. This racist idea of Blackness was created by White people during the Colonial Imperialism era in order for the Whites to create a positive image for themselves. I was forced to fight a false identity that was already embedded into my individuality even as a child as a result.

“Blackness” represents everything “bad” and unwanted according to Colonial/Imperialist agenda. On the contrary, White identity represented wealth, education, etiquette, beauty and all around goodness. Because of this false idea of Blackness that was perpetuated through History and the Media, both my teachers and my peers had lowered their expectations of my academic and social performances based solely on my color. It was automatically expected that I would perform lower than my White peers, yet it was assumed and made clear they thought that I would surpass them when it was time to play basketball.

While fighting the false notion of perceived “Blackness” in my early life, I created a new identity for myself. I had never identified with this projected idea of “ Blackness” because none of those core identifiers represented me. Because my identity included a background of education, wealth, general etiquette and non-Black identifiers; I was no longer Black but a White person who happened to be Black in this way. My identity does not represent the majority of Blacks but more as an anomaly, a Blackness that certainly doesn’t exist within the narrow standards set before me. My personal Blackness, which was key to my identity wasn’t considered “real Blackness” by those around me because it included White core identifiers.

To the White kids I wasn’t Black enough and to the Black kids I was too White. I didn’t know the latest rap songs and I couldn’t do the newest dances, my parents are financially independent and we have a pool, therefore I wasn’t really “Black” in their eyes. I spoke like a White girl to my Black peers so I also wasn't seen as “Black”. The lifestyle I grew up with, didn’t match up with the one that people often tried to project onto me.

Blackness to me was something different, that I had to create throughout time. My mother and father constantly reminded me that Blackness meant greatness and that above all, it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of.

As you can begin to see, my education lacked a safe space, thus school became about me teaching and performing more than me receiving an education. It was easy for me to sacrifice comfort because school was not a place where it existed for me. It became a automatic subconscious action to use my voice as a tool to educate and to defend my identity insetad of getting to enjoy just being a kid, instead of carrying the weight of representing Blackness as a whole. All of my actions were critical and responsive. Although no one forced me to correct people when they spewed out misled microaggressions, I was obliged to try to defend myself which meant inherently addressing issues of Blackness above and beyond just me as a sixth grader named Faith. Without my voice, the very education system that I resided in, and the very classmates that I was surrounded by all day long would continue to perpetuate a false notion of Blackness, only to hurt and alienate the next black students who would no doubt be to come after me.

Although Blackness was one part of my identity, and an important one, it was not the only one, but here it consumed the majority of my identity. I was also a daughter, sister, friend, poet, artist, nature lover, food connoisseur, philosophy lover, classic movie lover etc., etc. But because of my skin being Black, my identity was reduced down to being solely about my Blackness, and being attached to a pseudo-idea of what Blackness was as perceived by my peers.

I couldn't be multifaceted in their eyes because my “Blackness” wouldn't allow it. If I was eloquent and passionate about a subject, I would be reduced to a a stereotype as an angry or sassy Black woman. If I spoke out on sexuality I was deemed immediately as a harlot. If I danced, it became a spectacle. Getting the correct answer in class would cause my peers to cock their necks around and give me approval, as if I needed validation for my already existing intellect, as if it was surprising that I could be intelligent.

Just living as myself is an act of rebelling against the notion that my Blackness is restricted to this cookie cutter mold. From my hair to my clothes, everything meant and does mean something. My hair is a political statement. I am conscious of all of my actions because I know that I will be judged by them. I understood very quickly in youth that it didn't matter what I did, because people will dislike me regardless, and this was somewhat freeing to internalize.

I love my Blackness but I want to be recognized as my other identifiers as well. I want to define my womanhood, sexuality, nationality, artistry, education and identity without people projecting on to me their own ideas of “Blackness” and “Whiteness”.

This is why I feel that safe spaces are not an option, or something to be made fun of, but a requirement. Black students deserve their individuality protected, and a place where they feel validated and free from emotional and and physical scrutiny. I want to be in a space where I don’t have to prove that I am of equal intelligence and status, that it isn't dismissed before I open my mouth, where I don't have to fight to prove it. I want to be able to create my own identity and flourish as a multifaceted being like my classmates get to, without being put into a box that I'll never be able to show them I'm out of.

If we are to strive for inclusiveness and diversity, we have to be aware of the environment that is being engendered through the Private School setting. Although my school and social experience was challenging, I am conscious that it made me into who I am today.

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