My mom tells the story of when my sister was little and they were out, and that my sister let out a most terrible yell out of no where. For the life of her my mom could not figure out what was wrong with my sister. She was not in need of changing. She was fed. All was good in baby world. When my mom got home she found a huge welt on my sister. My sister had been pinched by the young boy sitting next to my sister. The bruise had been buried beneath a layer of clothing, causing my mother to think that my sister’s indignant screams were a fluke.
There are days when I feel that is what life is like as a black woman. That you are bruised, and it is buried beneath beautiful clothing, and that no one notices because they do not know where or how to look. It is also a testament to the fact that bullies can be undercover. But we are not to sit around and be unaware of the schemes of an unassuming bully. For adults bullying can be as real as it is for children made to feel unsafe by the screaming, kicking, threatening kid on the playground. Adult bullies tend to use more sophisticated tactics.
Today, I faced a mico-agression that was not micro. I had a choice of how to react to the situation, using what Professor of Psychology and Education, Dr. Derald Wing Sue, terms the "politeness protocol." In his book, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence, he says that we adopt the politeness protocol in order to avoid potentially offensive and uncomfortable conversations. This is the way I was bought up, and sometimes it's hard to escape "good" training, that has been solidified as the "correct" way to handle situations which are imaginably explosive. But then there comes the day you get tired. And today, dear reader, I got tired. I chose to remain polite, but I did tell the person who made a statement that it was made to marginalize me a woman of color, and a special educator. When those two identities are placed in historical context, there is a deeper understanding about how narratives are used to exercise control - and I could no longer complacently stand by and let someone else define my identity as other, less than, or existing on the margins.
This year my teaching goal is not only to build relationships with my students, but to build one with myself. And I need to have a good relationship with the person I see in the mirror every day, even if that person is not accepted in all contexts, and contents.
Growing up my mom would tell my siblings and I that the right relationships bring freedom. I'd forgotten that. I took a class led by some folks from NYU's Metro Center, and it was said that relationships bring freedom. As I focus on building my relationship with myself, I pray that I find liberation from the ideas and ideals that I have internalized that are not true because I have not spoken up and out about them.
Ms. St. Jean
Native New Yorker teaching and living the middle school life, using this site to keep it 100. My students are the embodiment of joy.