Breaking Point to Elevation: Education and Racial Disparities across America
I had the most thought-provoking couple of weeks as I got to sit and chat with five people of color all from varying backgrounds, sharing their individual views on the topic of racism and inequality. Their voices may have been Individual but, carried a unified message — It is time for change.
One of these amazing people was a High School English teacher who has eight years under her belt, who wishes to be go by the name ‘Nicole’. Nicole’s interview was amazing, she spoke from a place of knowledge and confidence.
RACIAL DISPARITIES IN THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM
Our conversation began with Nicole sharing her views, on the issue of racism and inequality across America. Especially as it pertained to the educational field. According to Nicole,
“As a black woman, I always say it is much harder. I find myself having to work two to three times as hard as the white counterparts in my field.”
This statement is one echoed throughout the black community. It is evident, that there is a huge disparity pertaining to race among public school teachers. This is also disproportionately comparative, to the number of students of color within public school system. The numbers, are discouraging at best as outlined in an article on the UNCF (United Negro College Fund) website. However, when you come across teachers like Nicole, who possess a genuine intention to provide a quality education for all children, you begin to wonder why is such a talented, qualified, dedicated teacher like Nicole is still at the basic level of English teacher for over 8 years.
In the educational field, it is not uncommon for administrative or higher paying positions, to be held by non-people of color. The accepted norm is, that despite being highly accredited and trained for these positions, people of color are often overlooked and marginalized. Nicole graduated with honors and is extremely qualified on paper, but she also possesses a quality that adds an entirely different element of learning, especially in a minority setting — she is relatable. Nicole did acknowledge that teachers of other races and socioeconomic backgrounds, can have an understanding of their students, who may be part of a community outside of their (the teachers) own. However, most of them (not all) seldomly take the time to truly understand the daily challenges and lifestyle of their students, making it almost impossible for them to truly relate. The passion she shared spoke volumes to the love she has for her field and the interest in the education of her students. She closed this aspect of our conversation by saying this,
“I would love to see a more diverse community of teachers that reflect what we have in schools. If 80% of the student body is African American, at least 50% of the teachers should also be African American”
BEING BLACK IN AMERICA
Any conversation on racial disparities and injustices across America, cannot be had in the year 2020 without touching on the heartbreaking, fatal confrontation had by George Floyd. The tone of the interview became notably somber as we recalled viewing the incident. Nicole was very transparent in the remorse felt at the loss of his life, but, as she highlighted, if one positive could come from this it would be that we were on lockdown, the world was on pause and more people were paying attention. Making sure that he did not die in vain. His life meant something, he meant something, he began the loudest global call for change.
This change is revolutionary and, when I posed the question of whether Nicole supported the protest her answer was, yes — however, she did not agree with the looting and destruction of the monuments. Nicole’s reason behind not supporting monument destruction by protesters was simple, destruction of the monuments, at the unauthorized hands of protesters is not a step toward change in the right direction,as it is not supported by a system that can enact real change. Since our interview, we have seen many people in power standing up and not only supporting the calls for change but, have also authorized the removal of some monuments. A move that for Nicole is one in the right direction.
As we come together as a nation, we have seen governors, mayors and military stand up and lend their voices to the calls for change. All this leaves Nicole hopeful that this time will be different.
THE AMERICAN DREAM
There is no part of America where you will not find a person without a dream. America is a land rich with opportunities to see any idea come to fruition. So, when Nicole was posed with the question of, whether she felt as if people of color were living or existing, in terms of thriving being equated to living and mere survival being likened to existing, she said this,
“I feel as though I am living, because I took advantage of the opportunities provided to excel. But there are a lot of us who are existing because they are unable to release the constraints created by the thought process of, they did this to me and there is nothing I can do to be in a better position. If we as people of color decide to not lash out as our default and instead choose to move beyond our white counterparts, the successes attainable are endless.”
Nicole then continued to say this,
“Now it is and will be much harder for African Americans, simply because of the stereotype that we are boxed under. But if you can get over that you have opportunities available that you never even realized.”
Nicole’s awareness of the limited environment in which we are placed and, the understanding that as a people we are capable beyond what we are given credit for, was a refreshing and a much-needed added point of view. She highlighted the fact that we elevated from slavery and having to prove that we were worth being called people, to holding one of the top positions in America. President Barrack Obama, holding that office less than 50 years after segregation, as Nicole sees it, is proof that there are resources out there to which we have access, if only we reach just a little further beyond the limiting mindset so deeply ingrained with in us.
“Value education and want the knowledge. We need to know that knowledge is power and use this knowledge to take us to the next level.”
A TEACHER’S GUIDANCE
Our current environment is volatile at best and based on this, I asked Nicole if she had any everyday fears for herself or her family. She responded as selfless as any woman would,
“I don’t fear for myself and I feel a little safer because I have girls, but I always fear for my husband and nephew, because they are black men.”
To fear for someone simply because of the color of their skin may seem odd to many but, that is the world people of color awaken to everyday. There is quiet rhetoric, reminding you that you are black in America and that means you are misunderstood and judged the minute anyone lays eyes on you. This being our reality, I asked Nicole what she would say to people of color and people in general. Her responses follow,
To people of color
“When dealing with law enforcement, be humble and respectful, even in moments where you may feel disrespected. Always stay calm and treat others the way you would want to be treated. As a people, learn who you are, reclaim that desire to achieve academically, see the strength in who you can become and begin teaching the next generation to understand their strength, capabilities and lineage.”
“Nobody wants to be beat and tormented or hated, if we treat each other the way we would want to be treated I think that would make the world a better place. Just take the time to get to know each other, understand each other and love each other.”
Nicole was an amazing interview and can only be summarized like this. As people of color we have the potential to excel beyond what we may see within our physical reach. There are and will be blockages and hurdles to overcome, that is indisputable. However, if we can draw on the knowledge that we are more than what we have been taught to be, find the strength in true unity and begin the process of coming together as a people, we can and will achieve the successes and the American Dream fought for by those that went before us. Before I close, Nicole posed a question during our interview, one that I feel compelled to share with you — “What if there was no slavery?” — I know Nicole’s response now I ask you, what impact do you think that would have today?
“If we could hide the color of our skin how many of us would hide? Just to pretend that we are not ‘black’ , not from shame. but so that we do not have to be looked upon and judged in that way. I want you to understand that it is not that you fear me because you do not know me. But if I could turn my skin white and befriend you then remove my disguise…then what? Will I still be your friend?” ~ Nicole