Black Educators At Work

It’s still hard for our kids to understand that the identities we embrace can be mutually inclusive!

I demand that we create spaces for our kids that show intelligence, ingenuity and creativity combined with Blackness as Dopeness!

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As a black woman and black educator I find that I often have to prove my blackness to the children I teach. #blackwomenatwork 

I’m a firm believer that black children need black teachers. It’s what keeps me going on the hardest of days. It’s what keeps me patient in what can sometimes be a sea of (controlled. . . always controlled) chaos. It’s what keeps me sane when the lesson – be it social or academic – is just not sinking in.

All too often – kids simply forget that I am more like them than not.

It’s as if one can’t be smart and black.

It’s baffling to me because after having passed the ever changing five year average teacher hump – I find it really easy to connect with kids, especially the ones that look like me and grow up similar to how I grew up.  And, I thought that they’d feel the same way.

Sometimes, adults that look like you and live how you live just get it.

But, that’s not always the case – I’ve found.

Though kids often say to me –

“You sound like my mama,” or “you remind me of my [x, y, z].”

They also say things like –

“I didn’t think somebody like you listened to our kind of music.” Or, “Oh, you know that song?”

“I thought you only shopped at Whole Foods”

And, “You know what this [what some people, not me, would call slang] word means?”

 

Well, yes, black child. Yes, I do. 

Yes because I am black, like you. 

That is why I take every opportunity to remind the students that I teach that I’m just like them.

It is why codeswitching is so important to me.

It’s why laughing, playing AND learning together are one in the same. 

Yesterday I told an 8 year old that the song he was singing (so passionately as he wrote his acrostic poem about pride), was about selling drugs.

He literally said, “Oh my God, what?! How do you know that song? I thought you only knew like Gospel songs or something like that.”

Cute.

But, no.

It’s still hard for our kids to understand that the identities we embrace can be mutually inclusive!

Though I do listen to Gospel music (which the same child also sings allllll the time), I also like Andra Day, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. Maybe a little older than their taste of Migos, but, I can still keep up. 

And in the same breath, I also know trigonometry and love alliterations – and neither of those things should be wow factors. 

It’s disheartening that the idea of a black man or woman in many instances is the exception and not the given to the rule.

It’s our media, it’s our language and it’s our actions.

 “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” 

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Seeing black magic as exceptions to the rules written by the white forefathers of the constitution is another form of oppression. 

I demand that we create spaces for our kids that show intelligence, ingenuity and creativity combined with Blackness as Dopeness! 

 

Be Black and hardworking.

Be Black and inquisitive

Be Black and love to write.

Be Black and sing and dance and play from your heart.

Be Black and be the smartest person in the room.

Be Black . . . Be Proud.

Be Black, be proud and know that you, Black child, can be anything you want to be.

 

-Shamira

An Inauguration and a March

I am Black and a Woman, not just a Woman. There is a difference and that means something.

Where do I begin?

The Inauguration. 

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Like many citizens I had to work while the president was being sworn into office. So, I watched his speech later. I wanted to be fair. I wanted to have an open mind. I wanted to hear him speak and have some peace of mind. I wanted to leave the speech feeling like things might be okay.

Ya’ll know it  didn’t happen.

Instead, I left feeling even more alienated than before. I left understanding that I , unlike our president, understand checks and balances. Trump has a lot of grandiose ideas that our government is never going to let pass or give him their support towards. Not to mention that a number of his cabinet nominations openly testified that they did not agree with many of his policies and positions.

He stood up at that podium and talked about government for the people and an hour later signed a document that repealed the Affordable Care Act which was crafted specifically to take care of the people. There is no way to talk around that…

His speech was pure propaganda, and if Paul Ryan and the Republicans think they are going to dangle Trump around like a puppet and hide behind his propaganda doing dirt in the dark they have got another thing coming. I SEE YOU! I am going to make sure everyone else sees you too SNEAKY SNEAKY PAUL RYAN. Ya’ll better watch out for this man.

The March. 

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Get Involved!

I had an amazing time yesterday marching in D.C in solidarity with Women across the globe. The president has said some really horrible things about Nasty Women and he needs to be confronted about them every chance we get. We have been put in a position where we have to fight for human rights that have been common place for years, and should have always been common place.

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Feminism is a tricky area of activism, especially for a woman of color. A march like yesterday holds a great deal of importance, but there are still underlying tensions that will need to be addressed moving forward. A really great friend of mine shared a really great article with me today about the march and it’s intersectionality. At Femenisting they are discussing the disparity between the organizers’ radical policy platform and the way things are unfolding on the ground. I was there, and I agree.  The vision is strong. The names and leaders involved are big, inspiring, and revolutionary. But there is a disconnect. On my bus there were 3 women of color. In the crowd we were few and far between. We were there…but we weren’t. Why?????

For me, it always comes down to trust. Do women of color trust white women to truly put their lives on the line for theirs? I don’t think so.

I am Black and a Woman, not just a Woman. There is a difference and that means something. As the movement progresses we are going to have figure out what it means if we truly want to unite.

Just saying…

Julia

The Journey Towards Freedom, A Reflection of the NMAAHC

A woman speaks over the already hushed crowd and tells us that we’re traveling 70 feet below ground back to the year 1400. She gives brief histories about the importance of the museum and the power of our culture. The elevator continues to fall all while years tick by through the glass . . . 1968, 1948, 1865, 1863, 1808, 1776, 1565, 1400.

The Journey Towards Freedom:

I’ll say first – there are no people stronger than us. And though I’ve always known this, on this day I was able to feel this. 

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a magical place. Curators tell us that it’s 100 years in the making and I wholeheartedly believe that it couldn’t have come at a better time.  

Tickets to this gem of a place are few and far between; but I was able to join my sister on Christmas Eve, ’16. I can’t fathom putting into words what I felt in my heart & spirit in a way that will feel as worthwhile to a reader as it did to be there in flesh. I’ll share some photos, below; but, only a few because even those won’t do it justice. 

I spent about 3 1/2 hours at the NMAAHC, and covered possibly half (I’m guessing) of the museum. I spent that time in the space called “The Journey Towards Freedom, 15th-21st centuries.”

We started the journey in a large glass elevator. A woman speaks over the already hushed crowd and tells us that we’re traveling 70 feet below ground back to the year 1400. She gives brief histories about the importance of the museum and the power of our culture. The elevator continues to fall all while years tick by through the glass . . . 1968, 1948, 1865, 1863, 1808, 1776, 1565, 1400. 

What I saw:

– Real live slave chains 

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Chains worn by enslaved people with picture as background.
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Chains.

-The power of sugar, appropriately named the “driver of the slave trade,” and “more deadly than gold.”

Sugar bowl

-The names of so many ships carrying enslaved people carved into the walls.

It reads: “Ship Name, Country, Voyage Began, Enslaved Boarded/Survived.”

 *Saint Michel embarked in 1730 with 170 slaves. Just one enslaved person survived. 

– Harriet Tubman’s shawl and hymnal as well as Nat Turner’s bible. 


– A replica of a segregated Greensboro Lunch Counter which recounted videos of experiences. 

Visitors sit at a replica of the Greensboro Lunch Counter and read from information in front of them as video plays above. 

– Black power, everywhere. 

Videos of Dr. King
Video of marches 
Information about the Civil Rights Act and KKK Resistance.   
Black Panther Weaponry
The ideology of Black Power
Medgar Evers
Brother Malcolm

– Reflections on black women. 

Black, always beautiful
Video: women of the movement 
Video: Sister Fannie Lou Hamer 
Mamie Till-Mobley reflection
Women’s Groups 
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Rosa Parks, garment

What I felt:

Disgust for the treatment of our people dating back to the 1400s. I learned so much – and couldn’t absorb it all. 

Awe at the resilience and comradery within and amongst one another to deal with and overcome hatred, bigotry, thievery, malice … Awe at the leadership of our people. Awe at survivorship. 

Angst about the idea that many of the things we went through 50, 100, 150 years ago we’re still going through now. 

Anxiety. An anxiety so thick that all I could do was breathe at times. 

Fear – when I saw a young John Lewis speaking about police brutality. Makes me think of how often “police brutality” is used today. It feels new. Like a new phenomenon. A fad. Reflection reminds me that point 7 of the Black Panther’s 1967 Ten Point Program reads: 

We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.

Not new. Not a fad. A longstanding tradition. 

Joy for all of the beautiful black men, women and children (allies too) visiting the museum. 

Overwhelmed by what is still to be done. 

Pride because when we do things, we do them well. EVERYTHING about the museum was done well. Over 100 years it took to commission this place – twice as hard, half as much. 

Hope. Generally speaking, I hope the hype of the museum never dissipates. I hope tickets are always scarce. I hope that you have to put in a request 6 months in advance to view this magical place, five years from now. I hope people travel from near and far to stop in – and that they book their trips around the visit. I hope that everyone who visits is forever moved and transformed and that they leave with a sense of purpose and place. I hope that allies visit and leave with a mission – that they plan to fight hard and speak up. That they tell the people that look like them and share similar demographics as their families about racism, sexism & classism,  like young Bernie Sanders. 

Image result for bernie sanders getting arrested Image result for bernie sanders getting arrested

What I’m (we’re) going to do next: 

I plan to continue what I’m doing but, with a different type of purpose. An even more educated purpose. An urgent and premeditated purpose. 

I implore you to make a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Think of it as your first trip to the NMAAHC – there is no way it will be your last. Go. Be inspired. 

Check out the Injustice Boycott. I’m of the opinion that Shaun King has started something big – and most importantly, worthwhile. 

Moreover, Parlae is entering its second year in just a few days.

With age comes wisdom and responsibility.

Julia and I plan to live up to those expectations. There is a lot more in store from us.

Join us.

Parlae with us.

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The Contemplation Room, was a refreshing and necessary end to “The Journey Towards Freedom.”
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Contemplation Room. Four walls and a waterfall. Quiet & calm. Breathtaking and painstakingly necessary.

I’ll leave you with this. 

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.  

– Dr. King, April 3, 1968 

Peace & Love, Forever.

-Shamira

…But, if you want to be basic, be basic.

I am a black woman and I am a black feminist who by birth is apart of the sisterhood.

. . . But, if you want to be basic, be basic. A Response to, “Why I Can’t Be Basic.”

There are so many outlets telling us what to do, how to look, what to say, how to feel, when to breathe. . . that sometimes it’s hard to tell if what we’re doing is what we really want to do or if we’re falling for the either implicit or explicit trends that we see everywhere, everyday.

I think what you’re arguing, Julia,  is that a black woman cannot and should not be called basic because she is the epitome of everything . . . and what I’m arguing is that regardless of what a black woman is being called – she may act in any so way that she pleases and you can call it what you want.

I feel compelled to argue that if a black woman wants to be basic, then let her be basic.

By definition, a basic b**** is someone that follows the latest trends (be they good or bad) and is just one in a sea of many.

The idea of a black woman being whatever she wants to be is so important to me because I recently saw a meme that made me think twice about this ideal.

It was something along the lines of black women not needing to believe in (black) feminism because we believe in sisterhood.

I was so annoyed because no one ever said that (black) feminism and sisterhood had to be mutually exclusive. Why can’t we have both? Are they not one in the same?

Black feminism is sisterhood and sisterhood is black feminism.

Black feminism is the intersectionality of sex, class, gender and race.   

If  I had to theorize the idea of sisterhood, I think I’d copy and paste the definition of black feminism.

The idea that we can have one and not the other in and of itself is why we need them both in the first place. It’s another example of oppression – limiting what we can and cannot have.

When I’m asked to identify who I am, hands down, top 5 identifies always include black feminist. I am a black woman – never black and happening to be a woman or a woman who happens to be black. And, I am a black feminist.

I am a black woman and I am a black feminist.

I am a black woman and I am a black feminist who by birth is apart of the sisterhood.

Point. Blank. Period.

The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. We keep saying it and then we walk around perpetuating stereotypes that deem it true.

#staywoke

And for the record – let’s stop stereotyping women all together.

I don’t believe even halfheartedly in the idea of a basic b****.

Not one woman should be called a basic b**** in the first place.  

Men shouldn’t be walking around calling women anything (feminism in its truest form).

And those of us in the sisterhood definitely shouldn’t be walking around bashing our gendered kinfolk (also feminism in its truest form).

Black woman, be whatever you want to be and get your life with this spoken word.

– Shamira

Code switching

Code switching, the practice of alternating between a variety of languages and/or dialects,  is a skill that has proven to be necessary in this ever changing and evolving world.

Code switching is so beautiful.

Code switching is so complicated.

Code switching, in and of itself, is the way Obama greets people at the White House as demonstrated by this Key & Peele skit.

It’s the way the internet went crazy when Obama greeted the 2012 Olympic Basketball Team as they headed to London. 

Code switching is being able to speak three “kinds” of English, as detailed by Jamila Lyiscott’s 2014 TED Talk, and not blink an eye.

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I call code switching complicated because if it wasn’t “a thing,” there wouldn’t be a sketch about the many handshakes of Barack Obama.

Moreover, I call it complicated because I actually find it intricate at times.

Being an educator and code switching in and out of the classroom can get messy.

I began to actively practice code switching when I began to “lose my blackness” as a teacher.

I began to actively think about the ratio of academic versus non-academic language that I use on a daily basis in order to hang on to some of the connections I make with students during down time.

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What I mean by lose my blackness is – students began to view me as just a teacher, instead of a black teacher. Instead of their black teacher. Instead of their black teacher teaching a classroom of 99% black students.

I think this happened due to lack of academic versus non-academic language balance…lack of code switching.

With 85% of the teaching force being white, middle class, women,  I wanted the fact that I am an educator who shares some of the same demographics of my students to mean something.

And, it does.

But, I want it to mean something to those whom it will impact the most. I want it to mean something to the students.

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To me it’s very important to engage in academic dialogue with students. This is especially true when talking specifically about academics – like English and Math. And, for me, is most important when actively teaching – whether a one on one tutoring situation, leading a small group or introducing a new topic to a class of 30 students.

The mess comes when the teaching role and identity take precedent over cultural identities.

To me this sounds like a student saying, “How do you know what _________ means?!”

Well all innuendos are easy to figure out — and my friends and I say (or used to say) the same or similar things.

“You listen to this music?”

Well of course. We probably listen to the same radio station. I like hip hop, too.

“You saw that movie? I didn’t know you watched ‘stuff like that’”

Yes. Yes, I did. I watched it, and I enjoyed it. 

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I find that when students forget that we likely share the same taste in music, food, entertainment and/or word choice (among so many other cultural characteristics) – they may have unknowingly prioritized one identity over the other.

Not too long ago a student was hanging around as I answered a phone call from my sister. When I hung up she said, “I didn’t know you talked hood.”

First of all – – – there is no such thing as talking hood. Second of all – – – what do you say to a child that just accused their teacher of “talking hood?”

I was stumbling to explain how and why a belief in the idea of “hood talk” was a form of self defamation and suppression. In that moment, that teaching moment, I was attempting to properly convey all of the intricacies of code switching. 

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Reflecting on experiences like these make me think, maybe I’m not code switching enough. That academic versus non-academic language balance, may not be as balanced as I think it is. And, though I think of code switching as something that happens naturally,  it’s times like this that influence my intentional use of code switching.

I don’t want to be the exception to the rule. I don’t want students to look at me as the one who “made it.” The lucky one. 

I want students to look at me and see themselves. I want them to see their future. I want them to see opportunity. 

I recently heard someone on a panel say, “If you don’t expect your students to say they want to be teachers – I want to be just like you – then you’re doing something wrong.”

Those are big shoes to fill. But, if intentional code switching will help me do so, then so be it. 

by: Shamira