When I first decided to take the steps to becoming a teacher, I already knew that I wanted to work in an urban area. In Los Angeles, there are plenty of schools that fit that description. As a Black woman, I wanted to teach in a school where the demographics are often overlooked. Once the school is categorized as a “Title I” or low-income, the students are already stigmatized. I imagined that, when I became a teacher, I would be like Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds,” one of my favorite movies. I would come in and introduce them to the works of Whitman, Shakespeare, Poe, and change their lives forever!
I was more wrong than that bleached roadkill sitting on 45’s head.
I currently work in LAUSD at a charter school, where the student population is almost entirely Black and Hispanic/Latino. On Wednesday, I noticed that I had so many students failing that I was overwhelmed. Even though their reading scores were improving, they were not even remotely close to demonstrating proficiency in the CCSS. I know that my rigor is high, but it’s ridiculous how many of my students just don’t care to ask for help or even try.
Today, I had to just stop class for a small bit. When 20 out of 32 students are failing in first period, it’s cause for disruption. I’ve already had so many talks with them about their lack of motivation, but they haven’t really seen how it affects them, so I had to make it real. I had to demonstrate how stereotypes can affect someone, even if they aren’t true, how many times I’ve been racially profiled, how I’ve had to motivate myself despite the obstacles thrown my way, even going as far as having to remove my race from online job applications just to get an interview.
The basic principles of my whole spiel were:
Be more than a stereotype!
How many stereotypes are there about Black people? I’ve heard that we’re all lazy, promiscuous, loud, and uneducated. Despite being as accomplished as I am, I still can’t escape these stereotypes. When I was 12, I had someone ask me if my younger cousins were my children. TWELVE! I was about to be in ninth grade! I was perplexed! I’ve had people ask if I was lying about my degrees. I’ve had people try to have on-the-spot “literacy tests” to prove that I was lying.
I had to tell my students that, despite their hatred of #45, they were giving his supporters reasons to favor building a wall. Every time they refuse to do their homework or take school seriously, they were encouraging the stereotypes against them. I explained to them that they could get mad at this rampant racism, but nothing can change unless they proved that they really were more than just a stereotype.
Your race is not your only identity!
I told my students the story of when my significant other and I were stranded on the side of the road due to car problems, the first questions the police officer asked were if the car was stolen, if he had warrants, and if he needed to call for back-up. Despite the fact that we are both college-educated, the police saw Black people in Los Angeles at 11pm. That was all the information he needed.
I told my students that they were going to be profiled throughout their entire lives, whether it was warranted or not. They would need to know how to advocate for themselves. Even though my first instinct was to yell at the police, I had to choose my battle: get help or get killed. (Unfortunately, the current climate does not give me much of a choice.) However, there are going to be instances where they will need to speak up for themselves. In order to sound credible, they would need to articulate themselves properly.
At an early age, I realized that, to some, Blackness is negative and as worthless as a lump of coal. I couldn’t change my race, but I could change the perception of it. When I was younger, my parents taught me that I had to be better, stronger, smarter, and quicker than my counterparts, if I wanted to have complete freedom of choice. It would not be simply given to me because I could do the basics. I love being Black, but I learned that Black is not always the default in our society. If you look at the media, the only time Blackness is celebrated is when it’s someone who is practically royalty (*cough* Beyoncé *cough*). Unfortunately, for minorities, the standard is way higher than their counterparts. Therefore, the only way that they can get credit for anything they do is by being everything! In other words, be Beyoncé.
Beyoncé is life, and she still gets crap for things she does.
After my little [long] spiel, the entire class was speechless. I really hope my speech left a lasting impression on my students. At a young age, they have to learn to be more than a stereotype, be more than just the token Black/Brown/________ person that everyone expects them to be, and to be Beyoncé!
While it’s not “Dangerous Minds,” it is dangerous to have an unmotivated mind.