Educating the Black Child; this is a letter dedicated to all educators raised under the “norm”
I begin by assuming positive intent,
but I’m not sure that I would be historically accurate.
I came, not to make educational friends,
but to speak a truth to those friends.
It might be easier to tip-toe around issues,
with stats about graduation and expulsion rates,
but educator Brittany Packnett teaches us,
that if you sugarcoat the truth, it loses its nutritional value.
So let’s not lose too much nutritional value (this evening).
You who love justice,
and you who honor our ancestors,
want nothing less than the truth, so here’s mine.
The question before us is,
how do we, as a society,
educate black children?
In theory, we’ve been doing this all along.
packed like sardines,
through the middle passage,
only to find their kids whipped onto auction blocks,
sold to the highest
or any bidder.
Stolen from black families,
and taught, quote on quote,
with every beating and every lashing,
the ways of the norm.
That norm is white, male, anglo-saxon.
That norm is middle class and christian.
That norm is able-bodied, heterosexual,
That norm speaks english,
demanding itself to be the only language the black child should speak.
Find out how many black and brown people in the US,
speak a language, other than a European tongue?
As you know,
English is from England,
Spanish is from Spain,
and the mother tongues,
from nahuatl to kiswahili,
have been forked out and spliced out of their existence.
25 years ago,
“Boyz in da Hood” reminded us that
“I ain’t from Africa, you African booty scratcher.”
Blacks were beaten into hating the motherland.
That norm, that teacher, is also fair skinned,
blue or green eyed, blonde haired,
it “teaches” black kids that white is right,
and black is always under attack.
It plucks vulnerable youth from their accepting homes,
demonizing the very hoods
that produced such wondrous beings.
It decides what is proper and what is not.
It standardizes it, tests it and rewards it with trinkets.
The black child must fit into the norm,
think like the norm,
talk like the norm,
value the norm,
betray the self and be the norm,
and when they do,
they get a certificate,
and we call that graduation.
It is what Frantz Fanon called,
“the black skin, with a white mask.”
We generally don’t blame the norm,
but we clown its graduates.
We call them oreos and coconuts.
Even people of color,
raised in the norm,
speak from the norm’s ways, the norm’s values.
Many so-called ethnic studies programs,
begin the history of black people,
in the ways of the norm,
with the trans-continental slave trade.
It is there that the norm chooses to begin history.
The goal, to get the black child to believe
their history started in chains….
belongs in bondage,
and was “freed” by the “norm.”
We then teach that child the 3/5 of their ways.
We call this the work of the founding fathers.
We teach them some slave narratives,
about the house Negro and the field Negro,
we consciously and subconsciously praise the house Negro,
and reward it in schools.
Our new whip, for the school field negro,
is called no excuses,
We erase the foot of the norm,
that stands on the neck of our youth,
with racist violence now called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Bigotry is now “implicit bias,”
Racism is now “white privilege,”
White supremacist is now somehow a “white ally.”
We say we mean no harm, yet we crush black children.
We silence black children,
domesticate black children,
train black children,
and beat the blackness out of them,
til’ they learn to hate their very reflection in the mirror,
and in others,
until there’s nothing from home to love.
So today you ask, how do we educate a black child?
I think it’s the wrong question to ask.
I think the question to ask is who educated and created “the norm?”
Who passed down these ways to the 21st century teacher of today?
Where should we begin?
Do we ever begin civics, social studies or history class
with Africa as the birthplace of civilization?
Not in most schools.
Do we begin by talking about black kings and queens
whose royalty we perpetually seek to erase?
Do we admit that when whites lived in caves,
black and brown people built glorious civilizations?
Nah, we start with columbus discovering us.
We say lincoln freed the slaves.
We don’t shoot in the dark, we shoot at those who are dark,
but we no longer call them niggers.
Instead of niggers we say they are “free and reduced lunch.”
Instead of nigger we say “minority.”
Instead of nigger we say “at-risk.”
Instead of nigger we say “disadvantaged.”
Black children are not disadvantaged.
Black children are not minorities.
Black children are not at-risk, except of creating a revolution.
Black children do not equal free and reduced lunch.
So what must a teacher,
who seeks to teach the truth, know,
what must a teacher truly understand?
It is the great scholar Carter G. Woodson who informs us of that,
“to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse,
and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless,
is the worst sort of lynching.”
So dear teachers,
stop lynching black children
with your false histories
and your zero tolerance indoctrination schemes.
So many schools think,
that to be cutting edge means you have to be trauma-informed.
No, we do not need trauma-informed anything.
Stop seeing kids through trauma.
You are developing trauma eyes/traumatize(d).
If you must see black children through any lens,
start with assets.
Be resiliency informed, be freedom informed.
When you see a black child,
stop correcting Malcolm Little,
without preparing Malcolm X.
When you see a black child,
don’t just notice the limp in their step,
notice, that’s 4 foot nine, half paralyzed,
organizing the Underground Railroad,
leading her people to freedom,
and the question is,
what might your solidarity look like (now)?
Our schools are the (not so) new plantations
creating the new house negroes.
We tell kids what to wear,
what to read,
what to think,
how to speak,
how to act,
when to act,
and pretend that slavery is a thing of the past.
So what do we do?
We turn to critical, and revolutionary hope as the antidote
to this prison industrial complex called the 19th century school.
We must check what we think of black children.
See, if we think a child’s a genius,
we prepare, and we treat them as such.
If we think a kid is traumatized,
we see them with trauma eyes.
We have a revolutionary duty to study and unlearn.
We, as a society, could care less about the truth or about facts,
And yet we have the audacity to say that what we deem important is
“data driven instruction.”
Do you know the data
about third grade test scores and where they lead to?
Do you know the data of black children
who get suspended, expelled, criminalized every step of the way?
Do you know the data of black children,
who become adults, that will go right to being caged?
We do not care for data.
We do not care for truth.
We certainly do not care for facts,
that’s why we’ve created alternative ones.
So, to those of you who love justice,
those of you who love truth,
those of you who will not stand idly by,
those of you who want to do something,
my question to you is,
what are YOU gonna’ do about norm?
What are you gonna’ do
about Columbus discovering America?
What are you going to do
with textbooks that begin “black history” with slavery?
What are you gonna’ do
about sending black children to detention or cages?
What are you going to do about how you see black people?
How are we going to address our blind spots,
when they are, in fact, blind to us?
Don’t clap for this,
Don’t applaud this,
Don’t tell me you love Malcolm, when you hate his offspring.
Stop your corporate ways,
Stop trying to force feed your dominant narrative,
Stop putting kids in your suits and ties,
Stop teaching them how to use a fork,
Stop teaching them how to act right,
Stop with your zero tolerance and your no excuses.
Stop trying to mis-educate them,
stop teaching lies.
Stop saying it wasn’t you.
You want to educate a black child,
start by educating yourself.
Dr. César A. Cruz