Living Learning: Why Blackness in the Classroom is so Loud

Rocky Blessey-Bragg
Jan 23 · 4 min read

The education system was not made by, for, or with me and my blackness in mind.

Photo by Melany Rochester on Unsplash

On the contrary, the infrastructure and systems used to maintain K-12 schooling have been weaponized as a means of villainizing, criminalizing and pushing out black bodies. White supremacists-inspired SAT’s and AP/Gate programs, oppressive dress codes that denounce natural black hair and wear as inappropriate, and zero tolerance discipline policies have been used time and time again under the premise of improving school safety and preventative in school violence and suspensions. Black students are disproportionately affected by these practices; black boys are suspended, disciplined and forced out of schools at four times the rate of white students, and even more when foster or living in rural areas. This is an especially gross statistic when considering how underrepresented black students are in K-12 school (15%), and how over-represented they are in suspensions across the country.

As a black student in class, I resented school. I knew I didn’t belong. This wasn’t a feeling; I know this for a fact because the way in which teachers communicated — or better yet, patronized and belittled — to me, confirmed that I was the other. As a black student, when reading in class and coming across “Nigger”, the most discomfort I experienced never came from the reading of it, but from the eyes that darted at me for my approval of its reading.

It is in situations like this that my Blackness is loudest, most disruptive, and a reminder that only I and others like me confront these realities.

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

You’re so well-spoken.

The AP test is a bit challenging for this class; are you sure you want to stay in?

Let’s refer to Rocky for his opinion. Rocky?

Yes, this happens when teachers want to be “inclusive” and “diverse” and solicit opinions on To Kill A Mockingbird or Frederick Douglass from their black students.

Plain and simple, this is just fucking ridiculous.

As a black teacher, I am reminded daily that I am exceptional to my profession; being one of a handful of black, male English teachers in our district of well over 1500 teachers, or being one of the minority of black teachers period. The burden of discussing race is a regular conversation because my blackness has a daily confrontation within the whiteness of my walls, my school and my curriculum. In that same vein, comes the expectation that my opinions are representative of all black folks, that I serve as a proxy for the black experience. This thinking is grossly ignorant and only serves to comfort those not willing to venture outside of the immediacy of their surroundings to self-educate and to be culturally responsive. For most of my students, I am one of the few interactions with professional people of color and must communicate to them that my presence, although scarce in the profession, is necessary for the social pockets they will encounter in life and how they will come to interact with their own racial identity and other’s.

If you want to talk about race, begin by acknowledging that you and your whiteness do not have to in most spaces.

The looks of shock that come at “Back to School Night” when parents learn that I am teaching their son or daughter’s Honors English class, that I am at the end of a PhD program, that I am not just a Track and Field Coach, are a marvelous cocktail of confusion and serendipity — sometimes. It is also prompts a pressure within myself that I’m sure is shared by other black professionals to feel adequate, to feel qualified and to feel welcomed by the space. To achieve this, there is definitely a necessary code switch and key phrasing to indicate my deserving for my role.

As best as I can, I normalize my presence while also recognizing that it is exceptional to my student’s previous experiences. But, these are skills that I did not have as a student, and because of that, my blackness was good and loud in those classrooms.

I will not paint all black folks with the same deficit-based brush; we do it plenty. But many of us are just trying to stay afloat in this shoddy system’s waters.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

Rocky Blessey-Bragg

Written by

High School English teacher with a few stories and perspectives to inspire transformative work in education. PhD Candidate . Olympic Weightlifter. Cat Dad.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

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