As a junior in high school, who has been through thirteen years of education, I have only had two teachers of color.
The importance of education is not found solely in course subjects and classroom interactions, but is found in the importance of relationships made from conversations, questions and quality investment in the respective lives of both the staff and student. It is in those conversations that the personal experiences and stories of navigating race and racism can be explored. Having gone to a predominantly white school, during my formidable years of middle school, in every subject from Literature to Earth Science I was reminded that I was different than everyone else. Even though I was able to succeed, my other friends of color struggled to find success in the course material. Coming to class became a burden, not just for them, but even for me.
However, as I transitioned into high school, I thought issues of racial understanding and cultural competence would no longer exist, with a student population that is 85% students of color. I was sadly mistaken. Our teaching staff is proportionally opposite: over 85% white. The racial disparity between students and staff is a problem. The subliminal and subconscious microaggressions-- of uncomfortable questions about black hair; continual attempts to invalidate the race-based experiences of students of color and constant assumptions about the backgrounds of students of color, that fall in line with the stigmatized historical rhetoric-- by teachers and staff are the embodiment of this racial disparity at its core. In a school of people who look, act and come from the same background as me, I still feel like an other by the staff and teachers who are white. This feeling is a reality for so many students universally, who are dealing with the discrimination of their inherent identity.
This is a reality that has been the basis of most of my educational career. I have advocated for the need of a diverse teaching body; made efforts, with our staff, to initiate a platform for honest and in depth dialogue around race; offered to help with the newly found equity team; expressed my concern that students of color are treated unfairly and I continually faced with backlash. Their place and credentials as white teachers are totally valid, but the power of learning from someone who looks like me and carries the societal weight that I do is invaluable and distinctly missing in my educational experiences. This underrepresentation of teachers of color must change. Of all that I have experienced in my educational career, there remains three figures that stand out of the whiteness. These three figures are three teachers, who have made it an effort to speak to me one-on-one, invest in my hopes and dreams, mentor my aspirations and teach with a lens of equity and social justice. Those figures were intentional in this approach and successful in their actions. I have kept in close contact with one, with whom I was acquainted in middle school and the other two are my current teachers now. In their classrooms, I feel a sense of comfortability that is uncanny to the spaces I inhabit throughout my day. In those classrooms, color as a barrier is deconstructed in a way that staff and students can work across their differences.