Dear Black & Brown Queer Student,
I am thinking of you. I wanted to write this letter to you since—I returned to the classroom in 2017 as a confident- battered and a bruised person from life and love but a hopeful educator, advocate, and messenger of truth. The truth I feel all students should be exposed to; not the typical rhetoric of lies that are wrapped in subject matter that many of you don’t feel connected to in the first place. Since digital learning started on March 15, 2020. Since they declared the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year would be completed through distance learning. Since much of what you know (school) was ripped from you. Since another round of senseless black death in our (their stolen) country is smashed in our faces. Since I know you are some where in this world with people who may or may not understand the essence of wind that flows through and from you wondering how do you fit in this revolution of time. I know who you are and how school served as an outlet, a little, small, and miniature moment in space that allowed you to be “free,” even while being caged in having to be everything except you. How excelling academically and not falling victim to the wiles set for (the youth) young black students are foundations of your self-worth. I am thinking of you as I engage and explore black movements addressing cultural, educational and social aspects of being black. I am thinking of you and want you to know that your lives and minds matter.
I’ve always thought of you. But it was only recently I’ve been able to stand in my complete truth while being a teacher. Out of the 10+ years, I’ve been an educator; I was recently able to remain assertive in my truth of being a black queer intellect without trying to magnify one to overshadow the other. It is very possible to be all at 100%. So, since I have been at 100%, I have thought about you, sincerely. I’ve wondered what percentage are you operating? About your ability to be your full self in places that require you to minimize parts of you to be praised at all. And then to think you are black and queer. The juxtaposition of belonging culturally and not belonging morally is a hard pill to swallow at your age. I am concerned about your emotional and mental well-being.
A little about me- and why I love you.
I became a teacher in 2008. I knew my purpose. I knew I was to tell all black kids about the power of education and how to use the system to potentially better their situation-outcome. I wanted all of you to know that I, too, was just like you. You probably hear that from every black teacher, for the most part, it’s accurate. Many black teachers came from conditions that were not as privileged as your white teachers. I did my best to let you all know it was okay to be “cool” and educated. You didn’t have to choose one over the other. I tried to tell you all about what the books were not telling you. Those damn school books are crap. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I taught from one. They are full of lies, say nothing about your true history, and purposely portray the killer and thief as the hero. Let's not mention the contributions of people who love as you do not mentioned because they were viewed as morally corrupt.
Anyway, around 2011 I instructed black kids how to use their story in art form, like poetry and plays. This is one of the original ways we passed down black truth all the way from the Motherland. It was beautiful. It was a pleasure to see black student joy because I didn't get to see much of that as a teacher in an alternative school. My students then had endured so much emotional and mental abuse from curriculums that imposed failure upon them and a societal structure that perpetuated what was being taught. But I was able to feel the freedom of being black and educated teaching at my alma mater. However, something was never enough because the brightest student was still black in a world that didn't give a sh** about them as a person other than servitude and being an accomplice in the white imaginary of "reality."
I allowed life to happen. Got caught up in the lifestyle and left the classroom one day, not returning until two years later. When I re-entered, I taught black kids how to take apart literature and comprehend the content. I showed them how to see their lives in the words and turn characters into family members and friends in order to relate to the text. I needed black kids to understand that according to the data (the first time I revealed so much of what was told to teachers to students), it was meant for them to fail. I told them the school system never intended for black kids to get much farther than their discipline records and test scores limitations. However, it wasn’t that black students were not exposed or didn’t know as much as the white kids on the other side of town, it was that the literature didn’t speak their language and no one truly cared to help with transposing it. I felt it necessary to impart skills that tooled them to read and translate into their language. Black and brown kids can comprehend contrary to popular belief. I took the poetry back to the classroom with me in 2013 and told black kids to stop allowing people and teachers to interpret them falsely and paint a vivid picture of themselves- set the record straight. Then life happened again. I was gone for another two years.
Let me explain-
Life kept happening because I had no sound placement in myself. Who I was outside of education, lesbian, never made its way to impact who I was while being a black intellect. And when relationships were too much in my life, the my passion suffered. Many sides of me were at war. The war kept me running in opposite directions of a beautiful marriage I never knew I could have. I had no examples of being black, queer, and an intellectual. I was praised for my work as an educator, even earning Teacher of the Year while asked continuously to let my hair grow back or think about wearing dresses again— you know, dress it up; therefore, I could go up the ladder. Yes, well into my 30’s I struggled with being my authentic self in school buildings because if I was going to make an impact, I couldn’t be too lesbian. I get what you may be experiencing as a black and queer student.
I entered education again for the 3rd time— and I am thinking about you, specifically- black and brown queer students. I’ve seen you since I entered education as a teacher in 2008, because I remember who I was as an out "gay girl" in high school. But I couldn’t speak to you because I wasn’t communicating with that part of myself when I entered the school doors as an adult. I shut her up and tried to conceal her as much as possible. I was ashamed and unlearned at how revolutionary it was to be me. I obliged to the professionalism binary request; wearing women’s clothing that looked fine because my pronouns are she/her, but made me uncomfortable because I was wearing a costume- I am masculine presenting.
I’ve been on a mission lately, which has led me to many professional developments, black education movements conferences/seminars, school equity meetings— you name it. I have attended them with the sole purpose of wanting to know if they were talking about you— were they thinking about you? Let's just say they are rambling about a lot of things (some great, some good and some blah blah), but not about you in particular—you're somewhere in the overcrowded language with other black students— but you— you— you’re more than just another black student- you are black and queer and often lost in the myriad of initiatives to help liberate black students.
Being black doesn’t save you from religious rhetoric in classrooms that deem your heart’s desires hell-bound or from grotesques looks because your identity doesn't matched limited social constructs around gender. Let alone the heteronormative embedded structures that require you to pull so far away from your whole self in order to semi-function just to get by. Hell, the spirit of being black and the sharpness of being queer can get you in big trouble (ISS, OSS, bullied by not only students, but faculty and staff) for simply being misunderstood for all that you are.
You don’t see yourself on posters, either. If they are going to speak about queer, it’s going to be a white face. Honestly, in this world, when someone says gay- it’s a white male. So, let me tell you how the identity trauma heightens every time you try to find community in the LGBT "community" while young. And when they speak about traumatized black youth, it is done through apparent binary displays of a boy and girl.
I am writing this letter to you because I want you to know that I am thinking about you to the point of deliberate action. I am no longer afraid to be fully present to your needs- because I have finally said forget everyone (from the superintendents to the custodial staff members) who told me subtly or explicitly I could not be black, queer, intellectual- and a powerful K-12 educator at the same time. I want you to know that you matter. You are essential, and though school can feel like another cage of damning rhetoric that suggests you can not excel in life unless you tactful conceal parts of yourself is bull. I need to show you your amazingness. I also want to expose you to how those who came before us and how they did it brilliantly. They were (still are) amazing, just like you. You don't have to wait until college (like I did) to be educated (a major part of the process is unlearning the colonial rhetoric of schooling), you can latch on to black queer excellence right now.
I want to apologize for all these black education movements that are too coward to speak on you specifically. Truth be told, most still struggle with being black, queer, and a teacher- operating under the same fears and false hopes I once held. I am sorry we have not stood up in our power to let you know it’s okay to be ALL of you. I love being black. I love all my students. I love all my black students. However, I have my eyes set on making sure queer students of color do not experience any more states of erasure in education because you're clustered together with just being black and brown. Whenever I have the chance, you better know I am going to make sure people know that you matter and to the point of empowerment.
If I haven't made it plain of how you matter, especially right now, then let me be frank. The black queer mind has always and will always be an integral part of the black freedom movement. It is in the essence of how we hold spiritual space in the fight of freedom and self awareness that catapults liberators to be their authentic selves in movements for the people. There is so much about you that is needed and it starts with accepting how amazing it is to be black, queer and educated.
Toni Morrison said, “… just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else.”