Recently, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York city to see the premiere screening of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. I took a group of girls from the high school that I teach at. I was not sure what I was getting into. Actually, I thought I was just chaperoning a trip to a museum that I wasn’t interested in, to a screening of a movie I had known nothing about. What really ended up happening, changed my mind and my teaching practice.
I could go on and on about Pushout and how great of a documentary and book it is. But I am sure you can find other blogs and sources on that, or go watch/read it for yourself. What I really want to mention here, is how much I learned that night at the screening…about my students, black girls in schools, and myself.
See, it wasn’t until around the time I turned 24 that I started to own and appreciate my blackness. I spent so much time struggling to change and fit in with my posh white boyfriend and his family. I didn’t want to listen to that “noise” they called hip hop. I feared black men. I scoffed at the struggles and complaints of “those” black people. I used to love when my friends would say “Jaymee, you’re basically white, you don’t count” when they would say something bad about a black person, but count me out. I know I know, I am thinking the same thing. I want to punch my old self in the face and shake some sense into her. But hey, I got where I needed to be eventually!
Anyways, before I go off on a rant and forget what I was writing about… I learned a lot about myself from watching Pushout. I learned that we are conditioned to think certain things about ourselves from a very young age. Yes, this may seem obvious when we think about media and social media. But to be conditioned to feel less than or ugly or “bad” in school, where you are there to learn and be safe. That blew my mind. I started to think about all the things that were said to me, or the ways that I had gotten in trouble in school, for things far smaller than what my white classmates did (i.e for having an attitude, or talking too loud, or “scaring” one of the other kids who took my pencil). I even started to think about how I was called wild for being “boyish” or manly because I was bigger and stronger than the other girls my age (and most girls far older than me). The ways in which I was conditioned to think negatively about myself, from as far back as I could remember, flooded my mind while I was watching this documentary.
And I started to cry. Dammit, I am always crying, but it felt so right. To cry in this room full of black women who understood, and with my brown students…who understood, and with myself…who finally understood.
When the documentary was over, Monique Morris (writer and producer of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools) allowed people in the audience to speak their truth or ask questions or both. And instantly my heart started to race. I wanted to speak a truth, my truth, in a room with women and girls who would get it…but I was scared.
“Be quiet Jaymee”
“Now is not the time”
“Keep your business to yourself”
“Sit still, look pretty”
“You’re too outspoken, its intimidating”
I listened to a couple people speak. I listened to Monique’s answers and the rest of the panels answers. And I stood up and I spoke my truth. You can listen to my testimony Here. If you don’t decide to listen, then the jist of my “speech” was that, as adults, we have to battle and deal with our demons and conditionings in order to teach these young black and brown girls to be the change we want to see in the world, and more importantly, to love themselves. But in order to start this battle and dealing, we must LEARN.
It was not until that night, after I spoke from whatever space I was in and whatever I was feeling, that I realized that I cannot teach or even love to my full potential, without being a learner myself. I need to learn about myself and ways to deal with my demons. I need to learn about my students and the demons they may have or face everyday. I need to go back to where it started for me and for them, and be who my younger self needed, for me and for them.
To often we silence children.
“Now is not the time”
“Be quiet ____”
“Dont talk back to me”
When really, all we are doing in conditioning these kids to feel less than and unheard, like a lot of us may have felt in schools or as a kid; like their opinions and thoughts don’t matter just because they are kids. When really, we need to learn and be mindful, so that we can teach an engaged and mindful child. Just because we become adults and teachers doesn’t mean we get to stop learning.
There was so much I learned about myself that day, and not a day too late. Because, now that I have learned and I am aware, I can be that much better for not just the girls, but all the students in my class. And boy, how grateful I am.
This is my journey. This is my story.
Until next time,