As I sit here reflecting on my experiences in school, I can say that I struggled the most in the suburban schools I went to. Academically, I was fine. Psychologically, I was fighting a war daily. As one of only a few Black kids in these schools, I had to trust that my parents knew what they were doing. They kept telling my brother and me that education was the way out of poverty. We needed to learn the ways of the White people. We needed to learn how to navigate this White world in our Black bodies. But every day, I had to decide who I wanted to be. With my Black friends, I could be myself, but I didn’t know which self to give to my White friends.
I remember my White bestfriend told me that her mom didn’t want her hanging out with me because I wasn’t a good influence and made F’s. I remember that phone call. On the contrary, I was an excellent student and made great grades. I met her mom and her family a few times and never had an issue. Where was this coming from? I don’t know if it was a race issue or a class issue or maybe both, but we were great friends.
After that experience, I was heartbroken. Her mom pulled me from a great friend. In these schools, race and class were issues that went unaddressed but were important to the fabric of the community. As a poor Black girl, I didn’t have the luxurious car to drive to school or the extracurricular activities that many parents would have their kids in. We didn’t have money for many things. No, we didn’t wear designer clothes but that was almost a requirement for the student body. And of course, I didn’t look white.
But this was a part of the plan- to learn how to navigate Whiteness. On top of this socialization, I had to learn how to control my tongue when teachers made racist and classist comments. I would go home and tell my parents and they would say that I had to learn when to pick my battles. It was a huge game that I felt I was losing at. I didn’t fit.
In order to keep myself from going crazy, I started gravitating towards sub-cultures- the emo kids, students of color, Muslims, LGBT community and etc. Honestly, these groups were seen as subhuman in their proximity to Whiteness, but I didn’t want to continue my fight in fitting in with White students, especially the wealthier ones. I didn’t fit. I tried straightening my hair, dying it blonde (my hair fell out), talking White by way of code-switching, wearing designer clothes I couldn’t afford nor fit, and disconnect myself from Blackness. All of these attempts failed.
I understood why my parents wanted us to go to those suburban schools. I get it. As a parent, you want the best for your kids. But in my humble opinion, I felt traumatized from those years. Doing my schoolwork was easy, but everything else was mental gymnastics.
As W.E.B DuBois called it, “double consciousness”- having to live in the world as a Black person but feeling divided into parts because of Whiteness. You try to figure out how to live in your Blackness in a world that rewards and upholds Whiteness.