During my second semester of high school, I made a routine visit to my white female guidance counselor to select courses for the following semester, as usual, she began by looking at my grades over the past year. Surprisingly (but not unexpectedly) I was met with a “Wow. Good. VERY good, actually” in reference to my marks. I returned her rather rude reaction with a smile – since, apparently that’s a compliment and that’s how we’re “supposed” to react, but upon further inspection of the incident I realized how deep that statement was, coming from a woman of her authority.
For studious, black teens this is a reaction we’re met with quite frequently. The education system, yes, even in Canada, expects us to fail. They push us towards less challenging classes and encourage labor and trade jobs as opposed to “professional” careers in humanities or science. They generally expect less of us. When a guidance counselor or teacher sees a young, black female they typically first see the stereotype: funny, outspoken, cool, ghetto, but….not possibly THAT smart (although, let us not forget that “ghetto” and smart are not mutually exclusive attributes).
“Society views women such as Maxine Walters and Michelle Obama as the anomaly rather than the standard”
The fact remains – while Black women remain the most educated group in North America we still have to fight tirelessly to be seen as intellectuals. Society views women such as Maxine Walters and Michelle Obama as the anomalies rather than the standard, whereas for a white person, success IS the standard and everything else is perceived to be a rarity. And the same is true for black men who are oftentimes systematically streamlined directly into the prison system upon high school graduation. We must work two times as hard as white students to get half the recognition.
The inequity within the school system is deeper than just the teachers, guidance counselors or even the principal. Numerous studies have shown that minority dominated school districts are often lead by a majority white school board, this lack of representation is reflected in the rules, regulations, and curriculums of the public schools that are continually failing Black students (in some places you can’t wear afros to school because its distracting- they’re literally limiting our natural existence). Case and point: our history isn’t taught as a part of standard curriculum, we are taught that the issues that affect us are not appropriate for school.
Black intellectuals exist – we are diverse and knowledgeable and we refuse to be ignored, underrepresented and misrepresented by the system.
My school is mostly (about 80%) POC yet the population of teachers does not reflect that demographic. As a young black girl who is interested in school, I am often the student that teachers decide is a surprise. No one seems to acknowledge that saying a student doesn’t “seem smart” is typically – and almost inherently – racist. It’s vitally important that we continue to fight for the representation we need in our education systems. Black intellectuals exist – we are diverse and knowledgeable and we refuse to be ignored, underrepresented and misrepresented by the system. And to you, young, black, student who has been made to feel like an alien for aspiring to reach higher and learn as much as you can- I promise you; you are important, you are great, and you are not the anomaly.