In a particularly powerful post Mia McKenzie remembers the year she stopped loving school. It was fourth grade, the year she got her first teacher that didn’t affirm her. As it turns out, it was her first white teacher.
From Head Start through third grade, I had exclusively Black teachers. As a very bright, gifted Black girl, having Black teachers, mostly Black women, who saw my giftedness and encouraged and nurtured it, meant everything. These were teachers who could look at me and see themselves. They could see their children, their hopes, their dreams. These were teachers who could be as proud of me when I did well as my own family was, who could understand me when I talked about my life, and who knew how to protect the spirit of a gifted Blackgirlchild in a world they knew would try to tear her apart every chance it got.
I thrived in those early years in school. I loved learning, I had a very high capacity for it, and it showed. My teachers challenged me creatively and intellectually, supported my growth, and rewarded my efforts. My second and third grade teacher, Ms. Lucas (who goes down in history as the best and most influential teacher I ever had) gave me my first paid work as a writer. In third grade, after I wrote the best poem about springtime (“…sometimes words can never say the things that flowers say in May…”), she brought me ice cream! She, like the other Black teachers I had, recognized, and helped me to see, my extraordinariness. Seeing it, I soared. I felt confident and self-assured. I believed I was the smartest, most talented kid ever!
Then, in fourth grade, I was put in Ms. Reisman’s class. Ms. Reisman was my first white teacher. She had dyed red hair, a thick Northeast Philly accent, and a complete inability to see my extraordinariness. Ms. Reisman didn’t like me. The same confidence I’d shown in Ms. Lucas’ class was viewed by Ms. Reisman as arrogance, as immodesty, and she bristled at it. I sensed her dislike of me and responded to it with hatred of her, with defiance. My 8-year-old spirit raged against the notion that I was suddenly un-special, that everything I knew about myself, everything in me that was smart and talented and funny, was completely devalued under this woman’s gaze. Though I couldn’t name the racial dynamics at the time, I knew something was off.
Read the whole story…
Mia McKenzie is an award-winning writer and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous.