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Silently Black

Sunshine's picture

When I think about my education, the first thing that comes to my mind is never race. Race is actually never the first thing I think about when I think about my identity anyway, but in particular when thinking about education I focus most on what posed the biggest problem for my peers and teachers. My selective mutism (they didn't see race, after all). I did not talk in school. Since kindergarden, from the moment I stepped on the bus in the morning to the moment I stepped off in in the afternoon, I did not communicate verbally with anyone. This 'social phobia' that I (have?/had?) have caused a lot of problems for me academically and socially, but I had no support from my parents or my teachers. My parents don't believe in mental illnesses, so I didn't get treatment when I should've. So my teachers, principles, and guidance counsellors didn't understand what was wrong with me. They thought I was stubborn, rude, and unintelligent. I was told in the 10th grade that I wouldn't gradutate high school. Other kids would bully me to get me to talk, or treat me like an animal in a petting zoo, and there were no repercusions. All this to say that what I needed to learn was not how to navigate school as a black girl, but as silent. I've literally trained myself to be cute (I spent a lot of time practicing facial expressions in the mirror) not because I was afraid of becoming the angry black girl, but because I needed people to like me without talking to me in order to protect myself. Intersectionality is important, friends! I can't think about any microagression or blatantly racist comment that was made that I was able to respond to. I wrote a lot of notes to my friends, but people who weren't my friends didn't take my notes seriously. So when Kevin Smith (no relation) clicked at me, because he was trying to speak in my native language (side-eye emoji) I couldn't say anything! I think that deeply influences how I see racism today, because I had no choice but to just ignore it, or depend on my friends to defend me. If they didn't, well I didn't have any other support. 


Franny's picture

While I dealt with different issues of mental illness (depression/anxiety, which didn't affect how i communicated but also really did) in my education, reading this post really resonated with me. In a lot of ways, I have the opposite response to the prompts - the first thing i think about is how my white privilege and class privilege benefitted me throughout school, and i willfully forget about the deep impact my mental illness had. It is much easier for me to talk about the ways in which i have benefitted from the system and to engage with parts of my identity that aren't so painful. i choose to forget that i had somewhere around 130 absences in high school (not an exaggeration) and that i had to drop out my junior year to be homeschooled online. i then returned to school my senior year and the transition was brutal.

my disability and my whiteness are so intertwined - in how i was able to access treatment, in how i was taken seriously (ish), in how i already had a leg up in school. so why don't i talk about it? reading your post reminded me that our identities are complicated and multi-faceted. 

sorry if this co-opted your post. thank you for sharing!!!