That Time A White Boy Yelled Nigger At My Students Before Burning Out

This year my team goes on a lotta field trips. I mean lots. We be out. One such field trip was a walking field trip to the local library, where our students participate in a program called The Gift of Reading. Every other month, our students can choose one free book out of four centered around a theme.

Anyway, we were crossing the street , and one of my “n’er do well” students (I’ma call him Q) and I were bringing up the rear. As we hit the curb on the other side, some random ass scraggly white boy in a old beat up white Pontiac something or other leaned his scraggly ugglass self out his driver side window and yelled, “Hey, Niggers!” before speeding (however much he could speed in that bum ass ride) off.

Yeah.

So imagine it. Here’s a kid who lives squarely in the hood surrounded by black folks, liquor stores, and quick loan spots, whose rarely leaves the confines of his hood, whose breadth and depth of knowledge about white people consists of his sometimes white teachers (who try to be culturally responsive) and whatever he sees on social media or tv…and he steps out his safety zone to be accosted by a dingy ass white boy passing through his increasingly gentrified hood with the words “Hey, Nigger!”

Little homie was blowed.

He felt violated–and rightly so. For hours afterwards, Q was the embodiment of what we mean when we say, “I feel some type of way.” Two other teachers and I tried to make it into a teachable moment, but really. What could we do? He had been fully welcomed into the world outside his very sheltered black one. All we could do is comfort him and say, “It was going to happen at some point. And you learn which things to let go and which things to fight about and which things to work for.”

I wish I could share some profound word behind this, but I cannot add anything that hasn’t been think pieced to death. All I can say is this:

  1. Appreciate black spaces and keep them black. Forget whatever white folks talking about and forget these black folks always trying to integrate white folks into everything. We need safe spaces. Q may have not grown up in the fanciest enclaves of America but there is a safety in living the hood, surrounded by people who look like you and accept you as you are. Stop bringing white folks into everything with open arms. We have earned the right to exclusivity and the peace that comes with it. No lied told: most white folks just bring death and destruction in a myriad of ways. A huge “keep out” sign is okay.
  2. Nothing prepares you for the type of psychological violation that comes from that kind of display of racism.I’m a pretty thick skinned black person. I gives no damns about what anybody thinks about me but Jesus, my mama, my granny, and sometimes my husband. But even I understand the soul flinch that happened to Q–how his perception of his own humanity was distilled and judged in that moment. He wanted to fight but what could he fight? He wanted to cry, but he wasn’t even sure why. I was sure tho. I knew that, in a time where he is still trying to figure out who he is, that “nigger” was a punch to his self image.

Black people: protect your children. And I don’t mean from accessing white spaces or places where we share spaces with white people. I mean prepare them for these moments of dehumanization. Some of us black educators try to fill in those gaps, but in the forum of public education our messages sound like those during slavery: we have to hide the messages in codes that not all can understand. You must teach them early and often what awaits them so that the bruises won’t last. Cuz the blow is coming. The very fact that I could find a meme that I could use for this post oughta tell you that.

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