My first memory of oppression came when I was in the second grade. I knew that I had brown skin, but my parents never discussed what the difference my skin would make. Their emphasis was always on getting good grades and being respectful. The only true difference my father use to say was that I was made to be a girl, and then there boys. We sleep, eat and cry the same but learn life lessons and experiences differently. Whatever you put your heart and mind to, you can achieve.
This particular day in class I learned that I was the only black student in my class. The way the teacher implied it was like she thought I already knew that fact. I can’t even remember what we were talking about in class only that she said “we’re white” while pointing towards me “and she’s black”. As everyone turned to look at me, I turned too and then realized she was pointing at me. My feelings hurt and confused, I thought is this better or worse than whom I was five minutes before this conversation began. I thought did I do something wrong as the entire class turned and stared when she simply stated “and she’s black” and why was being black different or important? I thought I was a pretty shade of brown, when did I become black? This was the first thing I mentioned to my mom when I got home. Both her and my father was livid.
In retrospect the teacher could have said more to make me feel less uncomfortable and discussed what similarities we shared. I don’t believe that her intention was to be malicious or prejudice, but at 7 years old I don’t believe I could make that judgement. The next day in class after a discussion with my parents and the principal, we did have another class discussion specifically about race and an apology was given. As educators of young children it is important to know their background and home life. It provides us with valuable information on what our students know and how to approach them without making them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.
From that moment I learned two valuable lessons. First, I still needed to make good grades, give respect and earn respect. Secondly, the color of my skin had nothing to do with achieving the first.