When my sister told me that my 5-year-old niece was was bullied at school, I felt fire in me. She’s goes to a private school and is the only Black girl in the school. This little white girl thought she needed to tell my niece something to the effect of her not being able to read well or count like her or others in the class. This is one of the reasons why I was reluctant when my sister first mentioned the school last year. And yes, the little white girl could have said the same exact thing to another white girl in the class. However, the other little white girl doesn’t have to “worry about” stereotypes, looking different, having different hair, and “possibly” being treated different. Then she goes home after school like a sweet little girl and watch TV characters on her favorite educational TV program that look just like her. After that, she can dream of having tea time with the other little white girls in her class because she’s not the only one.
This concern came to me again when I met with Dr. Marcelle Haddix, dean’s associate professor at Syracuse University’s School of Education and director of English Education Programs, a few weeks ago while we were discussing the struggles of Black girls’ lives and making positive spaces for them. Black people and other people of color who have the opportunity to obtain the “best” education for their children have to consider many different things. It’s like an episode of Blackish. There is not just a concern about how they are being educated, but also, their experience with their White peers and the relationships with people that look like them. People who are them. Dr. Haddix talked about how that was a concern for her and her husband when it came to her son’s education. It’s tough, so hearing those words that were uttered to my niece, even in the form of an “innocent” young white girl, makes it hard for me to see the overall value of private school. Although, I chose to attend a private university and experienced similar struggles.
My high school was public, though—probably half Black and half white students.
I was a proud nerd in high school, so I was in all honors classes. I was always the minority in those classes. I barely made anything less than an A-, but I was in a class with some white students who struggled. Yet, they were there because their parents knew the principal. We have to work twice as hard. Besides that, I noticed Black girls who didn’t “make it” to the honor classes, especially of darker complexion, being disciplined at a higher rate than white girls who “behaved the same way.” According to The New York Times, “black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide were suspended at a rate of 12 percent, compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls, and more than girls of any other race or ethnicity.” Dr. Haddix discussed how she witnesses this in the halls of a Syracuse middle school that was “reorganized by district officials.” All of the teachers are white. They may mean well but are sometimes oblivious to the many different issues (hair, body image, colorism) that Black girls experience. When you don’t understand a group of people, they can easily be grouped together, less “humanlike,” and expected to behave a certain way (like a “catfight” on Vh1 reality TV show).
That’s why groups that specifically uplift Black girls are so important. Dr. Haddix created Dark Girls Syracuse promoting mentorship, positive spaces, writing, and conversation among young girls. I can’t wait to be a part of that this year!
She’s vegan, a certified yoga instructor, and a naturalnista.
She’s a ZenG who teaches yoga classes at an affordable price.
Besides starting Dark Girls Syracuse and giving back in many other ways, she’s a part of Writing Our Lives, and hosted a group for Black mothers a few years ago.
*Pic Courtesy of Dr. Haddix’s Facebook Page