No, I wasn’t angry or mean. I was just a Black girl.
I hated my 10th-grade Spanish class, despite having a cool group assignment in the fall. We spent the semester memorizing “Te Quiero” by DJ Flex. The assignment was great because the song is catchy and we got to dance in class. The goal was to be able to sing without lyrics. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy the assignment because my teacher hated my face. There’s no other way to put it. She went out of her way to comment on my face during class: “Why do you look so mad? Why won’t you smile?”
She wasn’t the first to ask me. My friends also had a habit of commenting on my face. I can’t count how many times my friendships started with: “I thought you hated me before I met you.” When I would ask why, they would say, “Your face. You looked mean.” Once we became friends, those questions usually subsided. But I had trouble laughing it off when my teachers joined the fray, and my Spanish teacher was relentless.
She called me out constantly. My face was always a problem. It took the fun out of everything. “Fix your face. Why are you so mad? What’s wrong? Smile! Why won’t you smile?” My teacher never used the word angry. She just led class discussions on the state of my face. I’m a pretty sarcastic person so I usually deflected her questions or made a joke. But it happened nearly every day, and it exhausted me. As time went on, I became really angry. And rightly so. Imagine stopping class just to comment on someone’s face. Every day. It’s almost irrational. I understand the desire to check in with a person if you think there’s a problem, but once it’s been established that there isn’t a problem, it’s time to move on.
As the semester continued, I became more and more angry. I began to dread going to class. I isolated myself. I didn’t seek the teacher’s help if I could avoid it. I low-key hated group assignments because I resented my classmates for either taking part in or witnessing my humiliation. Eventually, the semester ended, but the precedent had been set. People in Spanish class were also in Biology. My face became an object of fascination and confusion. It became acceptable to accost me inside and outside of the classroom with criticisms about my face and overall demeanor.
My story is not unique. Millions of Black girls have similar stories. We face the double-whammy of race and gender stereotypes in the classroom. And while this situation was horrible, I was technically lucky. I got to stay in the classroom. There are thousands of Black girls who don’t get to stay. Stereotypes and biases are actively pushing them out of the classroom. Black girls are suspended five times more than white girls – and stereotypes and implicit biases play a huge role. Stereotypes often rub up against discipline policies that are often written in a way that allows for an enormous amount of discretion. Students can be punished for something as subjective as an “attitude violation.” My Spanish teacher thought I had an attitude problem. If the situation had been different, I might have been severely punished.
Today we are releasing a new video to shine a light on the stereotypes and biases affecting Black girls in school. Let Her Learn is an opportunity to learn about the barriers facing Black girls and join the movement working to tear them down. I believe Black girls deserve to learn free from stereotypes and bias. If you agree, watch this video and then share it. We can only fight school pushout by first acknowledging it. Join us as we fight to #LetHerLearn.