This post originally appeared on the blog Esther Brunat.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is more of a personal essay. Imagine you are sitting down with me over some iced tea chatting face-to-face. These experiences, opinions, and stories are my own and TpT did not ask me to write this disclaimer. I wrote it because race is often a sore subject but if I appeal to your humanity, then maybe your ears will be ripe for listening. Enjoy.
On my way home from Atlanta the other day my cousin asked me, “Hey Esther, do you do anything for Black History Month in your classroom?” My response was: “Yes. Be black.”
I need being black to be enough.
When I was first approached with the opportunity to share with the TpT community about Black History Month, I knew I needed to take the opportunity. I just didn’t know what to say. I would be lying to you if I said Social Justice is my expertise. What I am an expert at is being black. That’s enough. So often, Black Americans have to go above and beyond to achieve basic status. In my efforts to use my expertise, I decided that my lived experience is the best teacher. While reading through these moments, it may be helpful to picture your students and ponder how they may need to overextend to reach bare minimums. I pray that these stories and experiences shed light on your students and the importance of Black History not only in February but every month. That child or those children in your classroom are Black History. Even more than that are the black children who may not be in your classroom. They are also black history, and all your students need to know that.
I can remember attending a costume party at 18 years old. The party was Oscars-themed and if you have seen anything in the news about the Oscars in past years, you know that Oscars nominations are notoriously, um… pale. There was not a character I felt that I could accurately portray. This didn’t bother me. I decided to be Tinker Bell from Finding Neverland. A stretch, I know. I’m dark chocolate, Tinker Bell is not. I am fluffy, Tinker Bell is… not. You get the point. I wore this very flattering green dress, borrowed a pair of fairy wings from a friend, and boom! I was Tinker Bell. My friends and I laughed at the stark difference. I truly was not bothered.
In 2017, I dressed up for Halloween for the first time in my life. We had an administrator at my school who was a big fan of October 31st and encouraged the staff and student body to wear costumes, as long as they were within dress code. I decided to be Doc McStuffins. Could I have been Dora the Explorer? Sure. Could I have been Hannah Montana? Of course. It was much more satisfying to be Doc McStuffins. My braids curved up just like hers, my skin tone was similar, and I never had to explain who I was. Everyone just knew. Being black often has to be explained; it is not inherently understood. Being black in America is like me being Tinker Bell. Some people get it but sometimes I have to explain myself and my existence, and that is why we need Black History because sometimes being black isn’t enough. It needs to be.
Let’s talk hair
You ever have a little black girl in your class and wonder why her hair changes every week? Having textured hair is like being left-handed in a right-handed world. You are constantly reminded that everyone else’s privilege comes before yours and if you want things suited and tailored for you, you’ll have to go above and beyond to make it happen. Every scissor you cut with, every school desk you sit in, every time your elbow knocks into your neighbor at a restaurant, and every time the ink smears on your paper is a reminder that the world wasn’t built for you. (All the lefties said, AMEN!”) The way my coils grow from my head isn’t as socially acceptable as I would like it to be. When I wear my ‘fro wild and free, people marvel and long to touch it. But the number of compliments I get when I decide to straighten my hair tells another story.
What ends up happening is that every few weeks, the little brown skinned girl goes to the hairdresser and asks for a new hairdo to try and keep up. Her hair grows up to the sky and yours grows to the ground. She gets “box-braids” put in with extensions because at least then she can have long hair like you. Another month, she gets her hair done and she risks the integrity of her curls by getting them straightened. She may also add a few rows of extensions to the back because the validation she receives from her likes on Instagram far exceed the ones she gets when her natural hair is out and about. She’s competing with a culture that is not hers. That is why Black History matters not just the second month of the year but every month of the year. The way she was created − the way she was fearfully and wonderfully made − has to be enough.
What can you do?
You are what you behold. If the soundtrack of your life only listens to the black experience in February, you’re missing it. I encourage you to find ways to listen to your brown brothers and sisters, your black and tan educators, and your melanin-rich neighbors. Let their words sink into your heart and eventually spill out of your mouth. When this becomes second nature, when you no longer have to try, when highlighting the black experience almost feels effortless, your secondary classroom will be better for it. Your relationships will be better. You will be better.
Below are some podcasts that I enjoy listening to. These podcasts are just a few voices that you can also listen to. Do all the views in these podcasts reflect mine? No. Will they reflect yours? No. But it’s a start.
We Talk Different
A faith-based podcast that discusses the intersections of faith, race, politics, and gender.
The Afterschool Podcast
Three black female educators discuss race, pop culture, and education.
A faith-based podcast that discusses current issues of culture, often about race, but not always.
Esther Brunat is a 7th year teacher in sunny South Florida. She teaches math to high schoolers and enjoys all the sassy and insane things they have to say every day. You can find her on Instagram telling daily classroom stories about how to find the funny, feel good, and keep it cool.