The Trauma Of Being Black

Teaching compliance should not be a prerequisite skill for living.
07/07/2016 10:02 AM ET
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Updated Jul 08, 2016

In light of recent events, and my current pursuit of a Masters in Secondary Inclusive Education, at Columbia University’s Teachers College, with a focus on social justice, I have been deeply considering the effects of trauma.  As a member of Teachers College’s residency program I am meditating on the phrase “trauma is embodied.” The phrase stayed with me during a recent intensive session discussing relational and positive approaches to student behavior. Trauma is common to the Black American experience. Trauma is not confined to physical bodies, it affects the emotional, mental, social, and economic states of being. We have moved beyond the shackles of plantations to a slavery by another name – the slavery of being voiceless. The phrase “I can’t breathe,” popularized and made infamous by the death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City police epitomizes my feelings.

The city is currently embalmed by a hot July air, I too am suffocating – suffocating because of a lack of voice. I literally have found that I cannot breathe. I am not using hyperbole. There are some traumas that leave you silent. This silence inhabits the space after the storm, leaving one speechless as souls are made to bear witness of yet another tractor plowing through land and leaving devastation in its wake. I am American educator. I am a New York City educator. I am an urban educator. I am a black woman educator. I have had the privilege of working with students in schools categorized as “high-needs.” Inevitably these students are Black and Brown. They come in an array of delightful shades, and I am tasked with teaching them.

Teaching is loving, and I cannot love if I view these kids through a pathological lens associated with color. Being black is not a deficit; it is a difference. When images of black bodies being brutalized repeatedly play in the media, what message is that sending to our young people? Who are people, and who decides? What makes you valuable? When will we begin living Dr. King’s dream of seeing people through the “content of their character”? I have been fortunate to be able to relate to students regarding issues of race. It provides me with the unique opportunity to help students view themselves through the lens of character and not simply color.

I may not know Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but I know many young men of color. I know how they are perceived, and have born witness to the continuous trajectory of tragedy in the United States. Living on the defensive has worn thin. Teaching compliance should not be a prerequisite skill for living.