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A Letter to my Third-Grade Teacher; Your Racism May Have Paused Me, But It Did Not Deter Me

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You can ask almost any black person when was the first time they experienced racism, and most will tell you that it happened as a child, in school (public or private).

Maybe to you, 1991 seems almost like a lifetime ago, but for me, it’s been a stark reminder as to how the education system continually fails black students.

I was no more than 8 years old, but you were my first experience with racism. You were the one who taught me that just because someone is in a profession where they are supposed to be role models and treat everyone fairly; that it won’t always be the case.

Until that day I had never experienced any form of racism or bias (at least not that I know of). The earliest memories of even knowing what racism was came from hearing my grandparents talk about “Alabama Windchimes” and being chased through Due West by the KKK. They would talk frequently about family members having to flee town in the middle of the night, never to be heard from again. And to think, when that happened it had only been 41 years or so prior to my entry into your classroom.

I remember the day my mother gave me money for the book fair, I was so excited to go; it would have been the first time she had given my sister and I the money and allowed us to go alone during school hours.

But when it came time to go, YOU decided that there was no way “a child like me” had a parent who sent money and instead gave MY money to another white child who you “thought” lost their money.

Not only was I crushed, but I believed I did something wrong to make you hate me. To make you think that I was lying. I was an excellent student, straight A’s, never ever in trouble, and was a quiet and shy student.

That was until I entered your class. I remembered always raising my hand because I knew the answers, and one day you called me a know it all and said that “no one likes an uppity child.” It wouldn’t be until later in life I knew you truly meant “uppity negro.”

I remembered BARELY passing the third grade and my parents being unable to figure out what the fuck was going on because that wasn’t Tasha. She did her homework, she studied, she could regurgitate the answers flawlessly. Did she have test anxiety? Was she being bullied?

Soon my parents found out that the former would be false, however, the latter was true.

The day the book fair money incident happened, I remembered crying my eyes out. My wonderful mother, being the mama bear she was (and still is) went to the school, and in her wonderfully angelic demeanor let you know that you were wrong and that whatever your issue was needed to be yours and yours alone, not her child’s.

That was the thing about my mom, her life’s mantra is to kill’em with kindness. She and my dad had the good cop bad cop routine down to a science and she was always the good cop. My mother never had to raise her voice, she never had to make petty or snippy remarks; we knew once she said “oh really” it was over and done with.

As nice as my mother was, it wasn’t enough to stop you from projecting your hatred on to me. I remembered the day after school when I left my jacket and ran to get it before going to after school, you referred to me as the “n-word.” I didn’t know what that was. So I ignored it. I never spoke about it until college when I was discussing my elementary school teachers.

Of course, my mom was angry, but I think now she understands why I never told them.

It’s because of you Mrs. 3rd Grade Teacher, that I introduce myself to every one of my children’s teachers and make myself and my husband known to their them. I will never allow my children to be stereotyped, nor will I ever allow them to be mistreated.

It wasn’t my parent’s fault that I had to remain in the classroom, being twins they had to separate us. If I switched to the other class, then my sister would have been moved and subjected to your madness. Even though she is older by 4 minutes, at 8 years of age I knew I’d never want her to deal with that.

The issues in the education system regarding African American/Black children and the racial disparities in discipline are nothing new, nor is it getting better.

In my push to ensure my kids do not experience that same bias in the education system like I did, There were times where I felt that I had to come out the gate swinging. Even when there was no need to.

It’s easy to read this now and say it wasn’t a big deal and it was almost 30 years ago, but it wasn’t for me. That type of hatred doesn’t magically disappear with age. You can forgive, but forgetting isn’t easy. At 36, I can name every instance where I’ve been called a nigger or a. Uppity negro.

When it comes to my kids, I never want them to have those kinds of memories. The generational pain of racism has already left wounds in our family that are too late to heal in some cases (from passed on family members).

So to my third-grade teacher, I have no clue if you are even still alive; I doubt you’ll ever read this. But in the event that you do please know this. The little girl you spent 9 months trying to crush, remained unbroken. My 4th-grade teacher was amazing. When she found out what happened, she made it her mission to ensure that I would love to learn again, and essentially learn that “not-every” educator that I run across will treat me that way. She and my parents worked together hand in hand to make sure that my learning experience was not forever tainted by you.

So that little girl: She continued to be an A student with that one year being the only year I ever received any low grades. She still loves to learn even at 36, she still developed a bond with nearly all of her teachers going forward. Staying in close contact with some, and being there to support their families when they transitioned.

I’d like to blame it on being a product of your time. But let’s be real; you knew what you were doing was wrong. If the few black 3rd graders in the class knew, then so did you. I hope that your heart has been healed and that at some point in your career you learned that all of your students deserved the same effort and care from you, regardless of their skin color.

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