As I was walking quickly through the cafeteria last Thursday. Not quite sure where I was heading, but I must have had some destination in mind. A young girl stopped me. And asked if I could eat lunch with her.
I rarely have time to digest my own lunch, let alone eat lunch with students. But I try. So as she looked up at me with her lunch bag in hand and hope in her eyes I couldn’t resist. I didn’t know how long we’d be able to sit and eat, but it was worth a shot.
So we went into my office and I pulled a desk to the center and we shared the space usually meant for one. Getting to spend time with her was wonderful. Something I don’t get to do enough of, simply by the nature of my position. She asked me to open her soda. And I did. But not without it exploding all over the place. We cleaned up the mess and went back to eating our lunches.
It was then that I got to hear about her day and the day before. It seemed as if they both pretty good. Except there was an incident the day before that she wanted to share with me. She and another boy had gotten into a minor argument. Mostly it was his fault. I do know this to be the case. And then she told me what he said to her. It was a phrase I’ve heard before. It was a phrase that has been around for quite a while. But hearing it come out of her mouth and seeing how it effected her deeply. It took on a whole new meaning this time. It tasted different and I wasn’t even on the receiving end of it.
Be quiet before I slap the black off your face!
She told me how it made her sad. She told me how it made her cry. I knew that her teacher had handled it quite seriously because she has been working hard to build a family-like atmosphere in her classroom this year. And she has been successful.
The boy that made the remark was black also. I don’t think he made the remark because the girl has darker skin than he does. I don’t think he meant there to be any racial undertones in his remark. I believe he was simply regurgitating something he has heard and seen numerous times before.
But what about my young friend? I couldn’t remember if she was six or seven so I just now went on PowerSchool to double check. And when I did I saw her beautiful-smiling-black face staring back at me. She is truly a wonderful child who is always happy.
I spoke with her about the remark the young man had made. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, but I tried. I told her how I didn’t think the remark really made any sense at all. I said, “you are black and I am white.” And that his remark was the equivalent of someone telling me that they were going to smack the white off of my face.
But I am also aware that that is not a phrase that I ever heard or will probably ever hear. Because I am white.
I can’t imagine what must have gone this poor child’s head when she heard this phrase. Unfortunately, I’m sure it wasn’t the first time she has heard the phrase and it probably won’t be the last. And once again, I know it is slang!
But to her. A seven year old girl who still watches Disney Jr and plays with dolls?
So once the black is slapped off of her face, what is left? Is she colorless? Is she white? Is she…? I don’t know. Am I thinking too hard on this? But she is seven damn it! And she shouldn’t have to hear crap like that. But she does and she will.
I don’t know what to think about all this.
But one thing I do know. Is that the next time she asks me to eat lunch with her, I will do everything I can to free up some time. So that I can be there for her. So that I can listen. And so that I can reassure her that no one is going to slap anything off her face.
She is a beautiful black girl and no slap is going to change that. I will make sure of it. And I will remind her every chance I get.
We didn’t get to finish our lunch together because I got called to a classroom. But those twenty minutes were enough. Enough for me to realize that I need to find the time more often to connect with my students. So that they feel comfortable sharing with me what truly is in their hearts and on their minds.
I need to hear about these slaps. As painful as it may be. Because our students shouldn’t have to carry them around all by themselves. Not under our watch.