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OPINION | By Nehemiah Frank
“Black is Beauty,” and “Black is Excellent” are the two phrases I cannot emphasize enough to my African-American students this year. It’s part of my holistic approach to educating, empowering, and preparing them for America.
My personal lived experiences as a black man, seemingly residing in a white man’s world, have taught me that I must combat all the negative fallacies bestowed upon our race with positive verbal and written reinforcement. And because I am teaching black children, I must assume that they have either experienced subliminal racism or at some point in their life will encounter it. Also, I know the probability that someday they’ll experience an antagonistic situation where cultural cognitive dissonance becomes a real possibility as they become more successful and more exposed to hegemony.
At that time, I would have hope the affirmations, and cultural empowerment they would have experienced in my class is powerful enough to counter all candid and subliminal micro-aggressions they’ll experience.
As a result of my disposition, I don’t want them ever to stop singing; my “Black is Beautiful,” and “I’m Black, and I’m proud” because I know what stigmatization feels like beyond the walls of the school dressed in red, black, and green. And I know what institutionalization and assimilation feel like beyond the halls decked with black history heroes whose first national anthem was “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” merely because they knew the Star-Spangled Banner was not initially written for black people. For our ancestors had fought the colonist during the American Revolution in an attempt for Black liberation from American chattel slavery.
Because of my awareness of my, own, internalized racism from the dominant culture, which is to be examined and deconstructed daily by me, I can be more empowering as opposed to speaking death into their spirits by criticising their inability to be “White.” What I mean by that is, I never criticize my African-American students for using African-American vernacular or colloquialisms. I believe doing so can be psychologically destructive which is where cognitive dissonance sets in. Instead, I teach them the difference between Standard American English and African-American English, so they’ll learn to be able to crisscross in different settings. I would never want them to feel disconnected with their community nor do I want them ever to feel unrelatable to the average walk of brothers and sisters in the hood, and I never want them to forget the long and tough walk to self-actualization while remembering and bracing African-American and traditional African culture.
A student’s Black History project.
I want them to see the excellence in their fellow family members. Even the brother who lost his father to mass-incarceration and America’s neo Slavery Era can still embody excellence. The sister who grew up too fast whose mother cast into second-class status due to systemic injustice can still represent excellence. Thus we must never speak ill and always remain cognizant of the lingering residue of internalized racial trauma we could unintentionally echo unto one another.
The lesson is, be careful what you say to your Black students because they are impressionable while simultaneously being mentally fragile. Don’t be an echo chamber of white supremacy to your students. However, don’t be afraid to talk about race either because the worst kind of violence committed against people of color is silence.
Tell them they are excellent because they are Black. Educate them on the history before their ancestors were slaves. I know I intend to, I always have because education is more than just beating the test, education is about building a strong American collective mosaic that can heal from its past and light the path to its future.
Mr. Frank’s Class