Come On, Be Colored For Us

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FYI: Here is an explanation of the term, colored.

On the eve of one of my most favorite times of the year, which is Black History Month, I am reminded of an experience which occured at my previous school back in February, 2000. Yes; I went into the attic to retrieve this tale.

My previous school was also an independent school, and, like most independent schools, there was only a mere handful of TOC. In the Upper School, there were two Black women (myself included), and a Latino male. So, the Two Black Women and One Latino Male were asked by the Upper School Division Head to plan some sort of Black History Month presentation/assembly. As I recall, the Upper School Division Head was either sick, or away at a conference. In any event, the Two Black Women and One Latino Male had some gap time in which to put something together.

The thing you, the Reader, must understand about this particular school is that in the year 2000, the faculty and staff was quite ignorant and ill-versed on issues related to race, diversity and multiculturalism. So ignorant, in fact, that it spent more time running from the issues than confronting them. As far as they were concerned, there were no issues. However, for some reason, the Powers That Be were aware that there was something called Black History Month. Thus the reason the Two Black Women and One Latino Male were asked to plan something.

The three of us gathered to discuss what it was we would do. And then, we became angry. Why were we, as the only three TOC, being asked to plan a Black History Month program? Why had not the Upper School Division Head asked some of the Caucasian faculty to join in? Did we as TOC have some sort of special expertise on the subject, for the simple fact that we are TOC? To not have included our Caucasian colleagues removed them from any ownership. So, in passive-aggressive protest, we planned nothing.

When the Upper School Division Head returned, she asked us how the Black History Program went. We told her that it did not happen, and we explained to her the reason why. She simply looked at us, and said, “Oh, well, I was actually hoping you would approach some of the other teachers and get them to participate.”

Sho’ ‘Nuff, Sugar.

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5 thoughts on “Come On, Be Colored For Us

  1. Hi Aretha,…oh ..I once painted a tribute to the death of Ceasar Chavez in Greenfield, CA that almost started a really big town brawl. White enough to get the local big barrel tummy ranch owner to spit on me in front of my celebrating with Rancho dancing kids who were 8, while remarking I was a white &%*$#.(rhymes with nut) After that I was no longer selected to plan Cinco De Mayo by my school. I painted an 8 foot by 15 foot backdrop with vibrant orange ,turquoise, purple white lilies(his wife’s favorite) and it said, Goodbye Ceasar. We danced in front of the mall across the street. White old timers were gathering in this migrant town with fury. I felt like I was in a scene from a very bad movie.Called Sarah gets run over. I don’t know why it shook them up, they obviously still hate him today. I guess. My best friend was an aide in my class there, his niece and goddaughter, I really was thinking of her. Belting out RESPECT would be neat. I did a nice version of that with my kids up in the San Diego Mountains. Definitely must play Aretha this month. I ‘m goingto really run with jazz and the Blues.Muddy Waters….Taj Mahal. Did you know most all my former students reported to me no one taught about Martin Luther King’s Birthday, a National Holiday? I find that …..beyond words. Just sent them home. I know people care, I think with our scripts they feel they have no time. I hope it’s nothing else. Nothing on King in the “books” at my level that they proscribe. I have my collection though. What I’m hearing is they do not feel compelled to involve the students in rich opportunity for making this a truely relevant experience. Anytime you miss a boat like that….you can’t claim to be teaching. I have a pretty cool Principal this way. We will get this right as she is as horrified as I am. She’ll get in something and if I have an idea we will roll with it. Now what would be interesting to do? I read a book a day and sing about 20 songs. But that’s me. My favorite thing we used to do was get this woman who became Harriet Tubman dramatically and she was a phenomenal performer but apparently it’s harder to get. We do of course have a performance assembly for the month, for Women’s History Month and for Hispanic Heritage Month.We even book Irish dancers , performers for St. Pat’s. So I feel better. As bad as I felt over King’s birthday at least we aren’t suggesting that we go find those on our staff of the color of the day and let them do a little soft shoe. I think perhaps what you really need is someone to come in and discuss cultural sensitivity. We all need that, all the time. I’m ever aware of how much I don’t know.good luck…I’m reading sending good thoughts. The diamond piece shook me up. I don’t believe in jewlery express but , it was something very straight I was glad to consider. I dislike wearing things that cost so much in front of people that don’t have enough to eat. I find that irrational.Thanks, sarah

  2. Nice to meet you, Aretha! I’m happy to have stumbled onto your site . . . I wish I could say that I am surprised by your story, but given my profession . . . (sigh). I live in a town that is progressing very slowly into this century and will not even repeat some of the things I hear. Let’s just say that I’ve had conversations in all sorts of places (most recently my water aerobics class) about why certain terminology is not acceptable. And I recently disassociated myself from organized religion in part because of the bigotry and homophobia not just of the larger church, but the congregation to which I belonged, in particular. There is much work still to be done, but voices like yours inspire me to get up and go to work.

  3. Your story reminds me of one written by a student in the Freedom Writers Diary — she felt that her teachers singled her out to be the voice of the “black perspective” on every issue. I mentioned it to a colleague (I work at a Jewish school) and he said he was pretty much treated the same way in college — what’s the Jewish perspective on…? In the end, the student in the book concluded she could only speak for herself, and her teachers drove her crazy.

  4. Hi Miss P, and thanks for the story. I appreciate that you were put in an awkward position, and I understand your frustration with the attitude that “We need something ‘black’ done, so let’s ask the black teacher.” Still, I have to say that I do think you should have gone for it, and that you should have tried to approach the white teachers to work with you. Surely the three of you weren’t friendless; surely you had friends at the school, white teachers, whom you could have trusted to help you had you asked. I’m a straight white man who serves on the “diversity council” at my company, a council of mostly women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, lesbians and gay men, and handicapped folks. I’m there because I believe in the “None of us is stronger than all of us,” slogan, and because I think that diversity’s about me too. When people find out, though, that I’m on the council, they wonder why (I think they assume I’m gay; oh, well). I consider it an opportunity to educate them. Similarly, that might have been an opportunity for you to educate a few people — educating the teachers and the administration, in this case, rather than the students. And perhaps they, in turn would have educated others. It has to start somewhere, after all, and if not you, then who? I repeat: I do understand the frustration. And you know the place you were in; I don’t… so maybe giving up was all you could do in that instance. I’d like to think, though, that it might have been a missed opportunity.

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