Note: Let these quotes be an opportunity and invitation to reflect on and discuss the cultural experiences happening in private schools among students of color. For context, I attended a single-sex all-male private school in Texas during the early and mid-2000s. And these were some of the things I heard when I was a student.
1. “What sport do you play?” or “You’re here for basketball, right?”
Context & Commentary: These questions were often asked and sometimes used as an insult by my white classmates, as if students of color couldn’t have been attending the school for academics. And let's be honest, at less than a hundred pounds on a wiry 5'6 frame, I was personally asked these questions maybe once or twice that year. Regardless, I always heard these questions once white students and coaches saw the raw athletic ability of any black kid. Looking back, what hurt me the most was when these very same questions came from your own people.
2. “Dude, can I say the n-word?”
Context & Commentary: I rarely responded with words and more so with a death stare. I always wondered why my white friends wanted to say that word. I mean I couldn’t do much if they did say it (and they definitely said it, wrote it, sang it), for I was just a "scholarship" kid with no big family name, no big donations, and no voice. Plus, my family couldn't afford any fights, especially when some hidden faceless donor was writing the checks for my financial aid.
Context & Commentary: Yep. Let that hard-R sit for a minute.
4. “I’m into Black guys. You know what they say about Black guys?”
Context & Commentary: Yes, that we are disposable. That we are just here for athletics. That our alleged penis size is more valued than our actual lives. These were some of the comments made by white female students at our sister-school. And that was in the 7th grade.
5. “Momma, just smile and wave.”
Context & Commentary: I was embarrassed then, and I am embarrassed now for two different reasons. Back then, I wanted these middle-class White folks to maybe not necessarily accept me but not talk crap about me and my working-class family. Now, in retrospect, I am embarrassed that my double consciousness (thank you, W.E.B. DuBois) led me to silencing my very own mother, or at least trying to. Like she gave my brother and me "the talk" before going into the grocery store, I called myself “briefing” my mother before entering the battlefield. And of course, like a Black mother, she responded: “Boy, I wish you would tell me what I can and can’t do.”
6. “We are going to take a chance with this private school thing. You can change everything for this family.”
Context & Commentary: By far the most inspiring and memorable words from anyone in my life. A man of little words, my step-father looked me, a young naive black boy, in the eyes (like a man), and trusted me with the future of our family. In just those words, he gave me all of the encouragement, love, and faith I needed to become a first-generation college graduate. I will never forget those words. Remember, even though you may be the one taking that entrance exam and pulling all-nighters, you are not alone in this journey, for there are people you know and don't know who have led the path for you.
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