Have you ever been in a classroom, minding your business, and suddenly it feels like all eyes are on you? You look up to realize that the teacher is talking about slavery, or the civil rights movement, or maybe even black lives matter? Suddenly, being the only black student in the class holds more weight. Each time you speak, you can feel that your words are taken more seriously than that of your peers.
The next thing you know, you practically feel like the teacher.
Maybe even when a classmate has a question, you find yourself offering up a personal anecdote to support the topic your teacher is talking about. When someone says something ignorant, you feel a personal responsibility to check them because you’re the only one there to be offended.
Yep, I’ve been in that situation more times than I can count.
Being a minority in the classroom is hard enough, but it’s even harder when you feel that you just became the spokesperson for your entire ethnic group. This isn’t even an experience that’s necessarily unique to black students, but for many students of color.
On one hand, I do believe there is a value from learning from other students.
If I didn’t go to the school I go to now, I don’t think I would be as knowledgeable about a lot of world issues. My classmates have undeniably helped me advance my thinking beyond where it initially was. The same goes for diversity work, I actively try to participate in it when I can because I know how important it is, even though it’s difficult when I feel like my personal experiences are simply someone else’s learning material. Nevertheless, I’ve had so many good moments where I felt like I was able to educate a friend, or even a stranger, about a topic they didn’t know much about before. It feels even better to know that your peers care enough to ask and listen.
On the other hand, I can count the number of black teachers I’ve had on one hand. That shouldn’t be the case.
The experience of constantly being the only black person in any discussion-based class is tiring, and I don’t even know if I can do it for 4 more years in college. Not feeling seen in an academic setting isn’t an experience I would wish on anyone– because sometimes I don’t want to become the teacher, I just want to be a student like everyone else. The responsibility shouldn’t be mine to bring the much-needed diversity to a classroom and use my experience to constantly enrich the class for my white peers. Being there to teach others is important, but students of color deserve to simply learn as much as anyone else.