Belonging as a Black Educator

By Vivett Dukes

On Monday, February 27, 2017, a small group of educators from across the United States gathered in a Sevenzo live video chat to discuss how we do or don’t belong as Black educators in our respective work environments, and in our profession overall.

Having to speak for an entire group is one of the daunting challenges of being a Black educator. Because the teaching profession is disproportionately filled with White women, William Anderson, a Black, male teacher from Denver, Colorado explains that his voice often becomes the voice of all Black males. The problem with that is that it provides a limited scope of Blackness to those who are not Black when the truth is that we are not a one-dimensional people. Like other groups, Black educators are multi-tiered and multi-faceted. We bring a wealth of experiences to the profession that ought to be celebrated, not relegated. We are a part of a lineage and a narrative that is diverse and rich. Michelle King, an educator from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, shared the books Citizen by Claudia Rankine and Sister-Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry as viable resources for exploring our experiences as a people — for not only us, but for our colleagues who still haven’t quite figured out how to work with us, much less appreciate our Blackness.

When do I get to be my SELF-self?

The conversation was intimate and much needed — a welcomed breath of fresh air in an existence that is often anxiety-ridden. We will always be Black first and our Blackness, it seems, will always trump everything else that we bring to the table. We continue to function within our double-consciousness and navigate life with a juxtaposition of our historical selves versus our self-selves. No matter the context, as Black people in America, we always have to be better than the best just to be perceived as average.

This led very organically to a discussion about the specific self-care that we, as Black educators, need to engage in. That self-care includes having a core of one or two teachers with which to talk to and connect with. Also, taking sick days and personal days for mental health is necessary. The school will not crumble if we take a day or two to regroup from the stresses inherent with being a Black educator.

The first place we teach is from within ourselves.

Our students need for us to be well in order to model for them how to be well. As Black educators teaching Black students we get that and can impart that truth in a very transparent fashion. Showing up to conversations like this very one in our authenticity and truth is also a part of that self-care. We understand that it will not cure all, nor are we expecting it to; but, do these forums help — absolutely.

Belonging as a Black educator in America is, sadly, no different than being Black in America — it is a nuanced road, riddled with issues that are specific only to us and only understood by us. I guess that’s why it just felt right for us to talk — to us. I really hope we get to do this more.

Keep this conversation going

Click here to read more of the insights & resources shared during the chat

Tweet #speakyatruth to share your thoughts

Email with the subject “Belonging as a Black Educator 2” to express interest in a follow up live video chat on this topic