My Private School Experience As A Black Liberal

12/22/2016 03:16 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2017
Me pictured second furthest to the right in the front row with my hands clapping. May Day 2013
Me pictured second furthest to the right in the front row with my hands clapping. May Day 2013

Previously posted on LinkedIn

I went to a very prestigious private school from 5th grade all the way throughout high school graduation. It’s the kind of place with incredible faculty, advanced classes, and college level course material ―with a side of racism sprinkled in every now and again in social settings.

I was one of five black girls in my class and that experience has had one of the biggest impacts on my life. I learned from an early age how to assimilate and code-switch in unfamiliar environments.

For context as to why I’m writing this, my private school has been causing a bit of a media frenzy recently in St. Louis because of this article: “Student at MICDS says the school has been unwelcoming to Trump Supporters”

I remembered how I started the Young Democrats club four years ago, because it didn’t exist, and wondered had the school really become that liberal?

After dissecting the post I had an uneasy feeling and all my experiences came rushing back to me. No, I don’t expect an apology letter like the one The Head of School issued to the student in question. In fact, I don’t want one. However, I’d like to point out very real experiences that I had as a black student in a Missouri private school, experiences I was told to “deal with” and be thankful I was even allowed in that space.

Here are just a handful of experiences I can remember being a black, liberal girl, in good ol’ Missouri.

5th grade:

  • My only black female friend was called “burnt bacon” by another male student

  • A gorilla was drawn on the whiteboard in a 7th grade room. A few students joked that the picture depicted a black student in the class.

6th grade:

  • My mom picked us up from school because someone wrote “Kill all *gay slur* n*ggers/b*tches” in the bathroom and the school was locked down temporarily. An email was sent out, but I remember a student telling me “it’s just a joke” when I felt scared.

  • A guy told me he liked me and I had a crush on him too. I was over the moon! The next day I overheard him tell his friend about me, which his friend replied “Man, you can do better than that. How could you date it?

  • This was the first time I’d heard the n-word. I was told “It’s in rap music Leah”and to not be offended.

7th grade:

  • This was the first time someone told me “Leah you’re not really black” and proceeded to explain the way I spoke eloquently as to why I was closer to being white.

  • A boy told me he liked me, but he couldn’t tell his parents because “you know” and pointed to his arm and skin color.

8th grade (First Obama Election):

  • A student told me this while sitting at the lunch table: My dad said he can’t vote for Obama because Obama is a muslim and he’d swear on the Q’ran and ruin America

  • One of the only black male teachers was also voting for Obama and wanted a sign for his yard. My mom was working for the Obama campaign and sent me to school with an Obama sign covered in a trash bag. I had to bring it to his room secretly in fear that people would see. Carrying anything Obama related felt like a secret mission. It seems as though liberal ideologies amongst the faculty were stifled.

  • Because of Obama being the first black president, his inauguration was live-streamed at MICDS. I overheard “Why do we have to watch this, black people have rights now”

  • My family bought us all tickets to go to D.C for the inauguration so luckily I missed any comments.

12th grade (Second Obama Election) :

  • I started The Young Democrats Club on campus because at the time, only The Young Republicans existed.

  • In my Italian class, a student whispered “Obama is a n*gger from Kenya”

  • In this same class students laughed and accused Obama of not being a true citizen, they called him a Muslim as though that were an insult, and said their parents wanted to leave the country.

I’m happy I graduated before Ferguson, which was 10 minutes from where I lived at the time, and 30 minutes from the school. I went off to California for school and had somewhat of a bubble.

During Ferguson I had to remove a lot of peers from Facebook who called black people “Animals” and when I questioned them about it replied “Well not you Leah.”

“Not you.”

I realized my entire experience was defined by some of my classmates seeing black people as less than human. However, I was okay because I was amongst them and they felt okay saying degrading things through whispers throughout my private school experience. I was the “friend” they referenced in their Facebook arguments to say they weren’t racist.

In reality, I was just any other black girl from right outside of Ferguson from a highly melanin filled black family that ate soul food like everybody else. I am black. That is me.

Fast forward to today, students from my class of 2013 have made a petition to protect teacher’s rights in regards to what they post on Facebook. This has also sparked a discussion about cross-political civility.

I shared maybe two of these experiences on Facebook and was met with these responses by some:

“Damn Leah you know you should have left that school and given your spot to someone who wanted it and was put on a wait list you ungrateful spoiled brat.”

“ Leah you should be silenced because you are full of shit. and you know it.”

“Your dad can have a nice little discussion with the board members at micds. Spreading Lies so they can sue you!”

Why was I considered ungrateful and worthy of being silenced for sharing my experiences that I normalized until recently? Where was my parent’s apology letter for feeling uncomfortable several times during my experience?

All students should be treated with respect, but if MICDS and other similar private schools want to address political civility, they should also soothe the minorities who are too scared of sounding “ungrateful” because they’re 1 of 5 latino students or 1 of 6 black students.

I wrote this, not to complain, because I’m content with my experience and wouldn’t be an advocate for social justice without it. You can be grateful and still critique the institutions you attend. You can be patriotic and still critique government officials.

Signed,

Private School Black Girl

Disclaimer: my experiences are personal and do not reflect the ideas of those photographed in the picture above.

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